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Don’t Go Broke Playing Host This Summer

Summer brings longer days, warmer nights, and guests that are eager to cut loose and mingle. But hosting a summer party can be risky if you’ve committed to living on a budget, but are known for throwing a swanky soirée.

Whether your style is a slinky summer gathering, or casual backyard barbeque, these expert tips from top event planning and savings experts will help you host a buzzworthy summer shindig that will ensure happy guests without punishing your wallet.

Fun, frugal food

Taking a flexible approach to your menu can lead to big savings, according to James Rota, founder of Dazzle Creative Events. Let grocery store sales determine the bulk of your menu. Be open to main dishes that include chicken, meat or seafood, based on what items are “buy one, get one free” the week of your party, to stretch your budget.  Many stores will also markdown typically expensive meats and seafood items close to the “sell by” date, so scour the store a day before the party for last-minute finds.

Coupons.com household savings expert Jeanette Pavini adds that chicken wings and thighs are much less expensive than boneless breasts, and taste great when they’re marinated or grilled. If your crowd loves meat, make kebabs, using plenty of tasty marinade and inexpensive veggies to add lots of color.  If you have an annual bash, Pavini advises stocking up on condiments early in the summer when they go on sale, and adds that “many national grocery chains will offer items such as ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise as loss leaders around holidays, so buy what you’ll need for the entire summer.”

Utilize sites like Coupons.com to find extra savings on budget-friendly party staples you can easily make in advance. (Think cold pasta salads, dips, cheese and veggie trays, and easy finger desserts like mini cupcakes and brownies). Then, add a few higher-end items to the spread by serving shrimp, artichokes, and bacon wrapped figs, to create a mix of upscale options and traditional summer party fare.

Rota also suggests designing your party to be interactive and fun by holding a customized creation station for pizzas, pastas, polenta, or desserts. For example, to create a custom pizza station, you provide the prebaked pizza base and all the toppings, and guests design their own signature pizzas. Then, just heat and serve.  Add extra entertainment by having guests judge one another’s creations, and awarding prizes for the standouts.

Dazzling discount drinks

While the price of your booze will probably account for the largest portion of your summer bash budget, there are creative ways to offer a classy spirits spread with savings in mind.  Erika Unbehaun of FlutterFly Events suggests Italian prosecco or Spanish cava as a chic and cost-effective alternative to expensive bubbly, and advises that hosts utilize wine merchants for additional savings when buying in larger quantities. (Remember to check their return policy before buying).If you’re open to a variety of wine labels, check out Wine.Woot!, a daily deal site offering great buys on quality wines.

Even water can be spruced up to add some elegance to your backyard affair. Instead of a cooler filled with bottled water, consider serving tap water in several filled pitchers. Add sliced lemons and limes, or Unbehaun suggests adding a splash of lime cordial.

Don’t forget the decor

Celebrity event planner Jes Gordon of “Rocco’s Dinner Party”, and author of “Party Like a Rock Star: A Celebrity Party Planner’s Tips and Tricks for Throwing an Unforgettable Bash,” says lighting is everything when it comes to setting the mood for your bash. String inexpensive, paper lanterns from trees overhead the party area to add a swanky vibe. If you have a pool, skip the trite tiki torches and use floating LED orb lights to add a heavenly glow. (Add a few around the perimeter of the pool so guests don’t take an unexpected dip once the sun sets)!

“America’s Sassiest Lifestyle Guru” Steve Kemble suggests picking a theme to create a unique mood.  Pick a color you love, and invite guests to join in the fun (and create free décor!) For example, if you’ve picked pink as your theme color, ask all guests to dress in the color, and replace your existing light bulbs in lamps and outdoor fixtures with light pink bulbs to create a warm, festive party feel.

You can also get creative with serving options to create a memorable affair, while maintaining your budget. “Instead of using plain platters to display your food, blow up a bunch of small, inexpensive life preserver rings and place your platters inside those. You can even substitute a surfboard for a table!” says Gordon.  She suggests displaying beverages in colorful buckets with bright straws, along with a few champagne poppers or themed trinkets, and adding mirrors to tables and buffets for a little budget bling.

Time it right

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to throwing a budget summer bash. Consider how long your want your party to last, and how much money you want to spend hosting, before selecting the start (and potentially stating an end time), for your party.  “If your party starts at 11am then you’ll need to cater for lunch and possibly dinner, but if it starts at 5pm then you’ll only need to cater for dinner,” says Unbehaun . Also keep in mind that guests will expect more food and liquor options for an evening bash (and probably consume more of both), than a daytime occasion.

Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer based in Columbus, OH. The founder of Wellness On Less, she also writes on small business, consumer interest, wellness, career and personal finance topics.