Food & Entertaining
If you're entertaining during the holiday season try to resist buying the really expensive stuff like shrimp. People at a party are usually satisfied with finger sandwiches, chips or veggies and dip, etc. Make your own dips with yogurt or sour cream and onion soup mix rather than buying ready made. Hummus, which can be bought in small containers for large prices in the dairy case of the supermarket, can be easily made at home. See our Recipe Page for how to do it. Store brand chips cost much less than the major brands and once they're in a pretty bowl (which I hope you bought at a yard or garage sale!) nobody will know the difference.
For a sit down dinner make a chicken dish or pasta instead of beef or seafood. Serve a large salad and bread or rolls. Garnish everything! Attractively presented food appears more expensive than it is.
Buy beer and "box" wine but avoid a complete bar which can run into a lot of money. Put the wine in decanters for serving. Or serve only one drink such as brandied eggnog served in a punch bowl.
Have a "Cookies & Caroling" party. This is a great family event and costs very little. Ask each family invited to bring a batch of their favorite cookies. You supply the drinks...eggnog is good (but slightly pricey...if you buy it try to use coupons), kids love a bowl of fruit punch and coffee and hot chocolate are nice if you live in a cold climate. Everybody goes out caroling around the neighborhood then comes back to your house where they partake of beverages and cookies. Before they leave, supply them with paper plates to take home an assortment of the remaining cookies.
Go "pot luck" for the family holiday dinner. Grandma has it at her house and cooks the turkey. Uncle Bill brings the mashed potatoes and turnips. Aunt Debbie (that's me!) brings hummus and pita bread for the hors doeuvres and her famous Grasshopper Pie and people who don't want to cook bring drinks, pickles, etc. This prevents one person from paying for a huge meal for 20 or more people and also prevents a lot of cooking-related stress!
This idea comes from my Mom (who will probably never see it here since she has an irrational fear of computers but thanks anyway Mom!). For serving the goodies at parties she uses all clear glass and clear plastic trays, bowls, etc. She buys them at yard sales and keeps them in a cupboard in her basement. Even though they are all different patterns they go together nicely and look really attractive on the table. You could use any theme for the dishes...all red or white, etc. Mom likes the clear because they can be used for any kind of party...birthdays, showers, whatever. It's much cheaper than buying disposable holiday patterned ones.
From Joyce Cummings:I don't see why entertaining should have to be expensive. The reason to entertain is to see your friends and have a good time. If budgets are really tight with all of you, you can have a sort of potluck type get-together. Another suggestion, for dirt cheap, is popcorn. Just try to avoid the really expensive stuff like the sliced meats and cheeses. I used to do a party when my husband had to entertain, by putting out a roast turkey, a few salads, breads and a simple cake. To cut down on the price of beverages make a big batch of mulled wine. Buy cheap wine and then add spices, orange or lemon slices, sugar if needed. It's great and everyone loves it. It is very festive, particulary if the weather is cold. For non-alcoholic drink, make mulled cider or to be cheap, use cheap apple juice. No one will know the difference.
From Barb Narby: for a wine and cheese tasting party that's fun and frugal have each couple bring a bottle of wine that cost less than $10 and a cheese of their choice. You supply a bottle of wine, crackers for the cheeses, and a wide variety of sodas/non-alcoholic drinks for afterward before they head home. Each couple explains why they chose the wine they brought then everyone tries the wine and the cheeses.Barb adds that she likes to have this party at Christmas because her decorations add to the festivities and that everyone who comes has to agree that you can buy a great bottle of wine for less than $10. She also supplies notecards and pencils so the guests can write down the names of the wines they'd like to buy again or never buy again! She usually spends about $35 total for one of these parties - bottle of champagne, crackers, sodas on sale, paper goods bought the previous year after christmas at 1/2 price.
From NEVIA1: My husband and I bought our house about 3 years ago. It is now a tradition for my sisters and brothers (and who ever else shows up) to come over on Christmas Eve and celebrate (both my husband and I have large extended families). Each year my mother, sisters and I decide what "theme" we will have for dinner that night. From that point on, we decide who will cook what and where. Our brothers are responsible for the non-food items and drinks. This is cheap and fun. All must come in their p.j.s and slippers. We watch the Christmas classics, play board games, and eat until we can't eat anymore. Also, all the women on my mothers side pick a relatives house and we bake non stop all day long. Everyone brings a little bit of what is needed. We pitch in money for the bulk items, and always have lots of cookies to give away as gifts to neighbors and friends.
From Mercy-Joe Manzo: Want to serve pate on a budget? Opt for potted meat instead. Armour makes a pretty good product that can be camouflaged with picked relish or finely chopped hard boiled eggs with minced onion flakes. You can even stuff your deviled eggs with this. Add a little bacon bits for a festive touch.
If you're running short on time and money and need to feed a crowd, then opt for some crock pot ideas. You can always buy a cheaper cut of meat and add Adolph's Meat Tenderizer. Believe me no one will know the difference because it's cooked so long. A delicious tasting sauce can be made by combining Worchester sauce, brown sugar, touch of Tabasco and one or two drops of lemon or vinegar to bring out the flavor. Another cheap crock pot crowd pleaser is to buy up about 6 cans of Vienna sausages, drain juice and save for gravy and biscuits, add corn, potatoes and carrots. Use barbecues sauce that's been diluted with ketchup or (left over juice). A touch of apple cider adds a little zing. Mix it up and place in the crock pot. Can be served buffet style right from the pot with some pretty toothpicks.
For dessert, try Rice Crispy Treats, Cat in the Hat Style. This is really in now with the kiddies. Add green food dye to the marshmallow mixture and then drained maraschino cherries. Before it hardens shape them into the hats (like Dr. Seuss style).