Having a fun, lively Fourth of July party doesn't have to break your budget. You can have a small family barbecue for friends, family and neighbors and still have some green left in your pocket after the weekend.

Decorations
It's the Fourth of July and people want a little splash of red, white and blue at their parties. For the least expensive decor and most mileage for your dollar, opt for plain white plastic plates. They are much less expensive than the holiday dinnerware, and you can use any leftovers for other occasions. Use plain white tablecloths as well. Many party stores sell rolls of white plastic table covers at much lower prices than the colored ones. A great advantage is that if you are using a roll, you can cut it to fit any table instead of having to purchase multiple sizes. To add touches of color, string red and blue streamers or confetti on the tables. You can toss in some red and blue napkins, and you instantly have festive Fourth of July decorations.

If you want a less "plastic" look, opt for butcher paper. This heavy duty paper can be cut to size, holds up to spills and the kids can draw on it. It averages about US$30 per roll at school supply outlets. Do you want an inexpensive centerpiece? If so, you can use your party dessert. Fill clear glass containers with blueberries, strawberries and red raspberries. After guests fill their plates with the fruit, add some cream topping for red, white and blue desserts. Another simple idea is to hang red, white and blue balloons around the deck or other party area. They are inexpensive and come in a variety sizes.

Food
July is a month where most food is best served cold. Hot dogs are the exception. This holiday is made to be fun. Skip the chicken, steaks and shrimp and go for hot dogs and burgers. They seem simple, yet they can be dressed up to accommodate many tastes. Warehouse stores such as GFS or Sam's Club sell them in bulk packages which can offer some savings. With only a few exceptions, everyone at your party will enjoy them. If you have vegetarian friends, throw a couple of black bean burgers or portobello mushrooms on the grill and they'll be happy. If you don't have a grill, you can purchase a disposable charcoal grill at EZ Grill for $15. Toppings for your hot dogs and burgers can vary as much as your family and guests. Relish, sauerkraut, salsa, chili, barbecue sauce or cheese can make your hot dogs and burgers unique. Sides of picnic favorites like potato salad, baked beans or chips and pretzels can be easily added.

Guests usually offer to bring something, so assign them a dish or ask if they have a specialty they'd like to bring. A Fourth of July party is an easy event to turn into a "potluck" with guests bringing a variety of foods for everyone to savor. If you want a little something different, but still want stay within your budget, try making tacos. You can use ground beef, chicken or ground turkey with seasoning for an easy meal. All the toppings can be served in separate bowls so guests can build a taco to suit their tastes. Traditional side dishes work very well with tacos.

For drinks, consider shopping at a warehouse club. Most offer beverages in larger quantities and at an average 10% drop in the price from most grocery chains. You can easily make punch for your guests in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions.

Party Favors, Games and Seating
Most of us don't have dozens of chairs stacked in the garage or closet, so when you invite guests ask them to bring their own chairs. This eliminates the need to rent chairs or tables. Remember to borrow when you can. Neighbors oftentimes are willing to lend you picnic tables or plastic outdoor tables in exchange for an invite or a "care package" of food.

The games people play are as varied as the region they live in. If you want to play volleyball, all you need is a net and a ball. Adding a few soccer balls, footballs or even kites to the backyard can result in fun and inexpensive party games. If your party is scheduled during the evening hours, you can add simple votive candles to glass jars. Pull your Christmas lights out of their boxes, particularly white lights or red lights, and string them around your porch, patio or deck.

Hand each guest a package of sparklers to light up the evening. Skip the fireworks because they are expensive, dangerous and against the law in many states. If fireworks are in your plans, meet your guests at a pre-determined viewing spot after your party. Have everyone grab their lawn chairs and throw some snacks in your car. This will be a perfect "ooh and ahh" finish to your Fourth of July party.

The Bottom Line
Fourth of July parties can be fun and inexpensive. Remember the age groups that you are inviting and gear your activities and foods toward them. You don't have to create a meal like a television chef to have great tasting fare that your guests will enjoy. While everyone is enjoying the meal, remember the reason for the holiday and display your flag and your patriotism proudly.

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