Nothing says Independence Day quite like cooking out in the backyard or at one of the country's many national parks. And while cookouts tend to offer a much less expensive way to celebrate July 4th than going out to eat, they still have many financial pitfalls that can lead you to overspend – and a dependence on credit runs afoul of all that Independence Day stands for. (Holiday expenses can drown you in debt. Find out how to avoid this festive spending hangover. See How To Reduce Holiday Debt.)
TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics
To avoid overspending on your July 4th celebration, you just need to celebrate July 4th on a budget. Here are some easy tips to keep you in the black on this red, white and blue day.
Don't Buy more Food than You Need
You definitely want to have enough food to feed everyone who comes to celebrate with you, but that doesn't mean you need enough food to feed an army. Consider the normal eating habits of those who are attending and try to buy enough to feed them what they normally eat in a single sitting. You can always freeze food if you buy too much, but remember that frozen meat doesn't last forever, so avoiding overbuying is still the best option.
Mix High End with the Inexpensive
Steak doesn't need to be the only meat at your barbecue. Your guests will generally find something they enjoy if you provide them with a variety of meats like hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken. If you have vegetarians attending, simple vegetables like baked potatoes, salads and roasted corn offer perfect solutions.
Avoid Prepared Foods
Deli platters, prepared salads and desserts often come with a higher price tag than those you make yourself. Make as much food from scratch as you can and avoid convenience food. (Many cruise costs are fixed, but it's the little extras that will put a big dent in your pocketbook. Check out 3 Money-Saving Cruise Ship Tips.)
Bring Your Own
As the host of the barbecue, you are expected to provide food and drinks, but that doesn't mean that you have to make sure you have the wide variety of drinks it would take to satisfy every guest's unique preference. On your invitation, mention what drinks you will have at the party and let guests know that if they want something that falls outside the items on this list, they should bring it themselves. In addition, stick with inexpensive drinks like beer or soda and let the guests bring their own alcohol for mixed drinks.
Dispose of the Disposables
No one wants to think about doing dishes at the end of a cookout, but buying plastic dinnerware and plates can be expensive. When you use real plates and flatware, you may have more messes to clean up but you will definitely lower your grocery bill.
Buy Used, Not New
If you are thinking about buying some outdoor game sets to entertain your guests during your July 4th cookout, don't run to the store and buy new activity sets. Instead, check out your local thrift shops and Craigslist. Whether you are looking for pool toys, sport sets or outdoor games, there are probably many inexpensive sets you can find that have been only lightly used during a one-time barbecue.
Lose the Decorations
Fourth of July parties don't need decorations. A single American Flag to remind everyone of the reason for the celebration is enough. Your guests don't care nearly as much about streamers, centerpieces and other disposable decorations as they do about having fun together.
Limit the Fireworks
If you plan to have your party extend into the night, then you might be tempted to light fireworks. If your party is near a city-sponsored fireworks display, you can save money by planning to walk to that display instead of coordinating your own. If not, then make sure you get a small variety of fireworks and sparklers, but don't feel the need to create an epic fireworks display. A few wisely chosen ones go a long way.
The Bottom Line
The ultimate goal of any social gathering is to have fun enjoying each other's company. If you want to celebrate July 4th on a budget, the best rule you can follow is not to get too gimmicky with your party and just stick to basics: some music, food, drink and good friends. (We give you a list of informative and entertaining reads that you'll want to share with others this season. See 10 Books For The Holidays.)
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