Party Planning on a Budget: Thrifty Tips for Hosting Spectacular Events

   Reader's Digest (@readersdigest) / X   Better Homes & Gardens   
Women celebrating with sparkling candles on cake and champagne glasses

Imagine you’re hosting your annual summer bash, but this year, your budget’s a little tighter than usual. And understandably so, being that inflation is affecting the costs of almost everything we buy.

Fortunately, planning a party doesn’t have to break the bank. With creativity and savvy decision-making, you can throw a memorable event even on a small budget.

I. What’s Your Budget?

No matter the size of your gathering, having a budget is key. It’s the secret to hosting a fantastic party without draining your bank account.

Start by deciding what matters the most with this event. What do you want your guests to remember? Is it the mouthwatering food, the catchy music, or the unique decor? Once you’ve figured this out, that’s where you’ll allocate most of your budget. You don’t need to have it all. Simply focus on what matters the most.

Expenses You Should Include in Your Party Budget

The following are where you’re likely to allocate your budget:


The cost of the venue can significantly affect your overall budget—it’s either going to be your largest expense or will cost you none at all, if you decide to have your event at home.

Entertainment and Speakers

This part of your budget depends on the prominence of the entertainers or speakers and the type of entertainment you choose.

Food and Beverages

Your guests will always expect food, whether it’s simple snacks or full-course meals. The cost will depend on the menu, service style, and the number of guests you invite.

Decor and Atmosphere

Decorations set the tone of your event. Costs include everything from table settings and lighting to other elements that fit your party’s concept.

Technology and Equipment

If your event requires audio/visual setups, Wi-Fi, or other technical elements, make sure to include these costs in your budget. Some bigger backyard events may need a small stage with some stage or even a bubble machine—but for those on a budget and simply want a small party, where guests are encouraged to mingle with one another, setting up a Wi-Fi they can connect to would be enough.

Budget Party Planning Challenges

Despite your best efforts, you might run into some challenges while trying to plan a party on a budget. It’s not about cutting corners, but about making every penny count. This balancing act of quality and cost can be tricky, but it’s not impossible if you’re aware of the potential pitfalls.

Here are the three common challenges you may face:

Stick to the Budget

This can be challenging, especially when unexpected costs pop up. You’ve got to be disciplined and creative, finding ways to stretch your budget without compromising the quality of your event.

Find Affordable Supplies

Shopping for party supplies can be a daunting task when you’re on a budget. It’s easy to get carried away with all the attractive, but pricey, options available. Remember, it’s not about the price tag but the value and impact they bring to your party.

Manage Time

Time is money. The more time you spend planning, the more likely you’re to go over budget. Set a timeline and stick to it to avoid any last-minute, expensive decisions.

How to Track Your Budget

To effectively track your budget, start by outlining potential expenses. Then, as you make the necessary purchases, record the actual costs incurred.

Below is a table designed to help you track your budget. It covers common expenses encountered in planning a party. You can tailor this table to better suit your specific requirements and preferences:


Projected Cost

Actual Cost

Breakdown Of Costs / Notes







Projected Total Cost

Actual Total Cost

II. Setting a Budget-Friendly Party Theme

Friends enjoying an outdoor garden party with string lights, snacks, and drinks

A party almost always has a theme. Your theme doesn’t have to be extravagant to be memorable. Sometimes, simplicity is the key to a successful party. And setting a budget encourages creativity, pushing you to think outside the box and explore fresh ideas for themes that you haven’t used or even thought of. 

Undeniably, choosing a cost-effective theme can help you save money, which can then be used to enhance other party elements like food or decor. Choosing a sustainable theme also reduces the stress that comes with party planning. Knowing you’re not overspending allows you to relax and focus more on enjoying the event rather than fretting over finances.

How to Choose Cost-Effective Themes

Consider themes that celebrate the season, like a winter wonderland or a summer beach party. These themes take advantage of what you already have around you. For instance, if it’s winter, you can use the snow as a natural decor. If it’s summer, a local park can serve as your free venue.

Next, think about themes that can be created using items you already own. A “retro” or “vintage” party can be pulled off using your old items in the attic. Or maybe you’ve got a collection of books that could inspire a literary-themed party.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to DIY. Handmade decorations save money and add a personal touch to your event. Remember, it’s your creativity, not your budget, that makes a party truly spectacular. So go ahead, choose a theme that suits your personality and your wallet.

Suggested Economical Themes Complementing Cocktail Parties

Let’s dive into some specific and economical theme ideas that would perfectly complement your next cocktail party.

Vintage Glam

Consider a Vintage Glam theme. You’d be amazed by the treasures you can find at thrift stores or flea markets. A few velvet drapes, antique accessories, and black-and-white films playing in the background could create a retro vibe. 

