Budget bash: Throw a top-shelf party for bottom-shelf prices

Erika Enigk

It’s almost summer, and that means backyard picnics and parties galore.

Tired of the same chips, hot dogs and soda? Throwing a great party doesn’t have to be expensive, said Sarah Pease, owner of Brilliant Event Planning in New York City. For a party with class that won’t break the bank, try these money-saving tips.


Check out the menus on a professional caterer’s Web site for inspiration, and then find recipes online to make your favorite dishes at home.

“Something like curried popcorn is very budget-friendly but a guest favorite,” Pease said. “And it doesn’t look like you just threw a bag of Jiffy Pop in the microwave.”

Bulk buying also can help save money, and it doesn’t have to mean gigantic troughs of potato chips, Pease said. Instead, she suggests a few loaves of day-old bread and a case of tomatoes. Cut the bread into small squares, toast them in the oven, and check out for some topping ideas.

“You can create a ‘bruschetta station’ with five different kinds of bruschetta topping — sure to be a crowd pleaser,” she said.


For thrifty, pretty decorations, Pease recommends going straight to the queen of DIY décor by visiting

“Martha Stewart has tons of free downloadable templates for printed items and other easy-to-make items,” she said.

There are even directions for making a vase from an old paper bag or a pinwheel from old magazines.

Pressed for time or just not crafty? has easy ideas for decorating on the cheap. Float three or four Granny Smith apples in a wide vase, or make limes into place cards by writing guests’ names on mailing labels, attaching them to toothpicks and sticking them into the limes.


Filling your guests’ glasses can be nearly cost-free, Pease said.

“You know how every time you go to get a massage, they offer you a glass of the cucumber water? Guess what. That’s just tap water with cucumbers in it!” Pease said.

Fill two pretty glass pitchers with tap water and drop in fresh sliced cucumbers into one and sliced lemons into the other. Raid Grandma’s hutch or check out ebay for deals on the pitchers.

For a little more flavor, try a spritzer — a quart of fruit juice mixed with a liter of sparkling water. Or, for a drink/dessert combination, serve sherbet punch.


The best way to save on plates and silverware is to eliminate the need completely, Pease said. Serve finger foods and there’s nothing to buy — and even less to clean up.

To save on napkins, check a restaurant supply store for clearance deals on bar towels. This not only keeps your napkins from blowing away in the wind, it’s better for the environment — and all you need is a quick wash cycle to have your napkins ready for the next soiree.

Check out www.brilliant and click on “blog” for more money-saving ideas.