Keeping Your Party Food Budget in Check

Yesterday I discussed a few ways to save money when planning a party. Today I want to address saving money on food, which is usually the largest expense for parties, especially as guest lists expand. You don't want to skimp on food, leaving your guests hungry, but at the same time, you don't want to end up throwing a party you can't afford.

Begin party planning by deciding on a target budget for food. Parties held at meal times are more expensive than non mealtime parties. Once the budget and timing have been determined, start creating a menu that serves both. For meal time parties, start with the most substantive food first when planning and add as many more menu items as you think the target budget will cover. After writing everything down that fits within the budget, are you worried party goers will go hungry? It's time to think creatively.

The point of a party is to celebrate; not to worry about over extending yourself financially. Stick to the predetermined food budget, but come up with ways to stretch it. This might mean couponing or shopping at discount stores like Aldi or making more items from scratch. The next step is to ask for help from close friends and family, who are almost always happy to bring a dish to share. Partly because of my budget and partly because of time constraints, I asked family members to supply specific items to help ensure there was enough food at Merle's first birthday party. Besides it being a huge help to me, it made other people feel more involved with the festivities.

Parties are hallmarked by desserts and people tend to blow out their budget by buying outrageously expensive cakes. I know people who have spent hundreds of dollars on custom multi-tiered birthday cakes for children's parties. This is absolutely not necessary. Save the money by offering a dessert bar instead and making your own decadent treats.

For Merle's party I did a simple fruit salad, berry crumble, and angel food cake. The three desserts cost less than $25 combined. Why do dessert bars save money even though you're offering more food options? The more options you offer, the less of each item people eat, so you need to purchase a much smaller quantity. Of course this only works to a certain point because purchasing too many different ingredients can add up quickly too.

Another great thing about dessert bars is that you don't need to be a master baker. I attempted to make a pineapple angel food cake from scratch (Pin FAIL) and when it didn't work out, it was easy to swap it out for an inexpensive store bought version. I decorated the cake myself using homemade whipped cream, which kept the dessert low cost, yet made it special enough for the celebration. The jelly bean, dark chocolate, almond bumble bees I made to adorn it may not have looked perfect, but they were worth the cost savings to me. Throwing a party without breaking the bank made the celebration all the more enjoyable.

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