According to a poll done by ABC news, Americans are planning to spend an average of $1,096 on gifts this holiday season - surprisingly, it's up $207 from last year. Despite the recession, we still want to splurge on our loved ones. So how can we balance our holiday spending? One option is to throw an economical holiday party - without looking cheap. (For more tips on holiday saving in general, check out Avoid Overspending This Holiday Season.)
Whether you are celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, setting the tone for your party is crucial. If you don't already own holiday music CDs, here are a few easy (and free) alternatives. For a fancier party, turn the radio to a classical station and play it softly. Once November comes around, you can pretty much guarantee at least one radio station will be playing Christmas music around the clock, so all you have to do is tune in. If you are looking for a more custom playlist, check out free internet radio stations like Pandora.
DecorationsInstead of splurging on holiday patterned décor, invest in items that you could also use throughout the year or look for inexpensive alternatives. Candles can be purchased at a low cost from dollar stores and a small poinsettia from the grocery store is a great centerpiece. If you are good at storing decorations, consider a fake flower centerpiece that you can reuse.If you are a creative person, or if you have kids, consider making your own decorations. Cut-out snowflakes, leaves for Thanksgiving or bats for Halloween are a good addition to any table or window, and they are pretty impossible to mess up. Use cotton balls to easily make cobwebs in doorways, on tables or on unsuspecting Jack-O-Lanterns.You can also get matching colored candles and napkins (even paper ones) from a dollar store. Maintaining a color scheme is a good way to make even less expensive components look thoughtfully done.FoodSubstitute the turkey or ham for less expensive main dishes, or focus on a more buffet style dinner with lots of side dish options. Consider going with a food theme - having a "Christmas Breakfast Buffet" would certainly set your party apart and could start a new tradition.AlcoholDo a little digging and you can find some amazing deals; chances are neither you nor your guests will be able to tell the difference between a well-researched $10 bottle of wine and a $50 bottle. Not convinced? Consider investing in a pricier bottle or two to start the evening and then incorporate the less expensive beverages as the night goes on.GuestsAsk your guests to bring a bottle of something alcoholic that they really like in lieu of a host/hostess gift. It's a fun way to try out new things, especially if you add a caveat like no one can bring wine or beer. If you are worried about appearances, make it part of the event - challenge your guests to find a great drink for under a set amount. Not into alcohol? Have them each bring a dessert they love for a sweet alternative.Party StyleGo potluck. Taking on a holiday feast can be a huge amount of work, especially if you have a lot of guests attending. Or, consider having a cooking or baking party. Invite guests over to make a traditional dish (desserts work well) like rugelach for Hanukkah, gingerbread men for Christmas or coconut biscuits for Kwanzaa.TimingConsider having your holiday party after the official holiday. The post-season sales can really make it worthwhile. Or, do what Petra Guglielmetti of Holidash.com suggests and have your parties all in the same weekend. Similar menus mean you can buy ingredients in bulk, and by planning ahead, the second party will never know they are getting leftovers from the first. Take her advice and serve a large cake the first night and arrange the slices on a nice tray for the second night. Also, there are plenty of delicious holiday leftover recipes on the internet. For example, serve the traditional turkey at the first party but a turkey casserole at the second using the leftovers.
We so often forget that the focus of the holidays is to spend time with loved ones. By making that the priority of your celebration, you'll find the pressure to spend is a lot less intense. Make a plan (and a budget!) and stick to it so you can relax this holiday season without worrying about how your finances fared. (For more tips, check out Holiday Spending Or Spending Holiday? and Keep Holiday Debt From Snowballing.)