What’sa matter? Sad?
Why? No money?
Why don’t you have a party to cheer yourself up?
What? Parties are expensive unless they’re totally ghetto?!?
That’s crap. Here are five ways to feed and liquor a crowd of about 10 for around $40, and still make it pretty AND delicious.
General Tips to Save Money:
- Almost every party I throw, someone asks “Can I bring something?” SAY YES. Be it a bag of chips, a bag of ice, a bottle of wine or soda, or a bag of cookies. It doesn’t have to be home-made, expensive or an entire potluck menu. A tiny gesture like this saves you money and provides variety to a party menu. Just let them know what to bring so it goes with what you’re serving.
- Comparison shop and clip coupons. If you know you’re having a party in two weeks, read those coupons they stuff in your mailbox, or do a glance online to see when your grocery store is having sales. It’s free and saves you money.
- Grow your own. Even if you live in an urban area, grow a little something on your windowsill. Having Basil, Mint, Sage and Cilantro on hand adds gourmet touches to your menus and gives you more options. If you can grow your own fruit and veggies? Even better.
- Get a Warehouse Store Membership, liquor store membership, or grocery club card. From BevMo’s 5 cent wine sales to card member grocery sales to buying toilet paper, napkins, and alcohol in bulk for parties, even if the membership may cost a yearly fee, it saves you money.
- Farmer’s Markets. In summer, you can pick up veggies for CHEAP. The more expensive items are meat, eggs, cheese, and prepared stuff.
- Tea bags + water = home brewed iced tea which is a cheap, tasty beverage that stores well. Or how about Kool-Aid?
- Unless you’re drinking it straight, you don’t have to buy top-shelf alcohol when pouring for a crowd. Bad wine is bad wine, but there are tons of articles online about decent wines under $10
Cheap Party Decorations:
- Print-outs from websites of clip art, vintage images, or collages made from travel and fashion magazines taped to the wall.
- Quick, green/cheap, and easy paper pennants: Cut triangles out of thick colored paper or news paper scraps, or from old book pages. Hot glue or tape to inexpensive yarn or twine on the back. Hang up.
- Easy no-sew fabric pennants (I have a tutorial on this coming soon)
- Pom Poms
- Mason Jar tea lights or christmas lights hanging outside or placed around the yard. (Here is my tutorial on Offbeat Home)
The Gourmet BBQ
This visually pleasing and tasty menu feeds up to 10 gluten-free folks, carnivores, and vegans. It’s more versatile than – and a nice break from – hot dogs and hamburgers, though that’s always a great cheap option, too. I shared this in the comments of a post on Apartment Therapy awhile ago, and I’m re-posting it here. We served a version of this at our wedding.
5 pounds Chicken or Beef $7
Hangar steaks are low-cost and tasty for grilling. Chicken breasts are the way to go if you plan to skewer them, or you can buy chicken thighs to just throw on the grill- they are very cheap and they taste good. If you don’t have any meat- eaters in your crowd, substitute portobello mushrooms for the meat.
5 red peppers $4
2 portobello mushrooms $4
1 sweet yellow onion $.50
1 pound potatoes $2.50
1 jar Veganaise $3
1 container gluten-free BBQ sauce such as one of these. If you are serving vegans, make sure it’s also free of honey, meat stocks, or dairy. $3
5 black tea bags $1
I package wooden skewers $1
1 case beer; 1 liter regular (not premium) vodka and 2 liters tonic; OR 2 bottles table wine, one red and one white $10 – $14
Free: Salt, pepper, sugar or sweetener, water, yellow curry powder if you have it. If not it’s $2-4 at specialty markets, more at regular grocery stores. The cheapest way to buy a small amount is in those clear hanging cellophane packets.
ONE DAY to THREE HOURS BEFORE
Make iced tea by bringing 2 cups water to a boil and pouring over 5 tea bags. Let steep 5-10 minutes, then pour into pitcher. Add cold water and chill in fridge for a few hours or overnight. Remove tea bags before serving. Provide sugar or sweetener. We grow fresh mint, so I serve with that.
Wash, cube and boil your potatoes until fork-tender, about 15 minutes time total. Let drain, cool completely. Mix in with 3 tbsp Veganaise and
- 1 tbsp each salt and coarse black pepper
- 1/4 of a red pepper, minced well
- 1/4 of the yellow onion, minced well
- plus 1-2 tbsp curry if you have it around
Mix until coated well. If you need to add more Veganaise, curry or pepper to taste, go for it. Put in serving bowl and cover in fridge, chilling 1-2 hours or overnight. This can be made a day ahead; the longer it sits, the yummier and deeper the flavors get.
On a clean surface, chop the rest of the peppers, 3/4 of the onion, and the mushrooms into large 1-2″ pieces. These will be skewered so it’s best to make the pieces large enough to skewer. If you have meat eaters and vegans or vegetarians, reserve enough of the vegetables aside for the non-meat-eaters to each eat 2 6″ skewers.
Vegetarian/Vegan: Throw reserved veggies in a bowl and dust with cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt, turning to coat. Thread onto 6″ skewers, alternating colors and shapes, and lay on a baking sheet, in a shallow baking dish, or on a bed of tin foil. Douse with BBQ sauce and turn until it’s all well-coated. Let it marinate, covered, in the fridge overnight or at least 1 hour. Meat: Cube your meat, trimming off any superfluous fat. Throw in bowl with whatever veggies you are not serving your non-carnivores, and proceed as you would with the veggie skewers. If you’re doing chicken thighs, coat and marinate them until ready to grill, and serve with grilled vegetable skewers.
Grill the skewers and chicken thighs just before or at the party. Serve with curried potato salad. Bar: Beer, Wine, or Vodka and Tonic (1-2 ratio) and iced tea.