You can also encourage your guests to wear thrifted chic clothes. This way, everyone contributes to the theme simply by how they dress, making your party feel authentically old-school without spending a lot.

Tropical Paradise

Alternatively, you could opt for a Tropical Paradise theme. By using cheap but colorful decorations like paper lanterns, faux palm leaves, and vibrant tablecloths, you can transport your guests to a beachy paradise right in your living room.

Encourage guests to dress in tropical attire they have—Hawaiian or any colorful shirts, sundresses, and flip-flops—to add to the fun. Serving fruity drinks, whether cocktails or mocktails, and tropical-themed snacks can make your guests feel like they’re enjoying a vacation without ever leaving town.

DIY Wine Tasting

A DIY Wine Tasting theme is another budget-friendly option. Invite each person to bring a bottle of wine—doing so takes care of the drinks for your party. To complement the wines, prepare simple and affordable food. These can include chips, mac and cheese, pretzels, and even popcorn.

Set up stations or have a designated area where each wine can be sampled alongside its paired snack. This encourages mingling and conversation as guests compare notes on the different wines. To add an educational twist, you could provide tasting notes or fun facts about each type of wine being sampled or even host a blind tasting to guess the wine regions or grape varieties.

Backyard Picnic

A Backyard Picnic could be an ideal theme if you have an outdoor space. Spread out various picnic blankets across the lawn for your guests to sit and lounge on. Use mason jars as rustic, charming drink containers and to hold simple decor like flowers or candles. Stringing fairy lights above or around the picnic area adds a cute, whimsical touch that transforms your backyard into an enchanting evening setting.

When it comes to food, picnic food should be your go-to. Offer a selection of sandwiches, fresh salads, fruit skewers, and homemade lemonade or iced tea. For dessert, give your guests easy-to-eat treats like cupcakes, cookies, or a s’mores bar.

More Savings, Lesser Responsibilities: To save on food and drinks, consider co-hosting. You and a friend can split the costs and double the fun—just make sure to communicate clearly about responsibilities.


III. Sustainable Invitations and Guest Management

person giving birthday cake through a laptop

Guests are what make the party, so managing your guest list is crucial. How many people will you invite? How many can fit in your venue, like your home? Will any of your guests have any dietary restrictions? These are important things to consider to make sure your guests fully enjoy your party.

Tips for Efficient Guest Management

Start by setting a maximum number of guests based on your budget. This’ll help you avoid overspending. When you’ve finalized your guest list, use an online RSVP service like RSVPify to keep track of responses. It’s a free tool that makes managing your guest count and meal preferences easy.

Make sure your guest list is detailed. You’ll need to know who’s coming, who’s not, and who’s a maybe. This will help you plan your space, food, and drink accordingly. You can use digital tools or good old pen and paper, whichever you’re most comfortable with.

Next, make sure there’s ample seating for everyone. Everyone should feel comfortable and have a place to sit. If you’re short on chairs, consider renting or borrowing some. If you’re using blankets, add more.

Lastly, remember to stay flexible. Despite all your planning, things might not go exactly as expected. Some guests might bring a plus one, some may not even show up. Stay calm and adapt to the situation. After all, the most important thing is that everyone enjoys the event.

Digital vs. Traditional Invitations

Traditional paper invitations, while classic, contribute significantly to waste. Paper accounts for around 26% of landfill waste and 33% of municipal waste.

Digital invitations, on the other hand, present a modern, eco-friendly alternative. They eliminate the need for physical materials, reducing waste and conserving resources.

Digital platforms also offer plenty of customizable templates that can be tailored to suit the theme of your party. Use Canva’s and Evite’s professional-looking, easy-to-use templates. Customize these into whatever fits your theme and preferences without the environmental cost or financial expense associated with traditional paper invitations.

IV. Decorations and Ambiance on a Dime

Outdoor evening dinner setup with string lights and candles in a garden

Next on your party planning list is crafting an appealing atmosphere—a task easier than you might think. By thoughtfully selecting your decor and ambiance, you can effortlessly transport your guests to a sunny beach locale or whisk them away to the vibrant 1960s.

Since you’ve already chosen a theme, use this as a focal point to avoid unnecessary purchases.

DIY Decoration Tips

DIY decorations have a unique way of captivating your guests. They add a personal and creative touch to your event that can’t be replicated with store-bought items. If you’re unsure what to do, search for inspiration on certain platforms like Pinterest.

Once you know the sort of decorations you’d like to have, here are some ways to DIY decorations without going past your budget:

Recycle and Reuse

Old jars, cans, and bottles can be transformed into gorgeous centerpieces with a little paint and a lot of imagination. They’re not only cost-effective but also good for the environment!

Shop at Thrift Stores

Don’t underestimate the power of thrift stores. They’re treasure troves of vintage items that can add a unique charm to your event. Keep an eye out for lace doilies, ornate frames, and eclectic vases.

