Well, summer is nearly upon us and if you are anything like me, summer means one thing...parties! Memorial Day, Independence Day, Tuesday-all great reasons to have a fabulous soiree. However, all of the festivity and fabulousness of summer can be tough on the wallet. Here are a few basic tips on entertaining on a shoestring budget.
I find that one of the easiest ways to set the mood is with candles. You can find candelabras just about anywhere, including flea markets, estate sales, and antique stores. Candles are always going on sale at chain stores (my faves are Target, Michael's and Pottery Barn), I wait until then to scoop up the good ones. For a sophisticated look, place the candelabra in the center of your table. Then group free standing candles of varying sizes and colors around the base and along the length of the table (I will say this works best with unscented candles-too many fragrances and become overwhelming). Beautiful!
Candles aren't your thing? Try creating rosettes using left over gift wrap and hanging pom poms using tissue paper (instructions to come....!) These two are easy to make, not to mention easy on the eyes! The point is, repurpose things you have around the house. Taking this approach is also a great way to pull a party together in minutes.
Another great way to punctuate the mood of any party is to download a festive mix of tunes onto your iPod or Mp3 player.
Mix and match your table settings. Dinner plates and glassware with complementary patterns is extremely fun and will add to the overall experience 100%. Remember what we said about engaging all the senses?
This last tip is the easiest and probably the most obvious. Plan a colorful menu. Select bright vegetables like carrots, corn and broccoli to liven up the dinner plate, especially if you are serving meat. White chili is a favorite recipe of mine and it looks beautiful in a bowl.
Most guests tend to bring wine or some other type of libation as a host gift-so use it the night of your party! I'm a huge proponent of pinot grigio and pino gris, some brands are perfectly priced for a party and pinot grigio can be used to whip up a quick and refreshing sangria. After your guests arrive, put your bartending skills to the test. Try to create interesting drinks with what you have in front of you and your guests will love brainstorming along with you; not to mention trying out the creations.
Chocolate covered strawberries are, in my opinion the perfect low-cost party dessert. They're alluring, attractive, and you can eat them with your fingers (the best part)! You can find great deals on strawberries when they are in season. Chocolate is always available in the baking section of any market and for about $15 your guests will be floored by your creativity and flair for the dramatic. Also, try using white chocolate to add some decorating pizzazz.
When trying to save money on a party I almost always do without purchasing fresh-cut flowers. (I dream of the day I will have a garden of my own, overflowing with flowers waiting to be cut for my centerpieces...sigh) They are expensive and never last as long as you'd like. Use your imagination and decorate with what you already own. Have a theme? Use that image to inspire you to create something beautiful! I like to replace picture frames with candid photos of some of the guests attending the event.
I'd also suggest that you consider taking it easy on the upgrades. Perhaps crumbled Bleu Cheese can be used instead of pricier options such as Rouquefort. This king of cheeses, still aged in caves, can also rule your wallet. You can usually get away with using Turkish Gemlic olives instead of best selling and extremely expensive Kalamata Olives from Greece.
Likewise, perhaps some concessions can be made when choosing meat for your menu. Do you need Black Angus for your chili? Probably not. Perhaps you can swap Choice for Prime (as a corn-fed, beef snob Nebraska gal, I feel a little blasphemous even saying that). Trust me, that is the biggest meat money saver I know of. (I feel a beef post a 'comin, folks...) Also, stick to more moderately priced cuts of beef as well. The Tenderloins are a guest favorite and won't break the bank. Consider using fish in tacos, chicken in chili, pork for BBQ, or turkey burgers to liven up your menu and renovate classic party fare.
Above all, have fun! Don't fret about the little things and remember, seeing your friends and/or family members all in on place is the best reason to throw a party. Camaraderie is always in style and will always be financially friendly!