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Ideas for an Academy Awards Party on a Budget

Posted on 2/17/2012 15:18 EST

For those of you who are planning on throwing an Academy Awards party, here are some cheap party tips to help you throw a party on a budget, courtesy of Teri Gault, CEO of The Grocery Game, a site devoted to helping people save money and live well.

1. Start with the basics.

Take an inventory of items you already have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and build your menu from there.

2. Be flexible.

Instead of deciding what you want to serve, let the sales dictate your menu. Find even more discounts and unadvertised sales online at www.TheGroceryGame.com.

Photo by mary_thompson

3. Don't miss the big picture.

Pay attention to the largest pictures in the supermarket sales circular - they're usually the best deals of the week. Always include these items on your menu, especially whichever main dish meat or poultry is featured.

4. Buy the limit.

If you see a quantity limit on any advertised item (e.g., "limit 2"), buy that amount. This usually signifies a loss leader, which means the market is selling the product at or below cost. It definitely should be included in your party fare.

5. Start gathering as soon as possible.

If you have time to shop during more than one sales week, you can take advantage of the best of the best sales offered each week. This way you'll gather everything you need over the course of several weeks. You'll save money and avoid the panic of the last minute rush.

6. Check drugstore deals.

Watch for sales on party snacks and food at your local drugstore. This week, for example, national drugstore chains are offering killer deals on crackers, nuts, cans of olives, and more. And they discount much of the same every week.

7. Stack the deals.

Stacking deals involves finding a sale and adding in other discounts. For example, sparkling grape juice that usually sells for $4.99 a bottle is on sale at Walgreens for $3 a bottle. Walgreens has a coupon booklet with an "Instant Value Coupon" for another $1 off two bottles. Add in a manufacturer coupon from the Sunday paper for another $1 savings for two bottles. Bottom line: two bottles of sparkling grape juice for $4. You'll find similar stacking opportunities on things like champagne, candy, and gourmet crackers.

Cocktail tip: Put sparkling grape juice and a bottle of vodka on ice, with cups and ice cubes nearby so guests can mix their own. This makes a festive, pretty, and super cheap cocktail, especially if you find a sparkling juice on sale (but not apple).

8. Shop warehouse club stores.

Stacking deals at supermarkets and drugstores offer tremendous savings, but warehouse club stores are really useful for big parties. The wide variety of frozen appetizers is a good cheap alternative to hiring a pricey caterer.

9. Serve like a frugal pro.

An Academy Awards party should be a "grazing party", which means no sit-down dinner so everyone can watch the show. Set out an array of fancy finger foods that you can make ahead or buy at warehouse club stores. Stack books under a tablecloth to make various levels for instant eye appeal and heat the appetizers on trays over the course of the evening.

10. More tips and ideas.

Buy packages of mixed sliced salami and cheese at warehouse club stores. Roll each type of salami and arrange artfully on one side of a platter, fan cheese on another, and garnish with whatever produce is in season (think colors -- red, green, yellow, orange). Do this early in the day and keep covered in the refrigerator until party time.

Buy fancy crackers on sale with coupons worth more than half off the regular price. If no name brands are on sale or there aren't any coupons, go for the store brand. Most major supermarket chains stock premium store brands of gourmet products, such as fancy crackers, and you can often get two different types on sale for about $5.

Stick with in-season produce for appetizers and desserts. You'll get better quality and cheaper prices than whatever you would buy out of season.

Make an appealing and festive display by sticking skewers of fruit into a pineapple and ring the base with additional fruits. You can decorate the skewers with Academy Awards thumbprint images found online. Some DIY lamination from an office supply store and curling ribbon will add pizzaz. Alternatively, make full size prints and use them as pennant banners.

Photo by Wagner T. Cassimiro "Aranha"
Crab stuffed tomatoes are an inexpensive and beautiful appetizer. They're also "do-ahead" and people scarf them down like popcorn. Champagne punch sets just the right tone because middle-of-the-road champagne pleases even the pickiest palate when mixed with something else. Fruit juice of any kind works well. Try this: Two shots of Tia Maria and 1/2 cup of juice per bottle of champagne.

Make several ice rings for the punch bowl and wrap and store in the freezer until they're needed. If you don't have an ice ring, use a bunt pan: Pour a thin layer of water in the pan and freeze; remove from the freezer and add in-season fresh fruits and freeze again; remove again and add another layer of water and freeze; then a final layer of fresh fruit and freeze. The day before, set the bottom in warm water and remove the ring from the pan,wrap in plastic wrap and return to the freezer. Have fresh, in-season fruit ready to garnish each glass. Strawberries are especially striking -- make a thin slice in the side and place on the rim of the glass.

For more inexpensive and festive decorations, try the dollar store. Napkins are a good find, at dollar stores, but warehouse club stores might save you more on plates and cups (dollar store paper goods often leak).

Usually guests ask if they can bring something, so accept the offer. Suggest finger food desserts, which are perfect for a grazing party.

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