smart spending

Throw a great holiday party on a budget

Serve expensive hors d'oeuvres "butler style": Even if you're laying out the rest of your party food as a self-serve buffet, your pricey crab puffs or handcrafted mini-quiches will go farther if you serve them on hand-held trays. Twigg suggests enlisting family members or friends to mingle among your guests and offer the special appetizers "butler style." Guests are more likely to eat just a few of these delicacies -- rather than mound them on their plates -- if you offer them elegantly.

Organize buffet food by cost: Maasdam likes this money-saving catering trick: Put less-expensive, filling foods such as rolls and veggies at the head of the buffet table, where guests will start filling their plates. Put the pricier shrimp and fancy chicken skewers toward the end of the line. Partygoers will naturally fill up on the less expensive items before hitting the costlier goodies.

Plan quantities carefully: Twigg has vivid memories of her frugal wedding reception. "One guest was tipping the punch bowl sideways, trying to coax out the last drop into his cup. I wish we had ordered a lot more punch -- we actually ran out -- and fewer meat and cheese trays." Keep your budget intact by avoiding under- and over-buying food. A few websites that can help you plan just the right amount of food and beverages for a group include:, and The Dollar Stretcher.

Maasdam also follows these general rules of thumb:

  • Meat: Plan 3 ounces of meat per person for deli meat trays. Turkey and beef are usually more popular than ham, so don't let ham make up more than a third of your tray.
  • Cheese: If you serve cheese as part of a cold-cuts tray, plan 1 ounce of cheese per person. Maasdam has noticed that white cheeses, such as Swiss, are usually more popular than yellow ones, such as cheddar, so she always offers a little more white cheese.
  • Breads and rolls: Maasdam suggests one to two rolls or three slices of cocktail-size bread per person.

Keep beverages simple: Even at an elegant party, you can cut your costs drastically by limiting the amount and kind of alcohol you serve. Rather than hosting an extensive bar, try serving one kind of white wine and one kind of red wine. Add a few thermal containers of coffee, a bowl of punch or cider, and ice water with lemon slices in a lovely carafe and you've got something to quench every guest's thirst.

Don't pooh-pooh the potluck: Why do it all when friends and family are usually happy to help? "I don't know about you, but after accepting a party invitation the first thing someone says to me, usually is 'What can I bring?'" says Twigg. Take guests up on their offer to bring something, whether it's a plate of their favorite holiday cookies or a homemade side salad, especially if your holiday party is buffet-style, she adds. "Just make sure that guests aren't bringing something that is crucial to the meal. If they don't show up, you'll be stuck." And remember that potlucks don't just save you money -- they add to the fun. They give your guests a chance to join your holiday celebration in their own personal way.


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