Hi Skint pals,
Whilst I’m not a fan of starting Christmas early (I spotted four Christmas trees in houses near me in November – what’s the rush, folks?), now that we’re into December I’ll allow myself to get into the party spirit a little. That’s why I’m happy to hand over the reins for this guest post, to Agnese Geka of SurveyCompare.net, who’s going to give her ideas on how to throw a Christmas party on a budget. Over to you, Agnese:
Christmas parties can be a great opportunity for catching up with friends and family and the key to all the best parties is atmosphere. Guests are far more likely to have a good time if the host is relaxed and having fun, than if they are clearly worrying about the cost of hosting it. Luckily the basic ingredients for a great party are pretty simple: food, drink and fun – that’s it really. Here’s how to organise a Christmas party on a budget:
Preparing an Impressive Buffet
It’s becoming increasingly common for party hosts to ask guests to bring food and drink with them. This is still a matter which divides opinion though – some people get offended at being asked to bring a dish – so taking this approach depends largely on how well you know your guests.
If you decide to do all the party food yourself then a little forward planning is all that’s needed to put out a good spread for a low price. Good old-fashioned sandwiches – buy bread reduced and freeze till you need it – always hit the spot, and at least one of the major supermarkets always has an offer on butter/spread and sandwich fillings. And if the effort of making piles of sandwiches seems too much, put the bread and fillings on plates and let guests make up their own! Another cheap and easy filling food is potato salad, which can be knocked up in twenty minutes.
With a big plate of sandwiches on stand-by you only need some savoury nibbles and sweet treats and though the temptation is to impress guests with fancy stuff, remember that many of the big brands are priced high to support their advertising campaigns, rather than because of their superior taste. In fact, when independent panels run blind taste tests, the cheaper products often score at least as well if not better than their more expensive counterparts. Put the cheaper foods into pretty serving dishes and your guests will never know the difference!
Preparing a Cheap Sit Down Meal
The keys to preparing a cheap sit down meal are:
- prepare as much as possible from scratch
- buy food which is in season but not necessarily strongly associated with Christmas
- remember that even the most basic meal can be made to look impressive with some easy finishing touches such as garnishes.
Soup is a classic and cheap starter which can be easily made with just about any leftovers – or bought cheaply in supermarket 3-for-2 deals. Then buy or borrow some seasonal dough cutters, cut festive shapes out of cheap bread, then toast it so it holds the shape. For a bit of extra pizazz, finish off the soup with a swirl of (sour) cream or just sprinkle over some herbs.
For a main course, avoid traditional Christmas dishes such a whole turkey – the price shoots up at this time of year. It’s cheaper and easier to buy normal cuts of meat such as chicken thighs and serve them with all the trimmings. For those on a really tight budget, go vegetarian all the way for the cheapest possible meal – roast veg is festive and cheap cheap cheap!
For dessert, it’s always warm enough indoors for ice cream and fruit – the skill is in the presentation. Create alternate layers of ice cream and fruit and finish with some chocolate covered biscuits and sweets (bought on special offer, of course!) It’s OK if it looks a bit messy, that’s part of the charm of these desserts. (If it’s good enough for Eton . . .)
Organising Party Drinks
Looking for special offers and cheaper brands is as valid for buying drinks as it is for food. Buy supermarket own brand orange juice and add Cava for a cheap Bucks Fizz. Pour it into glasses just before the party starts (to keep the fizz) and guests will never know the difference. Or buy cheap red wine and mix it in with apple juice and mulled wine spices for a budget-friendly festive winter punch.
If you supply plenty of beer (preferably bought in bulk) and limit the stronger (and more expensive) drinks such as wines and spirits you’ll find that party booze needn’t break the bank.
Fun and Games
Let guests pitch in here. While opinions may vary on asking people to bring food or drink, very few guests are likely to object to coming armed with an idea for a party game. People can bring their own CDs too, and some party decorations, either bought or homemade.
Avoid expensive themed napkins and placemats. Buy cheap white ones and some coloured pencils so that guests can make their own – children love this and many adults enjoy it too, especially if you turn it into a competition with a theme – eg who can do the best drawing of their partner. It can be a great ice-breaker. Also avoid shop bought decorations – instead buy some standard household candles and put them in glasses or used wine bottles and surround them with leftover Christmas decorations from the tree.
This is one of the trickiest parts of Christmas on a budget and the secret to success is setting expectations in advance. Guests will only feel awkward if there is a situation where different people are giving gifts of significantly different value. Possibly the most straightforward way to get around this is either to have a no gifts policy or to set a price cap for everyone (and anyone who wishes to spend more can give the recipient their gift discreetly elsewhere).
Where parties involve adults and children, why not agree that each adult may give each child one gift up to a given value, but that adults will only buy one gift each and put it into a Secret Santa (again up to a given value). That way, everyone knows where they stand.
Limit Invitations to People who Matter
Possibly the greatest expense in any party is inviting too many people. Make a guest list and stick to it to focus on the people who really matter to you. This will help to keep costs down and make catering easier. It’s never easy to decide who to invite, but unless you’re throwing a Jubilee party you can’t invite the whole street!
Skint says: Thanks Agnese. Do you have any tips for throwing a Christmas party on a budget, folks? Any sneaky ways to shave costs that you want to share? Or are you keeping them all to yourself? Go on, it’s Christmas – share away!
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