The holiday social swirl is in full swing, and if you're one of the gazillions of people who's playing host these next few weeks, you're already well aware of how fun and gratifying party planning can be-and how stressful, especially if you're worried about overdoing it on your spending. To take the edge off, read on for an array of pointers to keep you on budget, so you can enjoy your own get together to the fullest.
Go paperless. The least expensive, most hassle-free way to corral guests is via electronic invite. There are plenty of sites-from evite.com to paperlesspost.com to cocodot.com-where you can design, send, and keep track of RSVPs, either for free or at least way, way less than the stamps would cost to mail a paper invite. Plus, having a system to manage your guest list and that can even send automatic reminders on your behalf will save you loads of time too.
Bargain hunt. In the week preceding your get together, look out for mailers and coupons from different grocery stores for key ingredients to inspire your menu. The biggest place to save is probably meat, which is often the biggest ticket item in your cart. Then look for recipes with as few components as possible, and try to avoid ones that incorporate specialty seasonings, etc. that you may not be able to use up as readily later.
Start early. Remember, that not all entertaining has to be done in the evening. Having people over for afternoon tea, cooking baking, or brunch not only takes some of the pressure off having to prepare an elaborate multi-course spread, but shortens your shopping list (and prep time) too.
Go easy on the booze. Alcohol can add a bundle to the cost of your meal. Sticking to one signature cocktail is much more cost-effective than stocking a full bar (and I've found that guests appreciate the novelty aspect of having a house beverage, so it won't feel like you're skimping). You could also try making a big bowl of punch, which has the added advantage of lasting most of the night without you having to play bartender. If you stock up on wine, remember that you'll almost always get a discount when you buy by the case. And of course, you can always outsource by asking your friends to bring a bottle of wine or fixings for their favorite drink.
Don't overdo it with apps. I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to go a little overboard when it comes to pre-dinner snacks. All those different kinds of nuts and cheeses quickly add up in cost, and they fill up guests before the meal, too. Instead, just pick one kind of cheese/dip/spread, or fill bowls with popcorn to scatter around your entertaining area, which always makes for a good, light, crowd-pleasing nibble.
Don't be afraid of fat. Rather than a buffet of desserts, choose one rich, indulgent item that can feed many people. A cheesecake is one such example-an 8" cake can satiate up to 13 guests.
Ask for a bulk discount. If cooking isn't your thing and you decide to go for catering, don't be afraid to ask for a discount, especially if you're placing a fairly large order. It pays to shop around, too-party platters can vary drastically in price from place to place.
Don't over-decorate. You don't need to go hog wild here. Focus on one or two holiday-themed decorations, whether that's a sprig of mistletoe or a pretty wreath for your front door. Remember that edible items, like a bowl full of pomegranates, apples, or citrus, can also make a really lovely centerpiece. And stock up on a bunch of tealights (which can be bought very inexpensively buy the bagful) and clear glass votive holders to scatter all over-there's no faster, simpler way to create a warm, glowy ambience in your home.
Skip the holiday-specific stuff. If you're going the paper plate and napkin route, avoid buying Christmas-themed ones that you'll have a harder time reusing afterward. Instead go for solid colors in festive combinations-red and green is obvious, but you could also do something less traditional like silver and gold, blue and green, and so on.
Accept help. If friends offer to chip in with food or drinks, resist the impulse to say no! Remember, saying yes to those who want to contribute isn't a knock on your hostess ability! Just make sure you coordinate among guests to avoid overlap.