The very pretty Laura writes:
If you have the time and space to tackle this topic, I’d be forever in your debt (at a 0% APR, hopefullyâ€¦) because my husband and I are hoping to baptize our two kids sometime this summer. What I’ve learned from hosting their birthday parties (they are 4 & 2) is that, even with a short guest list and an eye on the bottom line, the cost of having even a simple, casual gathering always ends up blowing past the original budget.
I know you’ll have some sage advice, and I’m sure your readers will also chime in with a gaggle of great ideas.
Thanks, in advance, for your helpâ€¦
This is my kind of question, because I’m all about entertaining on a budget. Let’s get to it.
Time of day changes the cost. Snacks are cheaper than meals, and earlier-in-the-day meals are cheaper than later ones. For something like a baptism, I’m going to guess you probably can’t get away with just snacks, but the good news is that you can totally pull off a brunch theme. Brunch food = cheap.
Anything made predominantly with eggs is going to be relatively cheap, because eggs don’t cost nearly as much as meat or even fresh veggies (as a rule). Think egg casseroles, quiches, even “fancy” french toast (which can be assembled in a pan the day before and thrown in the oven the next morning) are all cheap choices.
Making it yourself is cheaper than premade. This one probably seems obvious, but keep it in mind when you’re tempted to buy the $30 veggie platter. If you’re willing to put in a bit of time, I promise you that peeling all of those carrots and washing all of those celery sticks is still better than overpaying for them in a plastic tray. The exception to this rule is that if you belong to a warehouse club (or have a local grocery store with good deals on party platters), it may be cheaper to buy a sandwich tray than to make your own. You just need to be a smart consumer and check out the various options.
Casual is cheaper than fancy. Again, self-explanatory, right? But sometimes we forget. There’s no need to feed your guests beef wellington unless you have some deep-seated need to do so. If you’re talking about celebrating an important event in your family’s life, people are not there for the best meal they’ve ever had. They’re there to celebrate with you and enjoy your company. So take the pressure off of yourself and go for easy crowd-pleasing favorites rather than something “special.” Your family is what’s special.
Have kid food, because it reduces the amount of adult food you need. If there will be plenty of children, make kiddie food for them. It’s cheaper, and will vastly cut down on the number of plates you see sitting around, loaded with food and untouched because little Jimmy really doesn’t like Orzo, as it turns out. Cut cheese sandwiches and PB&Js into quarters and arrange them on platters dotted with carrot and celery sticks. I promise they’ll get eaten.
Think about your ingredients. There’s nearly always a cheaper way to do something that tastes just as, or nearly as, good as the original. If you have a favorite recipe that calls for pine nuts and making enough for a crowd means you need $30 of pine nuts to make it, start thinking about alternatives. Maybe you can just omit them. Maybe you can use sunflower seeds (much cheaper). Maybe you just need to pick a different recipe to stay within budget. Just be flexible as you consider the menu.
Comparison shop for paper products. Make your life easy and serve on disposable tableware, please. And make your budget more comfortable by shopping around before you buy it. The grocery store is rarely the right place to buy those things if you’re looking for a deal (special sales excepted, of course). Again, if you belong to a warehouse club and really need 2000 plates, they might be the best deal. But your local Dollar Store or favorite Big Box store may have some deals, too. (Target in particular has a penchant for clearancing out “old” designs of paper plates, for example.)
Don’t blow it all on soda. I am finding more and more than the biggest debate we have ’round here before a barbecue is whether or not to spring for name-brand soda. The answer usually ends up being… maybe. If we’ve planned far enough ahead, we can stock up on our favorites on sale. If not, well, sorry folks—it’s store-brand. Also keep in mind that soda cans mean you don’t have to buy cups, but 2-liter bottles are cheaper than cans. Figure out the cost vs. aggravation factors to decide which is the right choice.
Also? Pitchers of ice water with wedges of lemon floating on top = simple, classy, and cheap.
Ask for help! I guarantee folks will ask “what can I bring?” and “do you need any help?” Say yes! Let people bring contributions, and/or enlist friends to help you bake (depending on how big the crowd is, you can save big bucks by preparing food at home rather than buying everything premade).
Write it all down. Writing down your budget is good; writing down everything you need and how much everything costs is even better. The blowing-past-budget phenomenon happens when you haven’t accounted for everything ahead of time, and suddenly you realize you have no forks, or just a dozen cookies for four dozen guests. Write down everything. It’ll help you stay within your budget.
Readers: What have I forgotten?