Debt-free fete: Throw a New Year’s Eve party on a budget

Erika Enigk

With the holidays comes the temptation to spend every last dollar making for a festive season.

But when it comes to ringing in the new year, a little planning is all that’s needed to start 2010 with fun and a full wallet, said Sarah Pease of Brilliant Event Planning in New York City.


To create a conversation-friendly space, Pease recommends soft lighting. 

“Leave the fluorescent overhead lights off and turn on a few table lamps around the room,” Pease said. For extra ambiance and color, string cut-paper art along the ceiling, or alternate paper lanterns with Christmas lights.

To add to the festive mood, pull the curtains and project the live TV coverage of New Year’s Eve festivities. Keeping it muted will help keep the guests from hovering around the television – a sure party killer.

“You can rent a projector for around $100, and it will keep the party going all the way until midnight,” she said. “Once midnight nears, turn on the sound so you can count along – and avoid the inevitable, ‘Is it time yet?’”


A formally catered event can be pricey, but with a little creative thinking, feeding the masses can be classy and affordable.

“Most local grocery stores offer basic catering,” Pease said. “Whole Foods in particular has a wide variety of choices, including sushi trays, sweets, and hot and cold appetizers that will make you look like you’re giving Martha Stewart a run for her money.”

And don’t forget the “good luck” foods. In many areas of the country, people eat certain foods on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day for good luck in the coming year. Make a big batch of hot dogs and sauerkraut, black-eyed peas or the local food of choice. Sam’s Club and Costco make it easy to feed a large group. 


A quarter keg of beer is a simple, easy crowd-pleaser and only costs about $75, Pease said. When guests have different tastes in beer, buy beers from different countries for an Around the World theme.

For the non-beer drinkers, brew a big pot of tea, add some brandy and lemon slices and serve hot toddies, or grab some red wine and fruit for sangria. And of course, make sure there is champagne for a midnight toast. has a handy drink calculator in its Planning Tools section to help hosts figure out how much to get.

Don’t forget to include the designated drivers. Make a batch of mulled cider or get a keg of root beer for those who won’t be drinking.


Music is important to the party atmosphere, so be sure to have an iPod and speaker system ready to go. Start with some light background music, then transition into party tunes later.

Of course, the real excitement happens at midnight. To really wow guests, Pease suggests a midnight balloon drop. Fill a volleyball net with balloons and string it above the main party area, then untie it at midnight. Guests will love it, and it’s much easier to clean up balloons than confetti or Silly String.

And don’t forget the standard celebration tools.

“Make sure you have ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and noisemakers,” Pease said. “They may be a little bit cheesy, but both the song and the noisemakers are classics, and it wouldn’t be New Year’s without them.”