Are you thinking about throwing an impromptu holiday bash but don’t know where to start? Here are my top seven budget-friendly tips for hosting a stylish holiday gathering that won’t break the bank.
Put It Down on Paper
Write down who you want to invite and decide whether or not the number of guests you would like to host can comfortably fit in your home. While not everyone is likely to attend, more is definitely merrier during the holiday season. To prevent guests from floating in and out of your gathering throughout the evening, which can make planning difficult and also lead to waste, set a specific start and end time for your event. Decide how much you would like to spend and don’t go over that number.
Consider hosting your get-together with like-minded family members or friends. If you still want to host by yourself, consider pitching the event as a team effort and assign each guest a specific job. For example, depending on the size of your gathering, ask one person to bring the cheese plate and another to bring dessert. Most guests will automatically ask how they can help, so don’t hesitate to take them up on their offer! It will be fun for them and less stressful for you. Plus, you’re likely to get a more creative end product than if you tried to go it alone.
Keep It Simple
Red wine, white wine and sparkling water go a long way. One domestic or imported beer is also a nice touch. Work with a liquor store that takes returns. That way, you will only pay for what your guests drink. Resist the temptation to offer a full bar, as it’s costly and time consuming. If anything, offer one specialty cocktail or, better yet, a pre-made punch. MintLife has some tasty and inexpensive mix-at-home cocktail recipes.
Bring the outdoors in when decorating for the holidays. Pinecones, branches, leaves and stones make an interesting and inexpensive centerpiece. Displaying unscented white or ivory pillar candles is also an inexpensive way to make any home sparkle. Check out Oriental Trading for a variety of candles, including a battery-operated wax candle that looks like the real thing. Are you short on Christmas tree decorations? Pick up some Baby’s Breath, commonly used in budget-friendly bouquets and centerpieces, and tuck entire clumps of the flower throughout your tree. With very little effort, it will appear as though your indoor tree has been dusted with newly fallen snow. Finally, throw a pot of boiling water on the stove and fill with cinnamon sticks and whole cloves for a festive holiday scent.
Mix and Match
Don’t feel pressured to make everything you serve from scratch. It’s perfectly acceptable (and more fun!) to make the spinach dip yourself, but serve cupcakes cooked up by your favorite local bakery. For those of you that are willing to spend a little bit of time in the kitchen, check out MintLife’s frugal and healthy holiday party food ideas.
Make it Beautiful
Food and drink taste better when displayed well. Break out the best of what you have and use your pieces in unexpected ways. For example, spiced pecans look great in Old Fashioned glasses and potato chips look like high art when displayed in glass cubes. Vary the height and color of the spread, and sprinkle different types of food around the room. Are you missing an extensive inventory of serving pieces? Save the paper and plastic for a summer picnic on the beach and borrow what you need for your holiday soiree from family and friends. Check out Modern Vase and Gift for some versatile pieces.
Have Some Fun
Ask your guests to RSVP with their top three favorite party songs (holiday or otherwise) and make an iPod playlist with the best of the best. You can also consider hiring a live musician for at least part of your event from craigslist. For background music, play your favorite holiday classics on your flat screen, such as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Get your guests involved by asking them to bring a decoration. You could, for example, requeset that they present you with the tackiest ornament they have in their personal collection and place it on your tree. You could even host a “re-gifting” party where each guest draws a name from a hat and hands over the most ridiculous gift they have ever received, but, for some reason, have never parted with.
Another possibility is to ask your guests to bring a holiday photo from childhood. Number each photo and ask everyone to match each guest to their photo. Present the person with the most matches with a memorable take-away from the evening. Want to know my vote for the prize? The tackiest ornament, of course.
Heather Bandur is a lifestyle and weddings expert. A former financial journalist, she is the founder of HEATHER BANDUR events and design, a New York City-based company that specializes in helping busy people create beautiful, well-orchestrated events – and stick to a budget. Connect with her by email.