If you love to party plan, then you probably already know how much it can cost to throw even a small event.
Usually one of the first things that we cut when on a budget is our entertainment, which might also mean cutting out some of our social life. But, if you can learn how to plan a cheap party without looking like a cheapskate, you can still entertain without breaking the bank.
There’s plenty of wrong ways to plan a party that will definitely make you look cheap. How you save money will also depend on what kind of party you’re throwing and who else is involved in throwing it. For example, I know a couple who potlucked their anniversary and vow renewal party, but all the guests were close family and friends.
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Our Best Tips to Plan a Cheap Party
These tips will keep your party costs down so you can stay on budget while still throwing a great event.
Bring Your Own Beverage. This is probably the best tip I can give you when hosting any kind of event. It can be everything from a cash bar at your wedding to a backyard BBQ.
Alcohol is expensive. Skip serving it if you’re on a budget.
If you really want to serve an alcoholic beverage, make a spiked punch, Jello shots, or some other kind of pre-made drink or signature cocktail. Use cheaper liquor and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Make sure you still ask your guests to BYOB in that case, though.
How to not look cheap: Have plenty of mix and non-alcoholic beverages, glasses, and ice ready to go.
Potluck or Plan Away from Meal Times
Just like with alcohol, food costs can blow your budget when throwing a party. A great, easy way to save is to have your guests bring something. But there are right and wrong ways to do this! Avoid assigning food to people and let them bring what they want. If you want to make sure there aren’t 12 salads, though, you can make a list of what you need brought and have everyone sign up. Keep it general like “dessert” or “vegetable side dish.” This method allows you to ensure the food is healthy, simple, and frugal for everyone.
You can also avoid the hassle altogether by planning your party outside of usual meal times. Then just serve snacks or, if it’s an all evening type party, ask your guests to bring something small.
How to not look cheap: Don’t ask someone to bring something expensive or the main course. If you can’t afford the main course, skip it altogether or host a “bring your own meat” BBQ. (Where you provide the side dishes and guests bring their choice of meat to cook and enjoy.)
Skip Formal Invitations
Unless it’s your wedding (and even then…) or your kid’s birthday party, there’s really no need to send out print invitations. Take advantage of Facebook to create a private event for your party. Not only is it easy to see who’s coming, you can also include a lot of information in the post.
As a bonus, if any of your guests are faraway you also save on postage.
How to not look cheap: This is pretty customary nowadays so it doesn’t look cheap. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that some people might not be on or check Facebook. Make sure you don’t forget about these friends and follow up with anyone who hasn’t responded.
Keep Decorations Simple
Of course you’re not going to buy expensive decorations. But you’d be surprised how quickly even dollar store decor adds up. Think about what you need to make the biggest impact and just get that. Avoid anything that will only be for the party. You can also try borrowing from family and friends!
For decorations like banners and balloons, set a budget and stick to a single colour or theme to stretch your budget. If you know you will have events in the coming year, use these tips to save on parties post-Christmas.
How to not look cheap: Skip the decorations and use what you already have. Nice serving dishes, cake stands, and tablecloths can have a huge impact.
Try the Thrift Store
If you can’t borrow something and don’t have it, check the thrift store before you buy new. Whether it’s extra chairs or your “new” outfit for the event, you’d be surprised what you can thrift. Personally, I suggest avoiding the bigger chains and stick with local non-profits. Their pricing tends to be better and you can feel good about your purchase.
How to not look cheap: Make sure everything you buy is in good shape, especially if you’ll be serving food in it.
Skip the DJ
DJ Spotify to the rescue! Or whatever streaming service you prefer. Even if it’s a larger event you can still save money and get the music you want by creating the perfect playlist. Or just choose something pre-made for the party’s mood.
If you don’t have a great bluetooth speaker to stream on try and borrow one from friends or family. If that doesn’t work, a rental speaker is still cheaper than most DJs!
How to not look cheap: Make sure the music doesn’t stop throughout the night (like by having too short of a playlist). Another common mistake is having your notifications on so your text sounds or ringtones play over the speaker!
Make the Cake Yourself (or Use the Grocery Store)
Skip the custom cake makers for a time when you’re not on a budget. If you can bake, there’s nothing better than a homemade cake! You can use this as an excuse to get creative and practice your skills. Even if you spend a few bucks, it will still be cheaper than ordering something from a bakery.
If you don’t have the ability, or time, to make something, most grocery stores sell cakes. Costco is especially handy if you want to feed a crowd for next to nothing; they’ll even write on it for you! For a little more money, lots of grocery chains will do custom cakes too.
How to not look cheap: Serve the cake with ice cream and make sure there’s plenty for everyone!
If you’re really concerned about what guests will think, or your social circle typically has high expectations of parties, it’s OK to be honest with your guests. When you send out the invitations, be clear about what will (and won’t) be served. It could be something like “we’re saving for a home reno so we’re hosting Jim’s birthday party at home this year.” Most people will understand, and you might even get some offers to help out!
How to not look cheap: Be honest, but not desperate. You don’t need to go into detail about your financial situation or sound like you’re fishing for financial help.
Stay Focused on What’s Important
Why are you throwing a party in the first place? If you’re celebrating a person or life event (like a birthday party or baby shower), keep the focus on the honouree. If it’s mainly an excuse to get together with family or friends, then have fun and don’t worry about having everything perfect. After all, they’re coming to socialize, not to see decorations or eat food.
How to not look cheap: Be the life of the party and don’t apologize for or point out anything that’s lacking. Also make sure to thank everyone for coming!
If You Can’t Afford to Host a Party
Sometimes there isn’t even a little bit of extra money to celebrate an occasion. If this sounds like you, and hosting a party really isn’t important to you, then skip the celebration altogether. If people are expecting you to host, you can honestly tell them that it’s not in your budget. Or let them down gently by saying you’re celebrating with just your immediate family this year.
How to not look cheap: Don’t make a public announcement, especially on social media, saying you’re not hosting an event. Explain when people ask, but otherwise it’s probably best not to draw any extra attention if you can help it.
Hosting parties and other types of celebrations can put a huge strain on your budget. Even if you’re conscious of your budget, it can be hard to figure out ways to plan a cheap party without looking like a cheapskate.
But with a little bit of creativity, and by letting a few unimportant things go, you can plan a cheap party and not look like a cheapskate.
Just remember to keep things simple and have fun!