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How To Throw A Cheap Party For Family And Friends

Updated on February 17, 2017

In this economy, people need to stick to a budget, and I think we have finally learned a few lessons about the things we chose to spend our money on. In the eighties, I attended birthday parties of classmates who complained that my gift was not lavish enough, but I am not exactly sure why they expected someone to spoil them silly on their birthday. Of course, we should do thoughtful things for people on their birthdays, but nothing is more boring than the so-called friend that only invites people to their party hoping to get a bounty full of treasure. In the nineties, I was a bit older and went to birthday parties where people were much more respectful about the gifts I purchased. They may not have loved the gift, but they did not throw a fit about it either. Personally, I do not like largely depersonalized parties and I prefer celebrations with around ten people tops. Even when my sister had a Thanksgiving party/dinner for her friends it grew a little tiresome of a large number of people that came over. There was just too much noise and chatter, and I prefer something a bit smaller. After discovering that a few male guests had snarfed down a Thanksgiving dinner that could have fed a small army for several days, my sister decided it would be more economical to have a shorter list of her parties.

There is nothing wrong with large and lavish parties, budget permitting, but these days who can afford to do so? When looking at your party list try to trim it down to family and friends you know you want to hang out with, and not long lost acquaintances you rarely see. It is much cheaper to plan a party for a small number of people as opposed to overdrawing your bank account on one event. Here are a few of the things seen people do to bring down the cost of a small party for family and friends.

 A home baked cake is a tasty treat for an affordable birthday party.
A home baked cake is a tasty treat for an affordable birthday party.

1. Restaurant Parties Are Out:

How many times have your heard about people complaining that a party at a restaurant went way over budget, even after they had made special menu arrangements with the manager in advance? Something always goes wrong and the guests end up ordering more than the host expected, or a few people assume the host is paying and leave them to foot the entire bill.

I went to an informal birthday party for a friend at a local restaurant. It was well known in advance that each person was going to pay for their own dinner. A few guests brought the birthday girl presents, but they must have assumed these gifts entitled them to a free dinner. Her friends surprised her with a birthday cake, and before it could be served several people magically got up and left the table. The poor birthday girl was stuck with a bill of several hundred dollars on her birthday, and she wanted us to help out with the rest. I gave her and her friends a few dollars, but since the understanding had been that we each were having our own dinner I insisted on a separate check for myself.

Past experiences taught me when you go out with a group of several people always ask the server to give you a separate check because a combined total often results in disputes about who owes what, and who should pay how much of the tip. Yes I know I am a painfully cheap wet blanket, but personally, I do not want to have a party at a restaurant because it will always cost more.

2. Park Parties Are In:

Park parties are definitely in because the only costs here are for the food and party supplies. Yes you will have to bring a trash bag and clean up after yourself, but chances are a park can offer a much nicer ambiance than a noisy restaurant. One park up where I used to live in the mountains was so beautiful because it was next to a small lake with flowers and ducks all around, and in many cities the local park is one of the closest places where you can get back to nature. Park parties are really cool, but keep in mind there may be many people with the same idea if you have a party during the weekend. If all the benches are taken bring several blankets and have an old fashion picnic, and if you have never done so I recommend it!

3. Buy Party Supplies On The Cheap:

Delis usually have a wonderful selection of cold cuts, sandwiches, and salads for a party, but these can cost extra. To save money head over to a store like Food For Less or Smart and Final to pick up party food and supplies more affordable prices. At Food For Less, there are large submarine sandwiches, bags of fried chicken, salad packs, affordable fruit by the pound, and many other goodies that you can stock up on for reasonable prices. Yes, you have to bag your own groceries, but I view this as my cardio and strength training.

I also love Smart and Final because you can find large containers of potato salad, restaurant brand frozen entrees in bulk sizes, and large packages of party supplies such as plastic knives and forks. When planning a party it never hurts to stop by Smart and Final on the way home from work, and I guarantee you will save money shopping there when planning for medium to larger parties.

4. Have A Party Gift Exchange:

At one job I thought it was very refreshing how the birthday boy or girl would bring in a treat or cupcakes on their birthday as opposed to expecting others to treat them. This was a fun idea, and everyone got to sample treats throughout the year this way.

If you are planning a party for your guests you probably cannot afford to buy them all gifts, and I do not expect you to do this because it is your birthday after all. However, it might be a fun idea to have gift exchange party and tell your guests they do not have to bring you a gift. Set a limit that each guest can spend one gift, such as five dollars. Next, play a white elephant type game and see who ends up with what. I would rather do something like this as opposed to having others watch me open a table full of presents because then I feel like every one is sharing in on the fun.

5. Make Your Own Birthday Cake:

Cakes from the bakery are not exactly cheap, but for under five dollars, you can make a tasty cake at home. A homemade cake may not be as fancy as one made by a decorator, but most cakes taste good with ice cream. If you really do not want to bake a cake Food For Less has an affordable selection, but these will cost more than making your own. Have fun planning a party, and do not be afraid to think of ways to save money when doing so.


