Save on hosting holiday parties

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Holiday travel, gift-giving and charitable donations all cost a hefty sum, but many people set aside money for these expenses.

Lots of people, however, forget to budget for another expensive December line item: throwing holiday parties. Food, drinks, decorations and even the spike in utilities can add up to a substantial sum.

Are you hosting a holiday get-together at your home? Here are a few tips that will help you cut costs.

1. Cook from scratch (sometimes)

Generally speaking, prepared food costs more than raw ingredients. But how much more? This depends on what you’re buying.

Pre-sliced vegetables or pre-chopped meat and cheese trays sell for a substantial markup over the cost of buying the veggies, meat and cheese intact and slicing it yourself. Likewise, a pre-baked apple pie will cost substantially more than the flour, sugar, oil, water and other common, inexpensive ingredients required to bake from scratch.

On the other hand, if you have to buy specialty ingredients such as a bottle of vanilla or a jar of cocoa in order to bake a cake, and you think you’ll never use those ingredients again, you may be better off grabbing a $2 to $4 box cake mix. You’ll cut back on the waste of buying multiple ingredients you’ll eventually throw away.

2. Soak your dishes

Running multiple loads of dirty dishes through the dishwasher can wreak havoc on your water and energy bill. Before you start your dishwashing cycle, fill the sink with warm, soapy water. Let your dishes soak for at least 5 minutes (longer if they’re dirtier), and scrub off the excess. This is cheaper than letting the water run as you pre-rinse, and it’s far better than running the same cycle three times to fully get the cranberry sauce off your serving trays.

3. Install CFLs

How can changing your lightbulbs help with holiday expenses? Chances are that every light in your home will be left on during a party, possibly for several hours. Avoid paying a huge electricity bill by installing compact florescent lightbulbs, also known as CFL bulbs, before your shindig. These are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but they’ll eventually pay for themselves in cost savings.

4. Ask guests to bring something to share

Why should you bear the cost burden of every food item? Tell your guests that you’ll cook the main meal, but ask them to bring an appetizer, a dessert, or a beverage. Alternately, forgo the three-course meal idea and throw a potluck party with a “holiday spread,” a table of finger-foods.

Paula Pant blogs at about creating wealth and living life on your own terms. She’s traveled to nearly 30 countries, owns five rental properties and works for herself. Follow Paula on Twitter @AffordAnything.