7 Cost Conscious Ideas on Entertaining Guests this Holiday Season

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With the holiday seasons upon us, some may be struggling with entertaining guests because of budget constraints. A few of us feel the need to be extravagant in order to impress those visiting them.

I’ll let you in on a secret – a survey showed that 69% of people look forward to spending time with family and friends, and in the same survey showed that 33% don’t like the materialism and commercialization of the holidays.

Let me interpret those statistics for you – your family and friends are happy to see you and want to visit and really don’t care about how big or little of a party you throw. It’s that simple. It’s possible to throw a memorable holiday party and still be within your budget.

Here are 7 cost-conscious ideas on entertaining guests this holiday season:

1. Decorate Naturally

Use nature as your theme. Go out into the park, or the woods and collect pine tree boughs, pinecones, acorns and colorful leaves and assemble them for your holiday home décor.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Gather a few straight pine boughs into a fan shape, tie the narrow end tightly and then wrap holiday ribbon over the knot and tie into a festive bow. Hang on front door or inside.
  • Scatter different size pinecones on a table runner and around a center candle for easy table décor.
  • String together smaller pine branches together on a strong string or rope and now you have a vine to string across your mantel or staircase.
  • Paint the bottoms of acorns red, green, or even gold and silver and place in a large centerpiece jar for a unique display.

Many other decor ideas can be found online and at your local DIY and Craft store for decorating your home for the season for free or within your budget.

2. Serve Non-Traditional Food

Gone are the days of the Norman Rockwell large family feast as more and more families are opting to eat out instead of cook. In fact, last year restaurants have reported a 40% to 50% profit increase by being open on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

You don’t need to make reservations when you have guests over but you can keep it simpler than a large full service. Some food service ideas can be:

  • Pot Luck – You cook the main entrée and have guests bring their favorite side dish to share.
  • Slow Cookers – Prepare whole meals in a slow cooker and forget it. Less stressful.
  • Serve Brunch – Serving a brunch or even a late lunch with breakfast foods, muffins, fruit platters. (A bonus is that guests leave late afternoon and you get a quiet evening).
  • Appetizers only – Serve a variety of finger foods and drinks instead of a meal.
  • Just Desserts – Host an after-dinner party instead, and serve desserts

I know food and eating traditions are important, but why not transform them into new traditions to match the changing times?

3. Alternative Liquor Ideas

Now, what about alcohol? This can get expensive in itself. Experts say that 50% of your guests will prefer wine, 30% will prefer beer, and 20% will prefer mixed drinks. Let’s say you’re having a party of 15 people for appetizers and drinks. 8 will want wine, 4 will want beer, and the rest will want mixed drinks. Then you’ll need 4 bottles of wine, a 24 case of beer, and 1 bottle of liquor for a 4-hour party. That adds to about $70 or more!

So, how do we appease everyone and still stay within budget? Some suggestions:

  • Stick to one drink – Mix one festive cocktail for everyone to try. Bonus: you’re actually spending time mingling instead of serving
  • Buy in Bulk – Buy from a discount liquor store in bulk. Bonus: store the extras for future parties.
  • BYOB – Everyone brings their favorite drink. Bonus: they’re happy because they have their favorite drink.
  • Be Alcohol-Free – Some hosts prefer alcohol-free parties for a variety of reasons, it doesn’t mean boring, serve yummy mocktails Bonus: Not worrying about drunk driving.

Alcohol shouldn’t be the focus of the party and it shouldn’t be expensive either.

4. Gather Elsewhere

If you’ve hosted parties and guests before, you know how stressful it can get – cleaning the house, planning, shopping, and attending to tiny details to make sure things are “just perfect”. How about avoiding most of that? Have the family gathering elsewhere.

Here are some alternate family gathering spots:

  • Tourist Attraction – If you live near a tourist attraction and family are coming out of town, plan a gathering there instead. The zoo, museum, children’s science center, and others usually have a party rental area available for you to use.
  • Local Restaurant – Find a local Mom & Pop’s restaurant and negotiate a party seating arrangement for the day. Some even have party rooms available too.
  • Family Activity – Go to the ski resort, beach, park gazebo, or anything near you large enough to accommodate the group and has activities to entertain everyone.

Growing up, my family used to meet at a large hill in the country, we all brought our toboggans, snowmobiles, and even large heavy-duty plastic sheets and had a tobogganing party. Afterwards we met at the coffee shop for hot chocolate, sweet treats, and chats.

5. Use Your Apps for Hotels

If you’re a loyal member of FFL (thank you), you know all about the cash-back shopping apps. Use these apps and shop, or redeem for hotel rooms.

Hotel savings like:

  • Ibotta offers 6% cash-back on Hotels.com, 8% cash-back on HotelStorm, and 3% cash-back on hotelTonight.
  • Swagbucks offers 6% cash-back on Hotels.com, 2% back on some hotel chains, and 16% cash-back on CheapTickets. You can also redeem your Swagbucks for gift cards at hotels.com, several airline companies, and Uber.
  • InboxDollars offers 1.5% cash-back on Priceline, 2.5% at Best Western, and you can redeem gift cards for airlines, hotels.com, and uber.

Having your guests stay in a nearby hotel instead of at your place would be less stressful for both parties, especially when there are very young children involved.

6. Have a Skype Party

This is a great idea for family spread far apart. Skype is free to download on computers, smartphones, and tablets and is a video call service.

Video to video calls are free and you can see each other, chat, share photos and videos with each other and all from the comfort of your own home. You can still use it for those relatives that aren’t tech savvy and call their phone instead.

Skype video calls are free, audio calls to another Skype phone number is free, and Skype calls called to another phone needs credits or a subscription which are relatively cheap. Calling someone anywhere in North America (8 countries) costs $6.99 a month., calling only in the U.S. costs $2.99 a month, and a World subscription is $13.99 a month. All these plans offer unlimited calling minutes.

You can make group calls on Skype too! Up to 25 people (24 plus yourself) can be on the same audio call and the maximum number of video streams will vary depending on what device you are using.

This would greatly benefit those with limited travel budgets, tight work schedules, many children, health issues, and other travel restrictions.

7. Savings Before the Party

Preparing for the party itself can get expensive too, and again I suggest to go non-traditional here. Here’s how:

  • Skip the traditional paper invitations – Pick up the phone and call everyone instead. People aren’t even sending Christmas cards anymore (30% less than 10 years ago), so save almost $20 and call instead.
  • Insist on an RVSP – Insist that people let you know that they’ll attend the party. This saves so much cooking time and wasted food. I had a summer fish-fry party where we invited 22 people and only 8 showed, we were eating fish for 2 weeks.
  • Shop early – During the year, if you catch any sales on party décor, paper goods, and such, grab them and stock up.
  • Use Paper products – There are attractive Christmas plates that are actually paper. Save the paper goods and the leftover foods for your compost pile. Think of how much less clean-up to do.
  • Do the work – it’s tempting to get the pre-made veggie tray, the boxes of frozen appetizers, and other short cuts. But you’ll save more money by preparing these yourself. Many appetizers can be made ahead of time and frozen until party day.

Final Thoughts

Just remember that it’s not how big and showy your place is or how big a gift you’ve given that people will remember, but how good they felt while they were with you. So don’t worry about going “all-out” trying to impress people, just be there for them.

For more Holiday savings ideas, check out these posts:

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