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How to host the party and stick to the budget Add to ...

Two weeks ago I was invited to a holiday party. One week later, uninvited. The hosts changed their minds after estimating the work involved and the costs associated with entertaining. It's understandable. Just thinking about putting together the guest list, making the food, buying the drinks, and cleaning the house, makes you want to turn out the lights and order in. However, a little planning and creativity can turn you back into a social butterfly without squeezing you financially. The aim for the holidays should really be to keep it simple. This doesn’t mean cheap or boring, but rather implementing less expensive alternatives, so you can focus on being with guests and celebrating stress-free.

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Trimming down the menu and drink options is one way to keep costs down. You’ll likely serve beer and wine as staples, and if you are serving liquor try and stick to one or two signature drinks. Resources like Toronto Life’s top 12 picks for under $10 are helpful when you’re stumped and sticking to a budget. Sometimes affordable wines are the best.

I recently attended a party where the host asked everyone to bring a bottle of wine valued at under $30. After arriving, the host disguised each bottle with wrap and asked the guests to rate them as they were sampled through the night. Out of 17 bottles, the clear favourite was a bottle retailing for under $15. ( Sterling Vintner’s Collection 2009 from California). I’m sure many guests will be bringing or serving this wine over the holidays. Serving a specialty drink instead of offering a fully stocked bar also helps you stretch your dollar. Decide on your ingredient of choice and then check out some suggestions for recipes online, like LCBO’s recipe guide or list of holiday cocktails. Holiday cocktails can also go further than wine. A 750-millilitre bottle of wine will pour 4 to 6 drinks, while a 26-ounce bottle of vodka will serve roughly 17 drinks. If it’s for mixing, then the least expensive brand of liquor should do.

Simplifying the food menu is also a must for a low-cost and low-stress get-togethers. Next week I’m attending an appetizer swap, an updated twist on the bake swap. A group of five girls is getting together to whip up enough dishes to split and then freeze to have on hand for hosting or to bring to parties. Appetizers are as equally appreciated as baked goods. Festive tins and trays for packing can be picked up at the dollar store.

If you’re hosting, don’t be afraid to ask your guests to contribute by bringing a dish they do best. If you’re looking to get your event catered, then friends are also the best place to start for recommendations. I can think of a handful of friends who I’d love to ask to cater my next event, at fair rates that would be far less than the cost of well-known local caterers. RealSimple.com suggests finding a caterer through a cooking store, like Williams-Sonoma, and talking to the employees, or those who run the demonstrations, as many of them likely cater on the side.

Decor is another area that a lot of us go unnecessarily overboard. Unless you have time to spray paint pine cones and build decor from twigs in your backyard, then a few simple touches will do the trick to set the mood. Cider on the stove or scented candles, dimmed lights, and holiday music are fitting for any festivity. You can stream free holiday music from Live 365 or download free music from Amazon.com

For the extra touches, I’m all about visiting Martha Stewart’s blog, or my new site of holiday design inspiration, Pinterest.com. Again, many of the design ideas can be duplicated with items from the dollar store. When you’re ready to send out your invites for your soiree, then opt to order free cards online. Paperless Post and Evite both offer free invites and greeting cards.

Hosting and hopping between parties can get expensive – especially considering we tend to leave out these expenses from our holiday budget – and without a plan, the cost of food, cocktails, and decor can be pricey. Putting some thought into your social calendar, and keeping it simple will mean less expense and more enjoyment come party time.



Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group. Read her weekly column on managing debt and saving money at the Globe's personal finance site.

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