When asked “what should I bring?”: Green salad, dessert, beer
Highly Americanized White Girl Tacos
If you want something more authentic, there are some great mexican recipes out there. This is my take. My mother served tacos, chicken , or spaghetti to our huge family almost every night. I can see why she chose these three staples. They are cheap and work for a lot of different types of diets. You can also make these into burritos and skip the taco shell browning step, but I don’t like burritos and can’t eat the flour shells so I don’t. It’s also more expensive to get flour tortillas.
1 large package (20) flat corn tortillas(gluten-free) $3
5 pounds ground chicken or beef. If you don’t eat meat you can substitute sauteed portobello mushrooms diced, or the equivalent in meat substitute such as Tofu Crumbles. Both may be a bit more expensive. $8
1 jar taco seasoning or 1 packet (whatever works with your diet and budget) $1- $3
1 small onion $.50
1 bunch fresh cilantro $.50
3 tomatoes $1.50
2 avocados $4
1 lb mild or sharp cheddar in block form $3
5 cups brown minute rice, prepared (directions on box) $3
1 head iceberg lettuce $2
2 oranges sliced into wedges, 1 cup sliced strawberries, $3
1 bottle cheap red table wine, 1 liter ginger ale or club soda -$7-$9
Free: Salt and pepper, sugar, cooking oil or spray, water, ice. Cilantro if you’re growing it!
ONE DAY to THREE HOURS BEFORE
In large pitcher(s), mix bottle of wine with 2 1/2 cups soda and 2 tbsp sugar. Squeeze in oranges and drop rinds into mixutre. Add strawberries. Let chill 3 hours or overnight.
Working carefully, heat up the corn tortillas a couple at a time in large skillet, greased lightly with oil. Turn a few times so that they are pliable and slightly browned. Rest on paper towels. This takes awhile and is kind of a pain in the ass. But these shells are cheap. If you decide to do burritos, you can skip this step. Move tortillas to a serving platter.
Brown ground meat with a pinch each salt and pepper, taco seasoning, and 1/4 of the minced onion until well cooked. Set aside in serving bowl.
Present rice in serving bowl alone, or if you’re doing vegetarian, mix sauteed, diced portobello with seasoning and rice and set aside in bowl.
Dice remaining onion and tomatoes, chop lettuce, and grate cheese all into separate bowls. Halve avocdos, remove pits (whack knife edge into pit and twist) and slice into cubes, spooning out into serving bowl.
Guests serve themselves as a buffet, building tacos as they like. Bar: Sangria over ice!
When asked “what should I bring?”: Chips and salsa, fruit salad, mexican cookies, or beer
Italy on a Budget
Buying a frozen pizza is the cheapest way to do this, but you can also go a little more gourmet with making your own. The gluten-free route on this menu is substantially pricier than then regular. This is a case where it’s great to have fresh basil or arugala in the garden or on your windowsill, it can really add to the flavors here. (Market basil costs around $4)
2-3 boxes pasta (regular or rice pasta for gluten allergies) $5-$7
2 large jars plain red marinara sauce $5
Either 2 cheap 10″ frozen pizza (cheapest route) OR 2 10″ plain frozen pizza crusts and 1/2 lb mozzarella cheese (fresh or aged) $7-10
Small white or yellow onion and 1 head garlic $1- 1.50 total
1 head romaine lettuce and 1 plum tomato $2-$3
2 bottles lower-end red wine $7- $10
Frozen spinach $2-3 or fresh mushrooms $3-4, depending on the money left over / your taste. If you need dressing, use this money to get dressing instead of spinach or mushrooms.
Freebies: Grown basil if you have it, salt, pepper, olive oil, sugar. Balsalmic Vinegar Dressing is good to have, but any dressing will work.
40 MINUTES BEFORE:
Prepare pizza according to the box OR heat oven to 375, top pizza crusts with remaining marinara, cheese, and sliced veggies and cook 8-10 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Cut into small appetizer-sized pieces and serve.
Heat your water and a pinch of salt for pasta until boiling, then drop in for 10 minutes until tender. Drain immediately and rinse to prevent sticking. Serve in bowl. Heat a deep sautee pan and drop in half of the onion, minced, and 3 cloves of garlic, minved. Heat for 5 minutes, do not overcook. Pour in 2/3rds of your marinara carefully and simmer 10 minutes. Add in 1 tsp sugar, a few pinches each salt and pepper, and torn basil leaves.
Serve with pasta. If you have any arugala, basil, or mozzarella cheese left over from the pizzas, you can serve that on the side too.
Slice or tear romaine into salad-sized pieces and thinly slice your tomato. Tomatoes are pretty acidic so you can make the slices very thin for color and to make it go further. If you have any remaining mushrooms, slice and toss those in. Dress with olive oil and balsalmic vinegar or other dressing you have on hand. Basil or arugala is a great additive to this salad.
When asked “what should I bring?”: Wine, dessert such as cake or spumoni.
Wine and Cheese Soiree
Look at you! You’re on a budget and STILL you impress!
3 bottles of Wine $21-$30
Rice crackers and/or loaf of crusty bread: $3- $4
Cheese and grapes or berries: The rest of your money.
Freebies: Any garden herbs, veggies, or fruit you’re growing.
The trick here is to get cheaper wines and cheeses that are still nice. I find smoked Gouda and goat cheese are both delish and are a good option when you want to offer a firm and a soft cheese while still being on the cheaper end.
Brie can also be a good one to go for if you get a smaller quantity. And of course, who doesn’t like cheddar?
When asked “what should I bring?”: Fruit, or a wine and cheese pairing that they like. This makes it more communal.