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Dec 3, 2013 12:37 PM

Holiday entertaining on a budget - how would you tackle it?

I'd love to have friends over for a holiday celebration. Something simple - cocktails/apps - maybe a silly white elephant exchange. Likely on a week-night.... 7p-10p.... something like that.

The problem is finances are tight and while I should probably not host an event (due to trying to spend less money(, I can't help but want to fill my home with whomever can make it!

So - to that end, I need help making it chow-ish but budget friendly (I typically go way overboard with party food - going crazy with too many options and making too much food).

I know if I put my mind to it, I can come up with delicious, budget-friendly foods. I'm also thinking if I do a big-batch 'signature' drink - like mulled wine or spiked cider, that will also help with alcohol costs.

If anyone has any food or drink suggestions or tips on how to pull this off, I'm all ears!

...or maybe the answer is to focus on dessert and forget savory apps and make a few desserts. That could be budget friendly, but I'm wondering if theres appeal to a dessert party (when many people are getting maxed out on holiday sugar).

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  1. Last year I did a Tomato soup/Cheese Quesadilla party and it was a big success. Soup was in Crock pots to stay warm.

    I served hot cider and hot chocolate and home made baked cookies.

    2 Replies
    1. re: laliz

      What a great idea! Do you have a killer tomato soup recipe you'd care to share?

    2. Take advantage of all of the promotions the stores are doing right now. My last three shopping trips total $84 and change, according to my receipts I've saved $452.

      If you're in California and have a Ralph's nearby I'll fill you in on a great deal.

      3 Replies
        1. re: The Oracle

          There is a promotion at Ralph's called Perfect Pairings. If you buy 6 bottles of participating wines/ liquors the register automatically deducts $40 from the grocery portion of your bill (you have to have at least $40.01 in items other than the booze and it can't be the usual prohibited items like dairy, tobacco, gift cards, etc.)

          Ralphs also has "exclusive coupons" on their Facebook page that you can load directly to your Ralph's card. These vary. Right now there is a $5 off $75 coupon. Sometimes its $5 off $15 seafood or produce or meat. Sometimes there are several at the same time. On Fridays they have a free item on the Ralph's digital coupon page on their site. You can only load it on Friday but you have a few weeks to use it. You can also use regular digital coupons, manufacturer coupons and internet printables. All of these things stack together.

          An example, one trip I had a $6 off $60, $5 off $15 seafood and $5 off 20 meat so right there with the $40 off deal I had $56 off. Digital, manufacturers and printable coupons can be used with this deal, too. If you get lucky, there are hangtags on some of the participating bottles of wine for $1 off each bottle. Those get your total down even further. Some people have been lucky and have found a hangtag with $10 off 3 bottles of the wine that is participating. I haven't found one of those yet but there is also a hangtag to look for that is a $45 rebate form for buying 6 of the participating liquors. I'm flying through bottles of red wine making onion marmalade and wine and balsamic pickled eggplant for Christmas gifts so it's been nice save a lot of money with this deal. I also got Captain Morgan to make rum balls. :)Deals like this are nice because you are getting real food and what you buy is your choice as long as it fits within the parameters of the coupons.

          There is almost always a $3 off Cabo Fresh guacamole coupon on their Facebook page and it's a $4 item so the $4 counts toward your total grocery purchase and then $3 comes off your total. In the OP's case the guac could be served with taquitos, mini quesadillas, chips and salsa, etc.

          If you haven't, check out southerncalisaver,com That's where I learned about the deal.

          1. re: weezieduzzit

            whoa! That's fantastic! I rarely go to Ralphs, but that may all end as of NOW! Thanks so much for explaining all of that!

      1. could always make it a potluck. Personally, I'd prefer this to a party with just desserts that were all provided. If you really don't want to do a potluck though, I would maybe try to first be resourceful with what you already have, that way you're buying the minimum amount of ingredients possible to complete each appetizer. I would also look at the grocery store sales and also plan what to make around what's currently on sale. Good luck!

        2 Replies
        1. re: SaraAshley

          While I'd prefer to stay away from a potluck event, I definitely appreciate your thoughts about that vs. a dessert event. Very helpful in my planning/thinking about this!

          1. re: The Oracle

            You can do a potluck creatively and it can be a lot of fun. One year, our neighborhood association did a "bring a dish from your ethnic heritage" Christmas potluck. We had Italian food, Polish food, Greek food, Jewish food, Southern Soul food, etc. It was a huge success.

            If you give it a theme, it won't seem as if you are trying to do the party on the cheap, and it really can be fun if you manage it properly.

        2. So many of us have a lot of holiday invitations, gift exchanges, or potlucks, so having budget concerns isn't unusual this time of year.

          With that, I'd feel very comfortable inviting friends for desserts and coffee, or right out asking BYOB or potluck. I seldom allow guests to bring stuff, but right now you want the company yet have some limited finances--great time for all friends to pitch in! Let us know what you choose and how it goes.

          1. Homemade pizza's cheap. Get your friends to bring the toppings they want.
            Cut into small pieces for apps.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Chowrin

              Reminded me: once, when a starving student, I made a huge potful of chili and invited friends to bring 1 "exotic" topping/extra. We set up a chili bar, and we all laughed and had a great time teasing about what stuff we'd chose for chili. Cheap, but lots of fun.

                1. re: pine time

                  Or a crepe bar. That way people can bring either savory or dessert fillings. (Somebody will be happy for a chance to use some of the leftover turkey they froze by making a creamy pot pie-type filling). You can make crepes several days ahead of time, stack with foil or wax paper separating them, wrap stacks in foil, and reheat in a low oven. You provide crepes (cheap to make), salad, and beverages. The late-lamented Magic Pan crepe restaurant chain used to serve a great light side salad of romaine, sliced almonds, and canned mandarin orange segments, with a light vinaigrette that might have included the juice from the can. There's a recipe online somewhere if you search MP and the ingredients. One handy thing is that the only utensil your guests will need is a fork.

                  1. re: greygarious

                    I'd do a baked potato/sweet potato bar rather than crepes... they're dirt cheap and you can roast a bazillion of them at the same time instead of slaving over a pan making crepes...

                    1. re: Kajikit

                      Not sure if that is what the OP has in mind, but I've done this exact thing 3 times and everyone enjoys it immensely. I've had guests bring their fave toppings. It has always worked out well.

                      Just add a salad and homemade cookies. Or a salad and fancy small tarts.

                      Not sure if baked potatoes go with cocktails though.