Hosting a party can be challenging; having a tight budget makes it even more so. You want a nice party, without breaking the bank; to cut corners without cheapening the evening. The following are a few simple tips for throwing a Christmas party with a tight budget in mind.
Tacky Christmas Sweater Party: A Case Study
This year, my husband and I will host our 7th Annual Hunt Tacky Christmas Sweater Party. While the theme itself is rather cheap, there are plenty of ways to make a tacky party “less tacky” while still staying within a reasonable budget. We nearly have the evening down to a science; here’s how I plan so you can apply the same principles to your preferred party theme.
We break ambience down into three categories: decorations, music, and clothing.
Decorations. Work with what you have. We particularly enjoy throwing Christmas parties because the Christmas tree, stockings, and holiday decor are perfectly suitable and don’t require extra planning.
Music. Christmas carols and songs streaming from Pandora give a nice holiday-infused background to the evening.
Clothing. Once your space is filled with guests, you now have a large mismatched group of moving decorations. Naturally, at a tacky Christmas sweater party, each person is already bringing a bit of holiday cheer with them and the cumulative effect is a festive, joyful evening. Choosing a theme helps guests know how to dress and adds an easy talking point for strangers to meet one another.
Take-aways for saving money while creating a pleasant atmosphere:
- Make use of current holiday decorations
- Stream music from an online source or mp3 player
- Choose a theme and encourage guests to dress accordingly. Ours is Tacky Christmas Sweater, but that can easily be changed to White Christmas, a Night in Bethlehem, or an elegant sitdown. If it is more costume-related, have extras on hand (for instance, we have about 10 extra sweaters in various sizes for anyone who shows up without one).
We have gone back and forth on food–serving dinner, serving appetizers, potluck, dessert only–and finally found a solution that meets our needs.
Soup. We generally have a potluck and each family brings a slow cooker filled with their favorite soup. The benefits for doing this include:
- Easy to make ahead of time and warm up on the spot
- Food allergies, intolerances, or specific preferences can be addressed by each family without having a separate meal from the rest of the party
- Exposure to a variety of different foods while still having continuity for the main dish
- Never too many desserts with too little main dishes
- Enough for everyone, even if a family doesn’t bring something
How to Serve. Use small cups rather than bowls. We keep a large stack of disposable plastic cups and spoons next to the slow cookers, generally preparing for one cup per soup per person. Having the small cups allows everyone at the party to try each soup without filling up too quickly and provides a true potluck feel.
The Extras. Since soup ranges from light to hearty, there is usually enough vegetables and meat to keep everyone happy. We also provide dinner rolls for our guests. Tip: More adults means more soup is eaten. More children means more dinner rolls are consumed.
Beverages. We stick to hot chocolate in a slow cooker and will occasionally make a homemade lemonade when we have access to someone’s citrus tree.
Dessert. This can also be potluck if desired, but I personally prefer to make it. One dessert is theme-related if I have time, and the rest are crowd-pleasers or candy dishes. A Tacky Christmas Sweater dessert from a woman who is not a skilled cake decorator might look like the following:
Finally, a party for us is not about food or decorations. It’s about the company. More and more often, we find our friends coming from several different walks of life and found it challenging to merge the groups. My work friends, my husband’s work friends, our mutual friends from church, his friends from the gym, my friends from college. We used to “buy entertainment” in the form of games, movies, and other activities until we implemented our UnTalent show.
The UnTalent Show
Neither person had picked up their instrument since high school and it was fantastically horrible.
This is the most anticipated part of the evening. Each person is gently required to participate in what is the exact opposite of a Talent Show–either as an individual, group, or family . Our UnTalents are anything: hula hooping, doing a push-up, reciting the alphabet backwards, stuffing your mouth full of marshmallows, using your child as a ventriloquist doll…anything.
My husband has a real knack for making people feel safe about their UnTalents. If they were previously worried about feeling stupid, his rendition of Unbreak My Heart played badly on the guitar (and sung even worse) or his most recent rap of a Chamillionaire song calm their nerves rapidly.
Why This Works for Your Budget and For Your Party
- It’s a great ice-breaker.
- It’s free.
- It requires very little planning on your part (mostly just a good attitude)
- Everyone can (and does) participate. And I mean everyone. During dinner, the kids are jumping on the trampoline, but the second the UnTalents begin, there’s not a single person in another room. I don’t even have to chase my toddlers around.
A tribute to Elaine Benes
Ending the Party
We put an end time on our invitations so guests are comfortable leaving, but also include a “night owl” option where we plan to start a movie for those who want to stay (we have never started one and always end up talking).
In addition, we have an actual event that signifies the end of the party. For our Tacky Christmas Sweater party, this means a Sweater Showcase where each person shares why their sweater is the tackiest in order to garner the most votes for most horrendous. The winner is usually gifted an equally tacky prize. Having a concrete ending eases anxiety for your guests about an appropriate exit time.
Ryan was crowned victor because he didn’t know he was wearing a woman’s sweater until someone asked during the Sweater Showcase. His prize was a paint your own Santa bobblehead.
Planning a party isn’t terribly complicated, but there are a few more things we consider when planning in order to make sure the ambience, food, and entertainment are spot-on for our guests:
- Do our guests know what is expected of them? This includes arrival time, end time, items to bring (if any), dress standards, etc. If they know what is expected of them, they can relax more easily.
- Have I created opportunities for guests to comfortably meet new people?
- Will guests’ food restrictions and preferences be unnoticeable to the group?
- What is my budget and will I stay within it?
Anything else you would add? What are your tips for party hosting on a budget?
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