Holiday parties are a fun part of the season, and hosting one can be a blast. The trick is to throw a fun party without spending your gift shopping budget to make it happen. Luckily, there are some easy ways to make your party fun without breaking the bank. (See also: 7 Budget Gifts You Can Bring to a Holiday Party)
PARE DOWN THE GUEST LIST
The more the merrier, right? It's not quite that simple if you're the host (AKA the treasurer). Consider whittling down your guest list for the party and you'll save a good chunk of change while providing a more intimate gathering. If you still want to invite that old co-worker, fitness instructor, and the mailman, then go for a potluck or BYOB (more on that in a moment).
GET THE TIMING RIGHT
If you don't want to serve a full meal and deal with all of the requirements it brings, try having your party at a non-eating time. Eight at night or later is acceptable for not providing dinner unless you state otherwise. Plus, many people will go out to eat just before, and therefore won't need a snack until later. If you'd like to have a less boozy gathering that won't last until the wee hours, a Sunday evening party is perfect. For a (nearly) booze-less gathering, host a cookie or tree-trimming party in the afternoon, and you can squeeze by with warm cider and cookies.
There's no need to blow your budget on party decorations. For lighting, simply gather all of the candles you own and cluster them on a main table before lighting them. Or buy a couple of strings of cheap holiday lights and stick them in jars. Instead of buying expensive flowers, take trimmings from an evergreen tree, branches with berries, and pine cones and make a seasonal arrangement.
One of the easiest ways to decorate for a party is to use food. Put those pretty cookies you made (or your nice friend brought over) on a platter. Put pretty citrus on plates and in bowls for decoration, and then use them for cocktails or snacking. Fill bowls with candy that guests can snack on and take home.
You can even make decorating the central theme. Have a tree-trimming party and either have everyone make decorations as an activity when they arrive or bring an ornament with them as their contribution to the party.
BYO ALL SORTS OF THINGS
Don't be afraid to ask guests to bring key items with them to your party. The most common example is to have people bring their own drinks, such as wine. This tried-and-true method can majorly cut down on a big party budget eater: alcohol. You can get more creative with BYOB and have people bring a mixer and you supply the liquor for a nice cocktail bar (or reverse it and have your guests bring the booze). Or have a holiday wine tasting, and have everyone bring a bottle to share.
Throw a cookie party this year — ask guests to bring cookies to share and create a sweet display. Supply a salty snack or two and something to drink and you're done! If you're having a smaller gathering, have guests specifically bring cookies for decorating andprovide the icing and sprinkles for a fun afternoon.
FEED YOUR GUESTS (WITHOUT GOING BROKE)
Food can be a major expense for holiday parties, but you don't have to spend big to have a great time. A potluck is a classic way to nearly eliminate this expense, and it's a fun way to socialize and sample new dishes. Try basing your potluck party around a theme, even if that's just "holiday meal," and let everyone know what you're making as the main course so they can plan accordingly.
It's no secret that when it comes to food, it's almost always cheaper to do it yourself. So forget catering, and get thee to the kitchen! Even if you're not a cook, you can whip up some easy but satisfying snacks. Try swapping a pricey cheese platter for a homemade cheese ball with crackers and crudites (slice the veggies yourself — it's much cheaper than buying them cut up at the grocery). Bread fills people up, so put out a variety of crostini to nibble on. And a bowl of homemade popcorn is super cheap and always a hit.
If you can stand the clean up, use your own "real" dishes, utensils and glasses. If your crowd is too big or the lack of a dishwasher makes it all feel impossible, head to your local dollar store for disposables.
FESTIVE DRINKING THE CHEAP WAY
If you're offering up drinks as part of your party deal, a great way to please a crowd is with punch. It frees you up to use cheaper booze without anyone being the wiser, and you can stretch the alcohol with mixers. An apple cider punch or mulled wine are great for a winter party and can go a long way.
If you want to serve a proper cocktail, consider using prosecco. It tastes and looks festive, but for the taste and the bubbles, it costs much less than it's counterparts.
No party is complete without a soundtrack. Find holiday playlists on an online streaming or radio service and just press play. Put Christmas movies that you own or are streaming for free on your TV in the background (or perhaps a crackling fireplace). Mix things up by playing games like Celebrity, Who Am I? and Mafia, all of which are totally free and great fun with a group.
If you'd like to include a gifting element, an always fun and budget-friendly game of Secret Santa is an easy solution. Set a spending limit as low as you like and let people get creative. That way, everyone (including you) only has to buy one gift instead of 15, and it's a fun party game. You can also send your guests home with gifts, but make them dual purpose: gift your party decorations (such as ornaments), or pack everyone little gift bags with an assortment of the cookies they brought.