Make Your Own Bunting

Cut triangles from scrap fabric or colored paper and string them together for a vibrant and festive decoration. It’s a simple DIY project that can make a big impact.

Borrow from Friends or Family

Consider borrowing items you don’t have. Chances are, friends or family have decorations gathering dust in their attics. Not only does this save you money, but it’s also a great way to add a unique touch to your party. After all, the best parties are those that feel personal and well-thought-out.

Creating Ambiance Affordably

Here’s how you can create a captivating ambiance that sets the mood for your party without spending too much.

Think about lighting. It’s often overlooked, but it can make or break your ambiance. String lights are inexpensive and can transform a space, especially if your party’s at night. Alternatively, candles can create a warm, inviting glow. Remember, it’s not about quantity; it’s about strategic placement.

Next, think about the power of scent. Believe it or not, the right aroma can elevate your event. You don’t need expensive diffusers or candles. Instead, simmer a pot of water with cinnamon sticks, citrus peels, or fresh herbs. Your home will be filled with a delightful fragrance that guests will love.

Music is another element that shouldn’t be overlooked. It doesn’t cost a dime to make a playlist that reflects the theme of your party. Whether it’s upbeat tunes for a birthday bash or soothing jazz for a dinner party, the right music can set the perfect tone.

V. Budget-Friendly Catering Options

person getting food from food trays in an event

With your decor all set, it’s time to tackle the food for your party without letting your expenses spiral out of control. Start with the basics: consider a potluck-style event where your guests bring a dish to share. This not only reduces your food costs and adds an element of surprise and community to your party.

However, if you’re aiming for a more formal ambiance, there are still ways to keep your catering budget-friendly. Explore local food trucks or family-owned restaurants: they often offer catering packages at reasonable prices and bring a unique flare to your event.

Don’t forget, presentation is key. Even simple foods can seem fancy with the right presentation. Use colorful platters, toothpicks, and garnishes to elevate cheap eats. Also, don’t be afraid to DIY some dishes yourself.

How to Create Cheap, Tasty Beverages

Buying in bulk can be your best friend when creating drinks for your guests. Opting for larger containers of soda, juice, or even alcohol can offer a significant cost-saving compared to individual servings. This approach not only cuts down on expenses but also reduces the need to send someone to the store to buy more drinks.

Create Homemade Mixes

Creating your own drink mixes is another excellent way to serve up delicious beverages without stretching your budget. Homemade lemonades, iced teas, and even simple syrups for cocktails can be made with inexpensive ingredients. These homemade drinks allow for a personalized touch to your party drinks. They offer unique flavors your guests can’t find in store-bought versions.

Use Seasonal Ingredients

Use seasonal fruits and herbs in your beverages to enhance their taste. The best thing is, seasonal produce often comes at a lower price. Use these fruits to create refreshing non-alcoholic spritzers or add a fresh twist to cocktails.

Simplify the Cocktail Menu

If you have a fancier event, instead of offering a wide range of cocktails, simplify your menu to feature one or two signature drinks. Doing so reduces the number of ingredients needed, allowing you to focus on quality rather than quantity. Signature cocktails can be themed around your party and made in large batches to serve guests efficiently.

VII. Entertainment and Activities That Won’t Break the Bank

Group of friends playing wooden block stacking game at home with snacks on table

Planning a party doesn’t mean you have to splurge on extravagant entertainment or activities; there are plenty of fun, budget-friendly options that’ll keep your guests engaged and entertained.

Firstly, consider DIY games that require minimal resources. A trivia contest or scavenger hunt can be incredibly fun and engaging, plus they cost next to nothing. Create your questions or clues tailored to your guests’ interests. Games like these provide entertainment and promote social interaction and bonding among your guests.

Next, create a playlist and transform your living room into a dance floor. There’s no need for a DJ; just use streaming apps like Spotify or Apple Music. You could even ask your guests beforehand for song suggestions to ensure everyone’s musical tastes are catered to.

Lastly, consider potluck-style entertainment. Ask guests to share their talents, whether singing, doing the latest TikTok trend, playing an instrument, or performing a magic trick. This not only provides a variety of entertainment but also makes your guests feel special and involved.

Fun IS the Theme: Make entertainment the heart of your party by organizing a board game night. Encourage guests to bring their favorite cooperative or competitive games for a fun-filled, engaging, and more importantly, cost-effective evening.


Hosting a fabulous party on a budget isn’t a Herculean task. But it does require a little more time, effort, and creativity than simply paying someone else to organize what you need for you. 

But know this—seeing all your guests having a great time will make all your planning feel worthwhile. Remember, it’s not about how much you spend but how much fun you create for yourself and your guests.

Cheers to your next spectacular, budget-friendly bash!



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