Ever daydreamed about having your friends over for a little seasonal soirée? Your mind wanders through images of fresh flowers and cocktails, your best pals laughing and toasting the night away while delicious aromas waft in from the kitchen. You excitedly grab a pen and paper and start jotting down menu and decor ideas, barely keeping up with yourself. This is going to be such a great night, you think. That is… until the costs and logistics swoop in and put a rain cloud right over that daydream. Yes, throwing a dinner party on a dime is a challenge. Yet there are plenty of ways to do it — you just have to get crafty.
In fact, Rachel Ostroy, a lifestyle influencer who’s well known for her incredible tablescapes, confirms that it is “absolutely” possible. The secret, she says? Be creative. “DIY is the key to throwing a budget-friendly party!” It’s not just about making things yourself though — thinking outside the box applies in multiple ways here. “Avoid expensive places and do your research!” she continues. “There are many places that offer affordable dupes to beautiful decor pieces, ingredients, and more. Trader Joe’s, Amazon, and Dollar Tree are some great examples.”
Those tips will go a long way in saving you cash. But if you need a little more help in the affordable dinner party department, don’t stress. There are more (and detailed) expert tips, up ahead.
The Guest List
Pick your favorite pals, and be careful of over-extending the guest list. “Focus on making it more intimate, meaningful, and impactful,” advises Ostroy. “Invite only close friends and family. Especially during times where we don’t get to gather as often, focus on inviting those who haven’t seen family and friends in a while and are in need of a nice, small social gathering!” Keeping it small and intimate will help you stay sane when it comes to preparation, and also takes the pressure off — remember, these are your closest friends.
There's no need to provide an open bar when it comes to beverages. According to Ostroy, you can save a lot of money by simply offering around three specialty drinks that can be considered universal. Otherwise, you’ll be buying different types of liquor to accommodate everyone, which can get pricey fast. “For example, when it comes to wine, everyone has preference! A great way to choose a universal drink that a majority of your guests could enjoy would be to make a quick and easy sangria. Slice up some cubed fruit, add your alcohol, fill a dispenser or bucket, and you’re good to go.” Or better yet, simply ask your guests to bring themselves and their favorite bottle of bubbly.
For the food, keep the dishes simple, satisfying, and beautiful to look at. And, of course, create them yourself. “Instead of ordering food out, make your own individual gourmet pizzas to serve, create DIY charcuterie boards and vegetable platters, gorgeous salad bars, and more!” says Ostroy. “Focus on choosing platters where the ingredients are affordable.”
Picking dishes with less than five major ingredients and less than five steps will also keep you relaxed and able to enjoy your own party while ensuring your wallet is happy.
Need a sample menu? Try a simple caprese to start — it's colorful and a surefire taste-bud winner. When it comes to the entrée, try a fresh pasta dish with veggies, or go ahead and make some pizzas. Create a toppings bar where guests can fancy up their slices with add-ons like truffle oil, pepper flakes, pineapple, freshly shaved Parmesan cheese or creamy ricotta, exotic mushrooms, basil leaves, and precooked prosciutto.
For dessert, serve scoops of vanilla ice cream (or maybe Wildberry Lavender) in white ramekins or small drinking glasses. Add a drizzle of honey, and then top it off with a mint leaf or edible flower for a pop of color.
The trick to elevating your dime-worthy dinner party is ambiance: As long as you're setting the perfect party vibe, everything else, from the menu to the cocktails to the conversation, will fall into place.
You don't have to go overboard, but putting a little effort into your food presentation and your tablescape will go a long way. Ditch the paper plates, plastic cups, and pizza boxes in favor of vintage mix-and match-plates and platters from your local flea market. Usually you can find these on the cheap, and the hunt can be just as fun as throwing the party. Or, treat yourself to an affordable set of dishes that bring their own personality to the table and will hopefully motivate you to throw dinner parties on the regular.
For drinks, it’s easy to find budget-friendly glassware, so serve those pretty-in-pink Greyhounds in whiskey glasses, and have glass bottles for water and other beverages set along the table — it all feels very fancy, for just a few dollars.
And don't forget string lights! Everyone loves them and they instantly give you that soft mood lighting.
When it comes to your table decor, quantity wins over quality. There's no need to buy bunches of peonies and candlesticks — your table will be just as inviting when it's filled end to end with tea lights in simple votives and with single buds in vases (Ostroy recommends displaying those empty wine or beer bottles). And remember: Fake florals are your friend. “Avoid buying real flowers for decor! Faux flowers are inexpensive, and you can always reuse them,” she explains.
When it comes to linens, skip the expensive stuff as well. “You can go to a fabric store and buy many pieces for a good price,” says Ostroy. “You can use [those] to create napkins, a tablecloth, table mats, a table runner, coasters, long strips of ribbon, and more! The best part — you can reuse these items for your next budget-friendly dinner party.”
DIY personalized place cards for each of your guests can add a little extra polish to your party (“handwrite your own name cards and use an affordable ink stamp to make them look pretty,” says Ostroy), and while you’re at it, go ahead and create labels for each of your dishes if you're presenting them buffet-style. You can even add a twig of lavender or one of those faux flowers.
And Ostroy’s final piece of advice? “Buy lots of ribbon and spray paint! Spray paint is great to use on any faux flowers or decor pieces like empty beer or wine bottles if you’re looking to follow a specific color theme.”
This article was originally published on