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More Merriment, Less Money: Throwing a Great Holiday Party on the Cheap

This Holiday Season, enjoy a festive celebration—even on a tight budget—with these tips.

The tough economy has caused cutbacks and compromises in almost every area of life, and its impact on holiday party planning is no different. But that doesn’t mean ‘tis the season to forgo celebrations.

There are plenty of great ways to throw a festive holiday party on a small budget if you plan ahead, decide what you can afford, keep it casual, take stock of what you have on hand and use it.

One way to keep costs down is by keeping your guest list down to a handful of your closest friends, advises Erin Huffstetler in the About.com Guide.

“It is possible to create a classy bash for 12 on a $150 budget,” says Midwest Living magazine. “You may just need to change the way you think about parties.”

Huffstetler suggests exploring several ideas for cheap holiday party themes and formats, including having an Open House, a dessert party, a fondue party, a tree-trimming party, a potluck, a soup party, a wine-and-cheese party, a chocolate tasting, a caroling party or a small dinner party.

Invitations

You can save a significant amount of money by going paperless with your invitations. With numerous websites offering free online invitations, you’ll spare yourself the costs of postage and printing, suggests GraniteFallsNews.com.

Sending invitations over the Internet has many advantages—it’s good for the environment to go paperless, and your invitation will reach recipients much more quickly.

Those who love traditional paper invitations—or need to reach guests who aren’t tech-savvy—can use budget-friendly flat fill-in cards that you write yourself. Discount department stores often sell affordable yet stylish boxed sets.

Decorations

Before you go out and buy decorations, use items around your house for décor and to help set a theme, suggests Midwest Living magazine. Collect empty vases and fill them with ornaments, fresh cranberries or pinecones. Gather all your candles, placing them in unexpected places them all over the house. Use fresh swags of greenery; check with your local Christmas tree lot, where you might be able to pick up a few for free, suggests GraniteFallsNews.com.

To make a stunning centerpiece, all you need is a serving tray, a clear glass vase and solid-color ornaments, suggests Midwest Living. Then sprinkle faux snow (or even coconut) over the display and wrap it up with some ribbon. It will cost you about $4.

You can find a vast variety of unique glasses, plates and serving dishes and trays at dollar stores and thrift stores.

Food

“Limit food to inexpensive but festive choices,” suggests Midwest Living. “Ask guests to pitch in by bringing their favorite artisanal cheeses, wine or Christmas cookies.”

They suggest these money-saving tips:

Friends always ask what they can bring to a party – so ask them to bring a batch of their favorite holiday cookies to share, creating a nice variety of treats for guests.

Try this budget meal for 12

Confetti Pasta with Shrimp (cost: $38): Stretch your budget by halving each shrimp lengthwise, which gives them a corkscrew shape when they cook. For 12 guests, use 3 pounds of shrimp, 1 1/2 pounds of pasta tossed in olive oil, a bag of frozen peas, chopped sweet peppers and chopped fresh herbs.

Fresh Mixed Greens with Cranberries (cost: $17): Combine two bagged salad mixes with crumbled goat cheese, slivered almonds and dried cranberries.
Yuletide Chocolate Bliss Cake (cost: $13): Two boxes of cake mix divided into three layers (freeze one layer to use later) create a stunning centerpiece dessert.

Canned chocolate frosting can fill the layers and cover the sides; canned whipped vanilla frosting with a shaved chocolate bar sprinkled on top gives it a special-occasion look. To shave a chocolate bar, let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, then use a vegetable peeler.

Wine

Start with one bottle of wine that you provide, then ask friends to bring their favorite bottle to share, suggests Midwest Living: “By the time most of your guests arrive, you'll have an array of interesting tastes and built-in conversation starters.”

Some more ideas

With holiday decorating, you can transform almost anything into something festive and eye-catching. Look for these items, likely packed away in cupboards, and get ready to dig them out for decorating fun:

  • Silver serving dishes add a sophisticated feel—use them for food, candles or after-dinner mints.
  • Holiday-themed props: Look for old holiday knickknacks normally reserved for mantels and shelves, and scatter some across a buffet table or cluster them on a dinner table.
  • Candlelight not only creates holiday warmth but also an instantly festive atmosphere. For just $5, buy a bag of tea lights and place them in attractive glasses or on decorative plates. Position those at different levels of the room. Surround pillar candles with pine branches for a beautiful tabletop.
  • Runners and cloth napkins:  Take a solid-color tablecloth from your cabinet and use it with a holiday-themed runner. Cloth napkins add instant class.
  • Use empty boxes of varying sizes for a buffet table: Turn them upside down, cover them with a tablecloth, and place serving dishes at different heights on the boxes, instantly drawing more interest to your food.

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