Hosting a Party Without Breaking Your Bank (and Back!)

We have all been through times when we would love to entertain our family and friends, but we feel that money is just too tight to splurge on a party, or feel that we simply can’t make time to plan. Then that big event comes along, a milestone birthday or graduation, that you feel is too special to let slip by without a celebration. Don’t worry! It is entirely possible to have a great party without completely emptying your pockets and stressing over the planning. All you need to do is employ these important money and time saving tips.

Set a budget

This is an integral first step to any party. If you think “I’ll just spend as little as possible” it becomes way too easy to sneak in extra expenditures or spend beyond your means. Decide on an appropriate number, stick to it, and track your spending.

Have a theme

This isn’t strictly necessary, of course, but I find that by thinking of a particular theme, especially with children’s parties, the decorating is much more organized. Say your child loves Elmo – thinking of the character, you now know that you have red, white and yellow to work with. As a centerpiece, you can dig out that old fish tank and fill it with water and have a toy goldfish named Dorothy. You can make strawberry sandwiches cut like Elmo, you have your birthday cake idea, and you can think of Sesame Street games. Suddenly your creativity is running rampant!

Use email invites

Mailed invitations are a lovely party touch, but if you’re trying to save money and time, this can be the first thing to go. Websites such as Evite are free, and they make sending invitations as quick and easy as possible. You can send a party invitation to dozens of people with a quick click of a mouse, then easily track all of your RSVP responses.

Shop the internet

Walking up and down the aisles of a party supply store can be fun. But this is definitely not a way to save either time or money. For party supplies such as plates, napkins, cutlery, and decorations, try shopping online. You can find great prices and package deals that will be delivered straight to your door (great if you are having a themed party.) Gone are my days of going to four different places to find all my party supplies.

Be okay with not matching

When the day of the party arrives, you may realize that you’re 3 plates short. Don’t run out to buy another package of matching plates. If you have a few plain white paper plates in the back of your pantry, dig these out, then place them at the bottom of the stack underneath the cute, colorful plates that match your theme. No one will mind, trust me.

Do your own prep work – and ask for help

Pre-made relish trays, wrap sandwiches, and fruit trays score very high marks when it comes to convenience. However, the price of store-bought party trays is much higher compared to what you would spend for the raw materials. Take the time to wash and cut produce yourself. Actually, this is where you enlist that friend or family member who offers to help. While you decorate your living room, they will be doing the veggie chopping.

Serve starches

Simple, starchy foods tend to be easy to prepare and are filling for your guests. Think pasta and potatoes. You can make a huge bowl of pasta salad with spiral noodles, Italian salad dressing, black olives, and cherry tomatoes with almost no effort and little cost. Similarly, potatoes are super cheap, and it takes few additional ingredients to make a potato salad. Bread and rice are good dollar stretchers, too, and just one bag of popcorn kernels can make mountains of air-popped popcorn.

Make it BYOB

Alcohol is a huge money gobbler. If you wish to have alcohol available, limit it to a small selection of beer and wine. Otherwise, make it a BYOB. This is also an easy way to ensure that everyone has a beverage that they like, and you don’t end up in the kitchen mixing drinks for the entire duration of the party. You can stick to offering pitchers of inexpensive beverages such as punch, iced tea, and lemonade, and allow people to serve themselves.

Clean Up Tricks

The best way to ease your cleanup is to actually take come preventative measures before your party begins. Make sure that you have more than one trash can, and that you keep it in a highly visible place. If your trash can usually lives under the kitchen sink, temporarily give it a new highly visible home. If you are using plastic cups or people will be bringing glass bottles, it’s also a good idea to have some recycling bins handy. A few large trash cans labeled with “glass” and “plastic” signs can also do the trick.

For your restroom, place a stack of anti-bacterial wipes on your bathroom sink. If they’re there, people tend to clean up after themselves. Clorox even makes a nice selection of wipes in pretty containers to fit your powder room décor. Similarly, place a stack of disposable paper hand towels on your sink instead of your cotton towels. Guests are much more likely to use the disposable towels to clean up drips on the sink, and it’s more sanitary than having 20 people wipe their hands on the same damp towel.

Send Leftovers Home with Guests

Don’t want to take the time to clean up and put away food leftovers after the party? Send them home with your guests. Before the conclusion of the party, hand out doggie bags, or Chinese take-out style containers (which you can find online) and encourage people to fill them before leaving. This works great after a party with a large buffet or a potluck.

The last time saving tip – dim the lights and put on a smile before your party. Dim lights will hide any dust that’s hanging out on your furniture, and your bright smile is sure to be the very first thing that your guests notice! Remember, parties are meant to be fun and non-stressful. So employ these time and money saving tips, then relax as you enjoy your celebration.

Chris Molnar is a work-at-home Dad of two preschool daughters. He writes about theme parties at, and has a sneaking suspicion he’ll soon have to plan an Elmo birthday party for his youngest.


  1. says

    Love it! I have definitely learned that you should never be too shy to ask for help. What are friend for?!
    But I have to have a talk to my Type A OCD side about the not having to match thing….

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