We're sharing budget holiday entertaining tips with Lisa Dawn Bolton, author of On Boards. She's got great tips for making your holiday cocktail party decor say 'tis the season' on a budget of only $100. Plus, she shares ideas for serving beautiful, simple food that won't break the bank either!
It's at that time of year when those famous red cups start making early morning appearances in the hands of recently unpacked gloves that I start to think about the holiday season.
One of my absolute favorite parts of the month of December is being able to host cherished friends for cozy evenings of bubbly drinks and indulgent eats. Between hosting, attending and all the exchanging of good cheer in between, December quickly becomes an expensive month. So today, I'm excited to share how you can host a fabulous holiday cocktail party with simple, beautiful food and a $100 decorating budget.
How To Plan Your Budget Cocktail Party
Whether it's an intimate dinner party of six or a kids party of 40, I make a plan. I start on Pinterest and create a secret board that just I can see. I search topics such as tablescapes, budget party hosting, DIY party planning, and so on. I also check out the Pinterest boards of famous party planners such as Colin Cowie or Martha Stewart for inspiration. It's here I start brainstorming the three major components to a party: the decor, the food and the drink.
Chances are if you're hosting a holiday cocktail party, you already have some form of holiday decor happening inside your house. Nothing says ‘tis the season like a decorated Douglas fir smack in the middle of your living space.
That said, if you're going to host 10 to 12 people for an evening of sips and bites, it's a nice touch to create a serving table where guests can help themselves and then meander throughout the rest of the living space.
5 Tips for A Budget-Friendly Holiday Cocktail Party
#1: Visit the local greenhouse clearance section
I like to have a main floral or greenery focal point for the table, but the cost of an arrangement from a florist is often out of reach (and it may not last the week). A more cost effective alternative is a visit to the clearance section of your local greenhouse.
I scored a shrub with holly leaves and red berries for only $16.00. It was sparse but large and once I covered the pot with some dollar store paper and hung some bulbs (also from the dollar store) it became an impressive $20 living centerpiece that will last the entire holiday season.
Extra Tip: If you have a neighbour with a well producing holly tree, ask if you can clip a few branches to take home for decor. Offer up some holiday cookies in return or an invite to the party!
#2: Visit the dollar store - with a theme in mind!
Dollar stores are great but make sure you have a specific plan in mind. I've learned the hard way over the years how easy it is to end up buying WAY more than I need. Even just by roughly sketching out your table plan on a piece of paper and counting the bulbs and decorations, you can get a sense of how much of each decor item you'll need.
#3: Decorate (or remove) existing art pieces on your walls
There isn't much you can’t do with shiny bulbs and pretty ribbon.
In my home, there's usually a very large picture behind this table. I love it, but it doesn’t say “holiday season.” So I chose to remove it and where the hangers are, donned an assortment of bulbs and ribbon.
If you didn’t want to remove the picture, you could always wrap it in holiday paper like a present.
A third option would be to hang ribbon, holly or bulbs over or around the picture. All of the ribbon and bulbs in these pictures cost about $12 total.
You could also hang the ribbons and bulbs direct from the ceiling at varying heights or even from the chandelier and add some garland to give it a more festive feel.
#4: Visit the home improvement store
When it comes to tablescapes, you don’t want to necessarily invest in a whole new set of dishes. Mismatched can work quite well as long as you have a consistent theme.
In this case, I chose wood, with red and white accents. I wanted the table to have an impact from eye level, so in order to build up some height I visited my local hardware store and had them cut a piece of 4x4x10 cedar. Then I used the same paper I wrapped the planted pot in and created food and drink stands.
I love that I can reuse these stands for other occasions going forward and just change the wrap for a different feel. Total cost: $30.
Tip #5 — Less is more on the food & drink menu
One signature cocktail (plus beer and wine), one cheese board and three prepared appetizers are more than enough for a small cocktail party of 10 to 12.
Because the guest list is small I like using a combination of individually plated appetizers and then one communal board. The best part of this menu is that you can make this as homemade or store-made as you like.
The prepared appetizers were baked prawns on cocktail sauce with lemon zest & fresh dill, presented on Chinese soup spoons available from most dollar stores or Asian markets. The meatballs were served in little condiment dishes I've had forever (if you don't have enough individual dishes you could plate the meatballs on one long plate or even cut parchment paper to the size of the board and place them directly on the board). The naked pierogi jars were from the dollar store at $2.50 for four (and they came with the ribbon!).
A cheese board is my go-to for any gathering. It's simple, quick and has something for everyone. Just take any cutting board you have, lay down some offset parchment paper if it’s a little rough looking and fill the board. My preference is a smaller board that's overflowing versus a more sparse board, but it’s a personal decision.
Here's a quick Cheese Board For Beginners to get you started!
Adding It Up
With the added touches of fake snow and glittery tinsel, this entire table came together under budget for a total of $81.03 plus the cost of food and drink.
Here's the cost breakdown:
- Bulbs $14.00
- Jars $5.00
- Ribbon $4.00
- Paper $2.00
- Sparkly table trees $4.00
- Fake snow $3.35
- Board $30.22
- Shrub $18.46
- Total: $81.03
It's sparkly and festive and the perfect kickoff to the holiday season, but also includes pieces I can use throughout the rest of the year. So this holiday season, use these tips to save money on your holiday decor so maybe there's a little left over in the budget for the perfect hostess gift — for you!
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Lisa Bolton is the creator, writer and photographer behind Food Well Said, her blog about bringing thoughtfully prepared, whole food recipes. She lives in the Lower Mainland of BC and you can reach her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.