budget living

Entertaining on a budget

One of the things I love most about the holidays is spending time with friends and family, especially ones you don’t get to see very often. But the costs of hosting can get out of control, especially if you’re entertaining for a big group or hosting more than one get-together.

Our house has a good layout for parties: one big living room/kitchen/dining room that makes our small space look a lot bigger and gives people plenty of places to mingle and break off into small groups. So we usually end up hosting a few parties over the holidays: my immediate family, sometimes The Hubby’s extended family (it’s on a rotating schedule), and usually a New Year’s party for our friends.

Which could get ridiculously pricey.

Here are some of the ways we’ve managed to make things merry without totally blowing our December budget:


Especially with an extended family, having everyone bring their own dish can be essential to keeping costs reasonable (and keep you from spending the entire party in the kitchen). Give everyone enough advance notice, and assign everyone a certain dish. Several people can bring sides like salads, casseroles and veggie dishes; several people can bring desserts; a few  people can bring a bottle of wine or their favorite spirit.

Most people love sharing one of their signature dishes and hearing compliments like “Who made the sweet potatoes? They’re amazing!” For our New Year’s party, we usually have our friends each bring a dish that’s traditional for their family get-togethers, which is a really fun way to try different cultural dishes and get a glimpse into other people’s traditions.

Buffet-style serving

We just don’t have the room for a big, formal sit-down dinner, so we don’t have to worry about setting out a super-fancy table with chargers and centerpieces and all that jazz. But even if you do have a big dining room table, why not use it as a serving station and let people graze throughout the party? It makes things feel a lot more casual, it gives you one less thing to worry about decorating, and it keeps you away from awkward situations like your two very political uncles deciding to sit next to each other and debate throughout the entire dinner.

Who says things have to be fancy?

When we threw our first holiday party in our new house, we didn’t have all the table linens, matching dishes, and boxes of decorations we do now. But you know what? Nobody cared! We put out our mismatched half-sets of dishes, decked our little 4-foot tree from our apartment, and used holiday mix CDs and scented candles to give the place a sense of festivity and ambiance. And nobody…not even my normally hard-to-impress M.I.L….said anything except “What a cute house you have!” or “Thank you so much for hosting everyone this year!”

If anyone wants a 5-course meal with an elaborate themed decorating scheme, they can crash Martha Stewart’s Christmas party. Our friends and family just want to spend some time together and have fun.

How do you save on holiday entertaining?





photo credit:  Laenulfean


  • I never use money on decorations. I use regular napkins bought cheap at Ikea, instead of buying some fancy ones. they`re just going to end in the trash anyway. I like to light a lot of candles, as I think it makes everything much cozier and nicer:) and I also always make a play-list on my ipad.

    • I’m the same way with napkins. We got a set of nice linen ones for our wedding, but they’re white and I always hate when people use white linen napkins because I’m petrified of spilling anything on them! Festive holiday napkins from the Dollar Store are much more fun.

      I’m also with you on the candles. We’re considering getting that “fireplace” DVD this year, too, for a little extra coziness! 🙂

      • Candles are a must, Especially cinnamon candles the smell reminds me of xmas and the the glow and heat makes it feel warm and cozy in the winter weather

        • I love cinnamon or sugar cookie candles that make it smell like you just baked some yummy goodies! I also have to have my evergreen/fir candle at Christmas time…I’m allergic to real trees, but I LOVE the smell, so I light an evergreen candle and pretend our fake tree is real. 🙂

  • I don’t have a lot of Christmas/winter decorations yet, so I try to focus my efforts on decor that makes a big difference and in areas that guests would be most likely to see, like a wreath or bow on the front door, and larger decorations in the living room, where most people would be gathered for a party.

    Last year, I arranged my Christmas cards on a wide window ledge in the living room – really pretty, free (to me), and that way I can admire and enjoy them instead of leaving them in a pile with the rest of the mail.

    • I love that Christmas card idea! I might do something like that myself this year…I saw a cute idea in a magazine for stringing up twine like a clothesline and then either pinning cards to it or draping them over it. It made a really cute “banner.”

  • Em, This was a great post! When I first moved into my apartment with my friend we didn’t even have plates yet! I purchased a cheap set of pans, some paper plates that were “pretty” and we made it work! My friend is a chef so she whipped up some yummy finger foods and we set everything up in the small kitchen. Our group of friends is small but it made it so great that we could all hang out together, celebrate a special occasion and just laugh at the fact that we still didn’t have plates. In my eyes, as long as you actually have food, and of course toilet paper + soap you are prepared for guests!

    • I love that story! I’m going to remind myself, when I start freaking out about getting everything ready for holiday parties, that “as long as I have toilet paper and soap, I’m ready.” Love it!

  • Hi Em!
    Like Marie, I use the holiday cards I receive as seasonal decor. I have a large picture window off the kitchen table and they all get taped up there. Easy to remove from the glass when the holidays are over and guests (and I) can gaze at all the photos and super-pretty cards that friends and family so lovingly prepare.

    Your pot luck idea is the best idea there is. Also limiting alcoholic drinks to the punch bowl with egg nog (or whatever) and fizzy water for those who don’t care to imbibe.

    • What a lovely idea!

      I’ve heard of people doing a “signature drink” for their holiday parties, like people do for weddings. We may try that this year (with soda of course for those who don’t want something alcoholic).

      • I second the idea of a signature drink and limiting types alcoholic drinks. My friends are perfectly happy with some non-alcoholic punch or soda, a signature cocktail, water and beer. No need to buy rum, vodka, schnapps, etc. etc. for every holiday cocktail under the sun!

        P.S. My favorite punch is really simple: Scoop lime or raspberry sherbert into a bowl and add ginger ale. It’s frothy, creamy and delicious!

        • You know, I’ve seen that lime sherbert and ginger ale thing on like 3 different TV shows recently! I don’t know if I’m just hearing about it now or if it’s the hot holiday drink of the season, but I am so getting a taste for it after seeing it everywhere!

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