Fire up the grill, dust off the cocktail pitcher, and pull back the pool tarp. Summer is here and that means time for chill backyard gatherings and pool parties. The budget for throwing a summer party can mount quickly, what with the food, decorations, entertainment, and drinks. Cheapism.com assembled a top-10 list of tips for throwing a summer party that won't stress your frugal ways.
10 Tips for Hosting a Budget-Friendly Summer Party
Themed parties are always more fun. Settle on one (e.g., beach, nautical, floral) and then plan the decor. Start with bright colors that pair well and have an obvious reference point, such as green and pink for a watermelon theme or green and red for strawberries. Visit the local dollar store or big-box retailer, such as Walmart or Target, for party supplies at cheap prices.
Barbecue is always a popular and tasty choice -- who doesn't love the smell and taste of smoky steaks, brisket, and chicken wings? But the cost can burn a hole in your wallet if a large group is expected. The safest menu for a frugal summer party includes foods that fare well in the heat and don't require utensils. Guests will be happy with light offerings such as fruit slices in a peanut butter/granola dip, hummus with vegetable sticks, and cucumber slices stacked with goat cheese. The websites My Recipes and Money Crashers feature a variety of simple dishes that don't cost much to prepare. (If you're stuck on the barbecue path, choose less expensive cuts of meat that grill up well.)
An end-of-summer party is the perfect time to detox from grilled food. Everyone has had their fair share of hot dogs and hamburgers, so offer your guests a variety of vegetable dishes, dips, and fruit salads. No one will miss the meat when creamy artichoke dip, green bean casserole, and a fresh spinach/apple salad are laid out on the buffet. Party goers will leave with full stomachs and you'll close out the day with a nearly full wallet.
To get the party started on a liquid note, prep large batches of beverages. Sangria, margaritas, and iced tea are easy to mix and cold water or club soda with slices of fruit is a nice complement. If you're itching to unleash your inner mixologist, check out Real Simple's recipe for a watermelon mint cooler. Making your own punch-bowl style drinks is less costly than purchasing bottles or cans by the case. (Tip: Help guests protect their drinks from bugs by setting out a stack of muffin liners.)
Everyone knows where the bulk of a party budget goes. It's not the food, decorations, or supplies -- it's the beer, wine, and liquor. Most guests are more than happy to contribute something to the summer festivities in return for your hospitality. Ask invitees to bring their drink of choice, chilled or packed with ice. If each person brings a six-pack of beer or one bottle of wine, you won't run out of liquid refreshments.
You don't need a pool or rooftop to throw a lively summer party. Guests will be happy enjoying the weather, mingling, and eating. You can always add a touch of spice by organizing interactive fun with items you probably possess, such as board games and sports gear. Create sitting areas for groups of three to four and place games such as Cards Against Humanity or Taboo in the middle. For the back or front yard, provide a Frisbee, hacky sack, volleyball, or badminton set.
Do your guests a favor by anticipating the inevitable onslaught of mosquitoes, flies, and wasps. Invest in, or make your own, bug spray, citronella candles, and/or mosquito-repellent coils. All these supplies are readily available as pharmacy chains, supermarkets, and even the local dollar store; a 10-pack of coils costs a little more than $7, which is a small price to pay for your guests' comfort.
If you need a reason to throw a summer party, find something to celebrate and then do so in style. Try pairing champagne with popsicles, a classic summer dessert. Rooftop bars in New York City charge $18 for a popsicle in a glass of champagne, but you can replicate this bubbler for far, far less. All you need is a variety of fruity ice pops, a few bottles of inexpensive champagne, and wine glasses. Serve on a tray and your guests will toast with joy.
Sometimes a summer party just isn't the same without a fired-up grill. If you're in the market for a new one, there are good-quality options for less than $200. Decide whether you want a charcoal or gas grill, and consider factors such as the size of the cooking surface, heat controls, and type of grates. And don't forget the must-have accessories, such as grilling tongs, turner, and brush.
No matter how you work the budget, sometimes hosting a summer party is just too much to handle. Instead, organize a summer potluck at a beach or park with designated picnic areas and public grills. You'll still enjoy the sunshine and company without worrying about providing refreshments. But as the host, you can still set a party tone. Arrive early with decorations, games, and maybe a tray or two of light appetizers to greet guests upon arrival.