Party Pizzazz without Going to the Poorhouse

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

As the fall and winter holiday season approaches, you may be fretting about how to entertain your friends and family and welcome them into your home while maintaining your budget. While you’ll naturally need to spend a little on extra food and drink, there are ways to reduce your costs and still impress your loved ones with a sense that they are treasured. Think back to some of the gatherings you’ve enjoyed the most and you’re likely to realize that the ambiance mattered more than what you ate or drank.

Decorating lavishly on a dime
No matter what type of party you’re planning, you’re likely to want to decorate your home for the event. Try for a cohesive look throughout your home, not just the main space where your guests will gather, by sticking to a color scheme of just one or two colors. You don’t necessarily need to stick to traditional holiday colors and can make a big statement with your favorite shade. Mix ornaments and candles in these colors with greenery and bits of nature such as pinecones and interesting branches that you can find in a park or your own backyard. An inexpensive visit to a fabric store can turn up ribbons and fabric that you can use in unexpected places to carry your signature color from your front door into your foyer and throughout the house. Don’t forget to add some decorations to your guest bath and your guest bedroom. Boxes of shiny ornaments can be purchased at craft stores and displayed in monotones or groupings in clear glass containers instead of sticking to the traditional tree, mantel and wreath pattern.Trailing a few strands of ivy in every decorated area of your home will tie everything together naturally.

Once you’ve chosen the color scheme for your home decorations, you can add another layer to your theme by color-coordinating your party supplies. You can order paper goods, even personalized ones, inexpensively online to suit your theme. If your budget can accommodate a little extra, you can even order coffee mugs or other small items as mementos for your guests.

Setting the tone for fun
A party is about more than decorations, it’s also about inviting the right mix of people and setting the tone from the beginning. Make sure your guests know if you’re having a party with a special theme or if you want them to bring games or music or to dress in a costume or particular style. Lights, music and your furniture will make a difference in the ambiance, too. Choose your music carefully for the type of party you want, whether it’s a raucous dance party or a sophisticated evening of conversation or a cozy night with games and laughter. Set your lights on dimmers if you can and let your guests know where you want them to hang out and what’s off-limits with brighter lights and darkened rooms. If you’re comfortable with your guests exploring your entire home or plan to give house tours, leave a dimly lit lamp in every room.

Think about seating for your guests. If you’re having a cocktail party with a buffet, you may want to move your dining chairs to the living room and push your dining table against one wall. If you have an ottoman or an extra desk chair that can be pulled into duty, arrange your chairs in groupings for several conversation areas. Consider removing your coffee table or another large table so there’s more standing room available. Remember that guests typically congregate in the kitchen, so make sure you’re prepared with a clean kitchen and some cleared counters where they can put down a drink or a plate. Think about setting up some drinks and lights outside, because unless it’s raining or snowing, there are always a few people who will want to go outdoors for fresh air.

Always serve a signature drink to guests as a conversation starter and to carry on your party theme. A special drink can also cut down on your costs if you choose something with simple, inexpensive ingredients.

Cooking yourself is nearly always less costly than a catered event, but you can cut costs even more if you ask your guests to bring their favorite dishes. It’s best to organize a pot luck by category so you don’t end up with a buffet table of brownies, though. Most important of all to a successful party: relax and have fun. Your guests will enjoy themselves more if you’re having a good time, too.

Michele Lerner is a freelance writer with more than twenty years of experience writing articles and web content for newspapers and magazines on topics related to real estate, personal finance and business. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post,,,,,, The Washington Times, NAREIT's Real Estate Portfolio, and numerous Realtor association publications. Her latest book, "New Home 101: Your Guide to Buying and Building a New Home" and her first book, "HOMEBUYING: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time" are available now at or from