Holiday get-togethers can be really expensive, but don’t panic! Rachel Rabinovich, CFP®, shares tips for how Grownups can plan a holiday party on a budget.

Last year, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for nine family members and friends, and can attest it can be done on a budget. (It certainly helped that my husband’s employer continues the old-fashioned practice of giving turkeys to its’ employees!) But truly, we kept costs in check with a little strategic planning that included recruiting guests to bring specific dishes, crafting our menu in advance, and shopping the sales. No matter your occasion or size of your guest list, there are ways to stay within your budget this holiday season.

Here are my recommendations for an affordable holiday party. Don’t panic—they’re easy enough for anyone to adapt to their specific event!

Plan the Guest List

How many people do you want at your party? By starting with the guest list, you’ll figure out what kind of party you can afford to throw. If you just want a handful of friends, maybe this is your opportunity to splurge and cook a really nice meal with some great wine. If you want to include friends, family, and coworkers, maybe a party just for cocktails and/or dessert would be easier on your wallet.

Plan the Menu

We created our Thanksgiving menu at least a week ahead of time so we could shop with price and quality in mind. I’m not great at shopping for deals on the fly, so it helped to scan the circulars; we then knew where to go for the best deals. It was also helpful to decide in advance which items were best suited to buy at the last minute, without worrying about price—in my case, the salmon for the pescatarians at my celebration. Creating a budget ahead of time will also help as you prioritize your shopping list.

Go Potluck

If you really want a meal for 20, consider the time-honored potluck. Perhaps you provide some appetizers and the main course, delegating sides, desserts, and drinks to your guests. If you can maintain some control of the menu and give guidelines to the participants (perhaps keeping within a theme, determining what types of dishes you need, etc.), a potluck can be a rich yet cohesive experience with little cost to you.

Budget for Alcohol

Since alcohol is likely the most expensive thing on the menu, the easiest and least expensive way to host is to have everyone BYOB. You will likely have plenty to drink and rather than having a random selection of wine and beer, you can request a particular selection if you’d prefer. However, if you’d like more control and have room in your entertaining budget, creating a signature cocktail can be an elegant solution. I know a Grownup who serves a signature cocktail at her annual holiday party and sends her guests home with a filled and decorated jelly jar as a parting gift. If you do decide to provide your own alcohol, consider checking out warehouse stores like Costco for great deals for buying in bulk. (And don’t forget about boxed wine. There’s really no shame—there are some quality vintages to be found, and they’re eco-friendly to boot!)


Buying decorations and paper ware can really bust a tight budget, especially when you don’t want to scrimp on quantity or quality of food and drinks. Using what you already have in the house, such as existing dishes and serving pieces, tea lights, glasses for candles, and holiday decorations can create a festive atmosphere even if everything is mismatched. Paper chains and snowflakes remind us of childhood and are easy on your wallet. Take an inventory of what you have available about a week or so ahead of time, then you can make a determination about what you need to buy, borrow, or make. Using natural elements collected from your backyard, on your weekend hike, or those straggly branches trimmed from your tree are free and add charm to your décor.

Think about your holiday party budget as a miniature version of your overall spending plan: Determine what’s important for you to have for your party, where you can find savings, what’s worth a splurge, and a timeline for how it will all get done. Making a party uniquely yours is easy on a budget when you put in a little time and think strategically about how to accomplish it.

Rachel is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ who believes that financial planning can be a positive and powerful tool for changing lives.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

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