"Goals are dreams with deadlines" -- Diana Scharf

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Festive, Frugal, No-Fuss Party

One of the reasons that Mr. W and I love our community is its proximity to his family.  His parents live less than a mile away and we see them on a weekly basis.  The majority of his extended family lives within a twenty-mile radius, and we see them at least once a month.  Having family so close makes it a breeze to celebrate special occasions together.  A few weeks ago, we invited the whole crew to our apartment for brunch.  We were celebrating both Mother’s Day and his father’s birthday, which happened to fall on the same day. 

When planning the gathering, we focused primarily on providing lots of good food that everyone would enjoy.  We also wanted the food to be fuss-free; we prepared as much as possible ahead of time so that we could enjoy spending time with everyone during the party.  Lastly, we wanted to keep the costs reasonable so that we wouldn’t bust our budget.

This was our first time hosting a large group, and we weren't certain how it would go.  Would we have enough space?  Would we have enough food?  We would be able to get all the food ready in time?  Everything turned out just fine and we're looking forward to hosting again in the future.  In total, we spent about $125 on the party.  That's not bad, especially since we had enough food to send everyone home with heaping plates of leftovers!   

How We Made It Festive:

·         Served his parents’ favorite foods:  Mr. W’s mom loves any combination of tomato, basil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh mozzarella.  We made paninis and a pasta salad featuring these ingredients.  We also arranged a charcuterie appetizer for Mr. W’s dad.  He can’t resist cured and smoked deli meats like prosciutto, pancetta, salami, soprasetta, mortadella, etc. 

·       Fun décor: I made  “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Mother’s Day” banners using scrapbook paper, twine, some old cardboard, and adhesive letters from the craft store.  Total cost was around $10.  I also used the leftover scrapbook paper to embellish some drinking straws.


How We Made It Fuss-Free:

·         Paid for convenience, in moderation: For example, we bought a cheese tray rather than slicing blocks of cheese ourselves.  Why?  Well, a two-pound tray was only $10 and it included a good variety of cheese.  At $5 per pound, we thought the pre-sliced arrangement was a good deal.  We used that cheese for appetizers, as well as the sandwiches and paninis.   Another example: we made our own cole slaw, but bought the bagged cole slaw mix for $2.29. Yes, buying a head of cabbage might have saved us $1.  But, we would prefer not to spend a lot of time prepping vegetables when planning a large gathering. 

·         Kept a simple menu:  I had initially planned to serve a warm salad with turkey bacon, caramelized onions, frisée, and baked goat cheese.   It’s a delicious salad, but it’s the kind of dish that should be individually plated.  The rest of our dishes were buffet style and much more informal.  We nixed the fancy salad and just tossed some arugula in a bowl with red onions and sliced tomatoes.  Done.

·         Prepared food ahead of time: We assembled a bunch of sandwiches and paninis early in the morning, before anyone arrived.  We also set out extra ingredients, in case anyone wanted a combination that we hadn’t provided. 


How We Kept the Costs Down:

·     Avoided processed foods:  We roasted a chicken and baked a ham, rather than buying meat from the deli section.  We also made our own pasta salad, cole slaw, and potato salad.  

·    Allowed others to chip in: Mr. W's parents generously offered to bring beer and wine since they already had a good selection at their house.  We gladly took them up on this offer, especially since Mr. W. and I don't drink much on a regular basis and wouldn't really know what to buy. 

·        Used things we already had:  For each of the food displays, we set up a little wooden sign identifying the food (“Bar”, “Panini Station”, etc).   It was totally unnecessary, but it was a fun touch.  And since I already had these reusable signs, there was no additional cost.   After the party, I wiped the signs off with a damp cloth and can reuse them in the future. 

Here's a breakdown of what we bought with the $125 we spent on the party:

Do you have any tips for party-planning on a budget?


  1. I absolutely love the signs that label everything. For signs I usually use chalk so they can be reused.

    Looks nice!

    1. Thanks, Pamela! I love using chalk. I used a chalk marker on these signs and it worked out great! If I make a mistake, it's so easy to correct it!

  2. Looks like a great party! My wife's baby shower is coming up soon and the planners are from out-of-town or unable to take care of some of the issues so somehow it has fallen on my unprepared shoulders. So a few questions: How did you hang up the happy birthday sign? Is it like a clothesline and is there a hook on the wall or suction to hang it from? Also, the labels are a nice touch, where can you get them? Sorry, I haven't the slightest clue when it comes to this stuff...Thanks!!

    1. Andrew, it's great that you're helping out with some of the planning for your wife's baby shower! That's fantastic!

      In terms of the banner: the individual triangles are attached to string of twine. I just stapled the twine on top of the cardboard triangles. If you look closely in the pictures, you can sort of see the staples...but I don't think they were really visible since the banners were above eye level. Martha Stewart would probably disapprove, but it worked for me! When I hung up the Happy Birthday banner on the wall, I tied a little loop at each end of the twine, and then hung the sign with thumb tacks. It probably wasn't the "best" way to do it, but the signs seemed to stay put.

      In terms of the chalk signs/labels, I bought them from this seller on Etsy: http://www.etsy.com/listing/115533450/elegant-chalkboard-table-stands-with?ref=shop_home_active (although, they were a bit less expensive back when I bought them!!!)

      I did find this Etsy seller who seems to have lower prices: http://www.etsy.com/shop/BradensGrace?section_id=6879749

      Good luck!

  3. Looks like an awesome spread! I like the mix of frugality with spending where it added convenience. Always nice to see a good balance. This is the kind of thing that would have left me confused and overwhelmed, but it looks like you guys handled it really well.

    1. Thanks so much, Matt! Planning can be a bit stressful -- especially when the in-laws are coming! Once I gave up the "everything must be perfect" approach, it was a lot more fun.

      And I think you're exactly right re: the importance of balancing frugality with convenience. Since we didn't have to stand around grating cabbage or slicing cheese, we were able to make desserts from scratch, which ended up saving us a lot more money in the long run!

  4. Your place looks so cute! I'm going to steal some of your ideas the next time I have a gathering. I have avoided hosting parties due largely in part to the fear of cost, but I like your mix of convenience and frugality.

    1. Awww, thanks Tina! We like our little place. We feel like it has a lot of character, which is one of the great side effects of renting an old (ie, lower-cost) apartment!

  5. I love those little signs! I was just thinking this morning that we hadn't hosted a party at our place in a while, and I'd say most of the reason is the cost. These are great tips, and a good reminder that you don't have to go overboard, you just need a few hearty foods (you did a great job of using similar ingredients throughout the dishes), some diy decorations, and a willingness to say yes to guests who want to contribute!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I was so glad I was able to put those signs to use after they'd been sitting in a drawer for so many months. It's fantastic when guests offer to pitch in. I used to insist on doing everything myself and would refuse any offers from guests to contribute -- but that's just silly!

      And I think it helped us enormously that we were able to we had so many "multi-purpose" ingredients. It really helped streamline the prep work, as well as keep the costs reasonable.

  6. Looks awesome! I hope that you had a blast. $125 isn't bad at all considering that you had really nice food and décor.