Let’s be honest: We all love a good party—especially a good Christmas party. During the holiday season, we often show just how much we love these parties by busting our budgets, all in the name of making our Christmas shindig the talk of the neighborhood or the office.
But if you’re getting out of debt (or filling up your emergency fund), hosting a Christmas party can be a real challenge to your budget. You want to be just as festive as the next guy, but you don’t want to completely derail your money goals—which might feel pretty darn near impossible to do. The good news is, you don’t have to overspend to entertain! Here are 15 budget-friendly ways to help you host a Christmas party on a budget.
1. Make a Christmas party budget and stick to it.
Think through how much money you’ll need to host a Christmas party this year. If you want to find extra cash in your budget fast, temporarily cut a few categories, like your fun money or your restaurant cash. Set aside a realistic amount in your budget and mark it “Christmas Party” so you know exactly how much you can spend.
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The best way to stay on budget when you’re hosting a Christmas party is to track your spending as you go. We have a free, handy budgeting app called EveryDollar that makes it easy to track your transactions. It’ll help you know exactly how much you’ve already dropped on the party and how much you have left to spend.
2. Set your priorities.
Before you start spending, make a list of everything you want to buy. Start with what’s most important when it comes to hosting a Christmas party: paper goods, main dishes, appetizers, desserts, drinks, decorations and tablecloths. That way, if your money runs out along the way, you can cut things from the bottom that don’t matter as much and focus on the Christmas party ideas that you really want to do.
3. Opt for a hot cocoa bar over alcohol.
Look, we’re not trying to be a Scrooge about your Christmas “spirits” here, but the reality is, alcohol is expensive—especially when you’re buying it for a large group at a party. If you still want to be festive while saving major bucks, then forgo the spiked eggnog and mixed drinks and offer a hot cocoa bar to your guests.
It’s pretty simple too. Just make a large portion of hot cocoa, provide Christmas-themed cups, and offer all the delicious toppings for guests to pile on. Of course, marshmallows are the obvious favorite, but don’t forget things like candy canes, whipped cream, sprinkles and whatever else gives your heart that cherry-on-top feeling.
4. Keep it manageable.
You don’t have to throw an over-the-top, black-tie event for 100 people. Invite 10 friends to your house for a casual potluck dinner instead! You’ll save a lot of money and reduce the stress level of your Christmas party planning. And with a smaller group, you’ll actually be able to hang out with your guests rather than act like a catering service.
5. Join in some reindeer games.
If you want to throw a stellar Christmas party, you need to have a few Christmas party games up your sleeve. It’s a great way to break the ice and get your guests to mingle a bit. White Elephant-style gifting games are always popular—just be sure to let your guests know about it ahead of time. No one likes the feeling of showing up to one of those empty-handed!
There are plenty of other free games too! Some festive Christmas party ideas you can add to the list are ornament-on-a-spoon races, an ugly sweater contest, or a cookie recipe taste-off. Don’t forget the always crowd-pleasing “who am I” type games. Give everyone a sticky note with a Christmas character’s name written on it. Have each person stick it on their forehead (so they can’t see it) and let them guess what character they are.
6. Accent key places.
If you can’t afford to deck the halls throughout the entire house, that’s okay. Focus on high-impact, high-traffic areas like the table, mantel and front door. You’ll get that festive vibe you want without spending a lot of funds or going through a lot of fuss!
7. Get out the candles.
If your gathering is at night, set the fireplace ablaze and light some candles. You’ll get away with hardly decorating at all! Save money by picking up some glass jar candles at your local thrift or dollar stores and wrapping them with burlap ribbon.
8. Beg, borrow, or (buy for a) steal.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on tablecloths and serving trays to make your holiday spread look great. Get what you need from a friend, thrift store or dollar store. All those cake stands and punch bowls can add up fast if you buy them new!
9. Look for simple standouts.
People love dips, fondues and anything covered in cheese. Keep it easy with crowd-pleasing recipes that don’t take a lot of time or money. And be sure the recipes you choose are easy to make ahead and store in the fridge so you’re not scrambling to cook it all hours before your guests arrive.
10. Shop generic and discount.
Chips are chips. Sugar is sugar. Cranberries are cranberries. You get the idea. Save your money for higher-quality cheese or a nicer cut of meat and spend less on stuff that’s getting mixed into casseroles and soups.
11. Ask your friends to bring a dish.
Most people have a signature dish or family dessert tradition they’re proud of. Cut down on your stress and your budget by asking your guests to bring their best pie or dish to share. People usually enjoy helping out anyway.
12. Forget the fancy invites.
Simplify your process with a nice email invite. Just make sure you still send it out with plenty of notice. Schedules get crazy around the Christmas season!
13. Go for paper (or plastic) goods.
Keep cleanup simple with recyclable plates, cups and cutlery. They’re worth the money and can save you from feeling overwhelmed by a pile of dishes in the sink. And while we’re on the subject, think about buying small plates. That way, people won’t hog all the food and leave those at the back of the buffet wondering how that steamy macaroni and cheese must have tasted.
14. Delegate wisely.
You can’t do everything when you’re hosting a Christmas party. You’ll need some help! Maybe that’s your spouse or your best friend. Or maybe it’s your kids or your parents. Delegate the stuff you hate to do and enjoy the rest. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do it all. This will free up your time so you can focus on sticking to the budget.
15. Let those herald angels sing!
Everyone loves Christmas tunes! It’s good for the soul. Set the merry and bright mood with your Christmas favorites on CDs, an online playlist, or some classic vinyl. You could even do a little Christmas karaoke. Just search for a Christmas karaoke playlist on YouTube, and let your friends belt out their own rendition of Jingle Bell Rock!
Okay, if all the Christmas party planning and prepping has you frazzled, weary and stressed, take a deep breath and regroup. Remember what the Christmas season is all about! Stress can bring out the worst in us, making for a much less joyful Christmas. And nobody wants that.
When it all comes down to it, true hospitality is less about spending money and more about sharing moments. Make the most of them.
If you love hosting a Christmas party, go for it! But don’t overspend just to keep up with all the hustle and bustle. Ignore the pressure to throw a Pinterest-perfect party and focus on what matters most to you and fits in your budget. Keep the costs down and spirits up with EveryDollar. It’ll help you stay on track with your Christmas party budget this year!