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?