Throw a party for less

Want to throw a great party without breaking the bank?

Getting together with friends to fete the New Year or cheer on your Super Bowl favorite doesn’t mean choosing between chips and dip or bankruptcy.

Instead, with a little ingenuity — and some help from a handful of party pros — you can host a great gathering for a lot less money than you’d think.

Here are six ideas to make it easy, affordable and stress-free.

Co-host with a friend

Co-host with a friend

Party pro: P. Allen Smith, author of “P. Allen Smith’s Seasonal Recipes from the Garden” and host of “P. Allen Smith Gardens” and “P. Allen Smith’s Garden Home.”

Favorite money-saving party tip: Co-host with a friend. “Divide and conquer,” he says. “Get somebody to work with.”

Give it a twist: When people ask, “What can I bring?” Smith takes them up on it, he says. His secret: “I assign a recipe. And people love that,” he says. “It gives them a sense of purpose — they feel like they’re making a contribution, and they have fun.”

One party hit: Maple-glazed walnuts.

For those who might not cook (or the time-challenged), they “can bring wine, beer or a bag of ice,” he says.

Last used this idea: “I’m doing it right now,” says Smith, who is co-hosting a holiday party. “You can split the cost and all the harrowing last-minute details.”


Says Smith, “I never host anything alone.”

Throw a brunch party

Throw a brunch party

Party pro: Gale Gand, partner and executive pastry chef at Chicago’s Tru, and author of “Gale Gand’s Brunch!: 100 Fantastic Recipes for the Weekend’s Best Meal.”

Favorite money-saving party tip: “My secret trick for saving money but still throwing parties: brunch parties,” says Gand.

“Eggs are a cheap source of protein, and they’re so flexible,” she says. “It’s faster, it’s cheaper, and it’s more flexible in terms of what you can serve.” And, she adds, brunch is “more family-friendly so you don’t have to pay for a sitter.”

Give it a twist: Serve a strata — a layered egg casserole, Gand suggests. With a casserole dish you can throw in things you may have on hand, like the ends of the bread loaf or a half a cup of chopped chicken instead of a whole bird, she says.

One party hit: Quick pear streusel coffee cake.


Last used this idea: During the holidays. “I do (brunches) instead of dinner parties,” says Gand. “It’s not a long night, you’re not staying up late and your guests aren’t drinking a lot.”

Substitutions are the order of the day

Substitutions are the order of the day

Party pro: Grace Parisi, senior recipe developer for Food & Wine magazine and author of “Get Saucy: Make Dinner a New Way Every Day with Simple Sauces, Marinades, Glazes, Dressings, Pestos, Pasta Sauces, Salsas, and More.”

Favorite money-saving party tip: “The biggest money suck for any big cocktail party is cheese and (smoked meat),” says Parisi. “So I substitute something a little bit more substantial and interactive. Like a whole roasted ham or turkey platter with biscuits or rolls. Or a brined turkey breast served cold.”

Give it a twist: “I like to do themes,” says Parisi. “Vary the condiments, the rolls and the way you serve it.”

Recipes: Whole roasted ham and a turkey platter with biscuits

Last used this idea: For a Halloween party. “It’s great because you can feed a lot of people for a lot less money. And it’s fun. If you’ve got a ham on a platter with a big basket of biscuits that are overflowing, it looks more festive than a salami on a flat platter.”

And when you’re serving something more casual, “you can get creative with the drinks,” says Parisi. “Punches and sangrias are great.”

Serve a buffet

Serve a buffet

Party pro: Melissa Clark, food columnist for The New York Times and author of “In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite: 150 Recipes and Stories About the Food You Love.”

Favorite money-saving party tip: Serve a buffet. “People tend to eat more lightly at a buffet because they’re chatting and talking,” says Clark. “And you can cut back on the expensive things like meat and fish.”

Give it a twist: Load the table with make-ahead casseroles. What people love at holiday parties are the comfort foods — dishes like casseroles, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, and scalloped potatoes, says Clark.

Since they can be prepared in advance, you’re not stressing out at the last minute, she says. “And they’re very economical.”

One party hit: Brown sugar and spice apple pie.


Last used this idea: When “I had a brunch in September, and it’s an ideal way to entertain,” says Clark. “It was basically a carb-fest, and people went crazy. It was all their favorite foods.”

Try a taco or carnita bar

Try a taco or carnita bar

Party pro: Stephanie O’Dea, author of “More Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: 200 Brand-New, Budget-Friendly, Slow-Cooker Recipes.”

Favorite money-saving party tip: Serve a taco or carnita bar.

At a sit-down dinner, the usual rule of thumb is about a half pound of meat per person, says O’Dea, who uses a slow-cooker to make party prep easier. “With a taco bar, a quarter pound of meat per person is plenty” she says, adding that people can probably use less. “And dried beans are incredibly inexpensive.”

Since everyone assembles his or her own plate, this is one way to please every palate and diet, she says. With corn tortillas, it’s easy to make it gluten-free. And if you include options like spicy rice and a big bowl of beans, vegans, vegetarians and those cutting back on fat will be happy, too.

Give it a twist: You can stretch the meat even farther by adding canned or dried beans to the meat also, says O’Dea.


Last used this idea: Last week, when a friend stopped over with her family on Saturday night. And it’s great for last-minute entertaining because it works with just about any meat you have handy in the freezer, she says.

Make-your-own-sushi bar

Make-your-own-sushi bar

Party pro: Jet Tila, executive chef of Wazuzu at Encore Las Vegas and host of “Chasing the Yum.”

Favorite money-saving party tip: Set up a make-your-own-sushi bar.

His advice: “Absolutely do not do it raw.” Instead, use favorites like grilled vegetables, smoked salmon and even those oven-baked fish sticks that kids love.

“Make up a batch of rice and cut up some cucumbers, some avocado,” he says. Buy some nori, wasabi and pickled ginger “and you’re ready to go,” he says.

For dessert, try mochi ice cream pieces or green tea ice cream garnished with cookie crumbles. “And you have a theme party,” Tila says.

Give it a twist: Purchase some small sustainable bamboo plates and three cheap squeeze bottles, says Tila. Fill each bottle with a different sauce: mayonnaise, sriracha mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce. And let guests top off their creations “and look like a chef at home,” says Tila.

One party hit: Sushi Rice and Wasabi.


Last used this idea: “I did this in L.A. all the time when I was a party planner and a caterer,” he says.

“Interactive parties really take your party to the next level,” says Tila. It gets the wallflowers up off the coach, he says, and “encourages more socializing, too.”



Entertaining on a dime? Here are a couple other ways to throw a party with panache: