Top Ten Ways to Save Money on Entertaining

Managing Money / Monday, July 25th, 2011

This weekend we hosted a couple’s dinner club and a family birthday party at our house.

We enjoy entertaining, but it can definitely be expensive. So while I was preparing for these events, I was also preparing a list of ways to save money when entertaining.

And trust me when I say that I know these things are money-savers, because I did some of them and I should have done the others. Only my receipts and I know for sure which was which.

Food and Drink

1. Choose frugal foods.

When you plan your menu, don’t start with your cookbooks and recipe files; start with the grocery ads.

Just as with your weekly meal planning, it pays to plan your party menu around what is on sale that week.

Flavor Bonus: Grocery specials often feature fresh, in season foods, which are tastier anyway.

2. Cook from scratch.

People are busy and the grocery stores have responded with lots of conveniences. But you’ll save a bundle if you chop your own vegetables and assemble your own appetizers.

Even if you can’t make absolutely everything from scratch, choose the one or two things that will save you the most money and do those.

Health Bonus: Avoiding pre-made or processed foods lets you control the ingredients and make things healthier or less fattening.

3. Keep adult beverages simple.

You don’t have to have a fully stocked bar for your guests. Consider mixing one signature drink that goes along with your menu or theme, and offering it along with beer and wine.

Have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks as well, for the non-drinkers, designated drivers, and others who don’t want to indulge.

Good Host Bonus: Trying a new drink is fun for guests. And providing several options for the non-drinkers is good form, too.


4. Invest in white dishes.

Some women (and men too, I’m sure) can never have too many shoes. Others of us feel the same about dishes.

But for maximum flexibility and minimum cost, your best bet is investing in an inexpensive set of all white dishes. They won’t show chips and food looks better on them anyway.

For variety, pick up decorative salad plates, chargers, or cloth napkins when you see them on sale. They’ll mix in nicely with your basic white.

Storage Bonus: One set of white dishes with some accessory pieces is much easier to store than several complete sets of dishes.

5. Learn to fold napkins.

Napkin rings look great on a dinner table, but they can easily cost $3 – $5 a piece.

Creative napkin folding is easy to learn and there’s no napkin ring required. Here’s a great web site to get you started: Napkin Folding Guide

Family Bonus: Even kids can master napkin folding and it’s a great way to let them help out.

6. Shop used.

Garage sales, estate sales, and thrift stores have a treasure trove of items that can be used for entertaining. Look specifically for dishes, serving pieces, and table linens.

If you keep in mind the white dish suggestion from above, everything you collect will look great together.

Style Bonus: Mismatched is in. Even Pottery Barn is selling mismatched sets of flatware for an eclectic look.

7. Skip the disposables.

When you buy basic, inexpensive dishes, glasses, and cloth napkins, you can easily recoup the cost of them by skipping their paper or plastic equivalents a time or two.

Shop for them used at the places listed above, or buy inexpensive sets at stores like Target, Marshall’s and even Big Lots.

Green Bonus: It goes without saying that skipping the disposables is easier on the environment. But, there, I said it anyway.

General Tips

8. Use what you have.

Less shopping = more savings. Always try to make what you have work first.

Pull candles from a mantle to use on a table. Ice down beverages in a large bowl or a clean metal tub. Swap out recipe ingredients for something that’s already in your cabinet.

Stress Bonus: Starting with what you have and then shopping only for what you need to fill in saves time and energy, not to mention gas.

9. Let your guests help out.

Most guests today expect to bring something to the gathering. If they ask what they can bring, tell them!

Or consider starting a regular game night or dinner club, where people take turns hosting and plan to pitch in when they’re not.

Friendship Bonus: Having a standing date with good friends ensures you’re making time for the things that matter.

10. Keep it simple.

A cold beer in a frosty glass. Grocery store tulips in a clear vase. A hot steak paired with a cool salad.

Simple is always better.

Choose to keep you gathering simple and focus on your guests and the good time you’ll have. That part is free!

What are your favorite ways to save money on entertaining?

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24 Replies to “Top Ten Ways to Save Money on Entertaining”

  1. We bought white dishes a few years ago and I was shocked at the difference they made! Everything looked more appealing, delicious and fancy even though we were cooking the same as before.

  2. I used to be mildly obsessed with dishes. Now I have a white set and couldn’t be happier. I have now switched over to a serving piece obsession.

    I love cloth napkins and not using paper plates/plastic silverware when we entertain. I always find it funny when people think it’s fancy, but in all actuality it is cheaper and plates and silverware are easy enough to throw in the dishwasher.

  3. The part about having guests help out is great! We regularly have sushi nights, perogy nights, pizza nights, where we invite a couple of two and we all make these foods are are totally conducive to group prep, along with drinking a glass of wine and lots of conversation. Way more fun than just eating what someone else cooked.

  4. #9 is the best tip here. This not only saves you money, but it lessens the work you have to do to make the event happen while bringing some different spice to the food options.

    We always have people bring something to our events. It can be food, drinks, games, paper plates, cups or something.

  5. We try to entertain at our home more in the summertime so we can barbecue. We usually have a huge supply of chicken in the freezer and will dip into that, in addition to making pasta salad, cole slaw and a few other sides. We typically ask our guest to bring drinks and they don’t seem to mind. For us, it’s not so much the food or the presentation but the company.

  6. Great tips Julie. I like your approach to adult drinks. It can become very expensive catering to the favorites of everyone that might be attending. We ususally offer beer & wine, and soft drinks. If people are bringing a dish each, we sometimes suggest that one person bring a drink, like a cocktail.

  7. These are great tips. I think one of the easiest ways to save is on the alcohol. What I usually do is to take a drink or 2 and only make those for the party, and try to accommodate most people. If they dont like it, I always have some lemonade or beer or water around. That way, you’re not turning your house into a full stocked bar.

  8. Spruce, when I can resist the temptation to go for convenience, I am always happy I did.

    DOC, those pre-made trays always include a lot of veggies that don’t get eaten, also. I like variety, but we all know we need twice as many carrots as anything else!

  9. Amen to #4!!! You can NEVER have enough dishes!!! I don’t care what the circumstances are, you can NEVER have enough!!! :-) Lots of great tips. Tip #1 is one that I have used for years for both entertaining and everyday dining. There is always plenty from which to choose on sale! This is my first visit to your site. Excellent tips!

  10. Perfect post and great ideas! I got some great ones, as I need to make a dinner bufett for 30 soon! Thank you for sharing, I am so lucky to run into you! I’m also coming from TT at, BNOTP. Have a great weekend. FABBY

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