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    • eventsyoudesign profile image


      8 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      If you can barter your services for that of another. You would be surprised at how receptive other people are to this idea. If, for example, someone at your church is a baker ask them if they will provide you with a cake for your party in exchange for your services. There are websites for people who want to barter their services in exchange for services provided by another. Great article. I enjoyed reading it.

    • packerpack profile image

      Om Prakash Singh 

      9 years ago from India, Calcutta

      Your concept of birthday is completely matching with that of mine.

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA


      I guess my ideas for that come from never having really had a large party for myself, so I would never be comfortable with that many presents. I have always been a budget conscious person and never wanted people to spend more on me than necessary. I have treated myself on occasion, but to me a birthday is more about celebrating friendship than piling presents upon someone.

    • packerpack profile image

      Om Prakash Singh 

      9 years ago from India, Calcutta

      I knew it will be for HubMob. Good one. I have got so many ideas for this recession times, now it is the partying in recession. The gift exchange concept was new to me! Thanks

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I am glad you enjoyed these tips weblog.

    • weblog profile image


      9 years ago from 1India

      Your how-to hubs are always good. Perfect planning and trying to avoid over budget for any family event is good for all.

      Thumbs up!

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Hi Pete,

      I really do like the small parties at the park. There was this really nice park near a lake once where my sister had two really fun birthday parties for her kids. Your parties sound great too.


      I think breakfast in bed is a great celebration too, so if that is all you feel like doing sometimes that sounds great.


      I understand some families have bigger parties, and I think my friend Cherish does have larger parties like your family. My extended family all lives in other parts of the country, so when we had parties it is always small.

      Making is a cake is easier than you might imagine, but I am sure you have some stores in your town that have affordable ones too. I was just happy to see that Food 4 Less where we live was selling really large cakes for not such a bad price, but if you go to a local bakery it is much more than that.

      Local bakeries have wonderful cakes, but I remember one time when a friend paid over thirty dollars for a cake that had different decorations and frosting colors then they had requested. Someday I still might take a cake decorating class because you can learn some really neat techniques there. I am glad you had a nice birthday :).

      Hi C.S.,

      I actually got chided for taking a walk away from one of our rare large family reunions, but everyone was off visiting or playing baseball, and I just needed some solitude. I just feel like smaller parties are more my style, and at some of the larger parties I have been to I felt out of place. If it is a party my friend is throwing not so much, but I have been to a few parties with people I did not know, and being introverted I just could not get into it. I am sure your parties are good since you are so earth conscious and have good ideas about recycling :).

    • C.S.Alexis profile image


      9 years ago from NW Indiana


      i am with you on small gatherings. i find that many people bring much energy and the larger the group the more erratic the energy seems to flow. Gets on my nerves fast and i usually seek solitude in the garden or have to go for a walk. The noise gets under my skin too. Guess I love my solitude.

      Like your thoughts on keeping the party budget to a minimum. I hate waste.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      9 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      During my birthday last May 5, I just had a simple dinner celebration with my family and we were just 5 in all because the rest were not around. I had fun and enjoyed it very much. It is possible to enjoy a party even if it is very simple. Now making one's own birthday cake is a great idea. But I don't know if I can ever learn how to bake. Hahaha I'm no good at it. :-) LOL

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      9 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Good ideas. I wish I'd have had your help when I was hosting parties. It's all can do nowadays to keep up with breakfast at my bed and breakfast.

    • Pete Maida profile image

      Pete Maida 

      9 years ago

      I agree with everything that you suggest and we actually do most of them. A park is a great place for a party.

    • SweetiePie profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      When we had parties at the park it was always free as we usually had between six to ten people.  This is good to know for larger parties and more people though. The potluck idea is cool and I think you should right a hub about parties. I would like to go to your party if I can, that sounds really fun.

    • Cherish77 profile image


      9 years ago

      Good Hub SP. one thing though If you want to guarentee you get a certain area of the park, it does cost. Plus fus if some people want 25 or more people they have to make reservations. I know you are more reserved, but that is something people should know if they have a party at the park. Usually when I do partys I invite my whole family, plus friends, which is probably about 60 people I usually get about a third of that at my parties. I don't know how many my Sister-in-law Ashley invites but somehow she ends up with like 60 people, go figure. Another idea is to have a potluck, if you have guests that make things you like, you can ask them to make it, that's is what I do at times. Actually I always ask my mom to make the potato salad, cause its super yummy, and I know there will always be enough. With Spencers coming up, Im thinking of doing hamburgers, cheeseburgers and maybe ribs. I love ribs. Wishing Steve weren't in Afghanistan right now, he makes awesome ribs. Of course moms Potato salad, maybe some green salad, and some appetizers, chips & dips. The party is going to be July 18, so I am giving you a heads up. Maybe I if you can go I can arrange a ride for you. We are having the party in Palm Springs.


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