17 Tips for a Budget-Friendly Oscar Party

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THROW A PARTY AND SAVE

For those of you planning to throw an Academy Awards party, here's how to roll out the red carpet for guests while keeping your budget safely in the black. These cheap party tips are a breeze to execute and transfer easily across party themes.

START WITH THE BASICS

Take an inventory of items already on hand -- in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer -- and build a menu around these supplies.

BE FLEXIBLE

Instead of a rigidly planned menu, head to the store and let the weekly specials help guide your Academy Awards party offerings. Search for more discounts and sales online.

DON'T MISS THE BIG PICTURE

Pay attention to the largest images in the supermarket sales circular -- they are good indicators of the week's best deals, notes Teri Gault, CEO of The Grocery Game. Include these items in your menu, especially any featured meat or poultry.

BUY THE LIMIT

If you see a quantity limit on any advertised item, buy that amount. This usually signifies a loss leader, which means the grocer is selling the product at or below cost, and definitely should be part of the awards party spread.

START GATHERING NOW

If you have time to shop during more than one week, you can take advantage of each week's best sales, gathering whatever you need when the price is right. This is a sure way to save money and avoid the panic of the last minute rush.

CHECK DRUGSTORE SALES

Watch for sales on party snacks and foods at the local pharmacy chain. Deals offered at these stores often extend to things like crackers, nuts, chips, and cans of olives.

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 may be on sale for $3 a bottle at, say, Walgreens. Walgreens' coupon booklet contains an "instant value coupon" for another $1 off two bottles. Add in a manufacturer coupon from the Sunday paper for another $1 savings on two bottles. Bottom line: two bottles of sparkling grape juice for $4. Similar stacking opportunities on goodies like champagne, candy, and gourmet crackers may pop up.

SHOP WAREHOUSE CLUBS

Stacking deals at supermarkets and drugstores offers tremendous savings, but warehouse club stores like Sam's Club or Costco are particularly useful for big parties. The wide variety of frozen appetizers, sold in bulk, are tasty, budget-wise alternatives to hiring a pricey caterer.

SERVE LIKE A FRUGAL PRO

An Academy Awards party should be a "grazing party," which means no sit-down dinner so that everyone can watch the show. Set out an array of fancy finger foods that you make ahead or buy at warehouse clubs. Decorating tip: For instant eye appeal, Gault suggests stacking books under a tablecloth to create different levels for holding trays and plates.

FANCY UP THE MEAT AND CHEESE TRAY

Buy packages of mixed sliced salami and cheese at big-box 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.

GET A DEAL ON CRACKERS

Crackers are one of those food items for which "full price" rarely applies. You often can find coupons worth more than half off the regular price. The store brand is also a good option (no one will know the difference) in the absence of coupons or sales on the fancy varieties. Most major supermarket chains stock premium store brands of gourmet products, such as fancy crackers; offers such as two for $5 are common.

BUY IN-SEASON PRODUCE

Stick with in-season produce, such as celery, cauliflower, kale, oranges, tangerines, and pears, for desserts and appetizers. You'll get better quality and cheaper prices than whatever you would buy out of season.

CREATE AN EYE-CATCHING FRUIT DISPLAY

For an appealing and festive display, stick skewers of fruit into a pineapple and ring the base with additional fruits. Decorate the skewers with Academy Awards thumbprint images found online. Some DIY lamination from an office supply store and curling ribbon will add pizzazz. Alternatively, make full-size prints and use as pennant banners.

PREPARE IN ADVANCE

There are scores of recipes online for inexpensive and no-fuss appetizers, such as tortilla pinwheels, stuffed cherry tomatoes, and bean and vegetable dips, which can be prepared in advance. Champagne punch sets just the right tone because middle-of-the-road champagne pleases even the pickiest palate when mixed with something else. Beverage tip: Mix frozen juice concentrates (orange, lemonade), ginger ale, and champagne.

PUNCH UP A NOTCH

Make several ice rings for the punch bowl and wrap and store in the freezer. If you don't have an ice ring, a bundt pan will do. Pour a thin layer of water in the pan and freeze; remove and add in-season fresh fruits and freeze again; remove and add another layer of water and freeze; then add a final layer of fresh fruit and freeze. The day before, set the bottom of the mold in warm water and turn out the ice ring, 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

STOCK UP AT THE DOLLAR STORE

For more inexpensive and festive decorations, you can't go wrong at the dollar store. Napkins are a good deal, but warehouse club stores might save you more on plates and cups that are less prone to leaking.

ALLOW GUESTS TO CONTRIBUTE

Guests usually ask if they can bring something to share with the crowd. Don't be shy about accepting the offer. Suggest finger food desserts, which are perfect for a grazing party on Academy Awards night.