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Tips Needed for Planning an Event on a Budget

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Check out this email I received from a reader –

I’m making a birthday party for my son, on a small budget. I will have about 20 adults and 20 kids, so I was wondering if the Hip2Save community would advise in the best value for the money to feed all those people. Is it pizza, prepared food trays, homemade food, catering? In the past I tried to do it myself,  but it seems about the same as buying. Any ideas, good tips?

Feel free to share your suggestions in the Comments section…thanks!

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Comments 102

  1. Jessica

    I used Lina’s 3 ingredient pulled bbq chicken and it was a huge hit and no mess while party prepping.

  2. Michelle

    You can’t go wrong with $5 pizzas from Little Ceasers, fried chicken from your grocery store’s deli, chips and dip (in a microwave safe bowl combine a block of cream cheese and the entire contents of a jarred salsa and heat until the cheese melts), a nacho bar is also inexpensive
    Kool Aid is also cheap or just stock up on pop when it goes on sale. Dollar store decorations and favors and you’re set. If your party is after Halloween, check out your store’s for markdowns and clearance items. Happy party planning 🙂

  3. Michelle

    But.. crock pot pulled pork is also a good way to go 😉

  4. Desiree

    We did some finger foods this year. It was a princess party. I found cookie cutters at Hobby Lobby in the shape of a crown, castle and slipper and cut out PBJ sandwiches. They were a big hit! depending on your theme this might be a fun idea 🙂

  5. Anna

    One of our guests’ favorite parties for the kids/adults so far has been a nacho bar. Provide bowls of all the nacho toppings (cheese, jalapenos, black olives, tomatoes sour cream, salsa, etc – all things you can catch with coupons or sales!) and to make it even more inexpensive don’t worry about the meat. If you want to make it a little bit more special, check with your favorite local Mexican restaurant, as they may even sell their homemade chips at a reasonable price! Our local is Chevy’s and their chips are amazing (you can even buy salsa from them if you want). Provide a bowl of fruit, maybe a fun icy punch drink and call it good! Guests have fun building their own meal! And very little prep for you!

    When we did the nacho bar (which we will again soon!) I bought some plastic containers from Dollar Tree (green, red and yellow) and found some cute print outs online for angry bird faces/tails and cut them out and taped them to the containers to make them look like angry birds…..you could do similar for whatever characters your birthday kid is into!

    whatever you decide to do, have fun!

  6. Anna

    Another economical option is the party subs from Walmart – a 6 foot party sub is said to feed 30 people (but really much more when it’s kids) and only costs around $30. This includes 3 meats (can hold off whatever you want) and all the fixings (tomatoes, lettuce, mayo packets, mustard packets, onions)! Grab some bags of chips and cut up some fruit and you are done.

  7. RC

    Have the party between meals and offer some snacks and cake and ice cream!

    • Angie W

      This is what we do, at least most of the time.

  8. Happymama

    Costco has a really good pizza that is huge for $8.99 in the deli (not baked) and $9.99 baked.

  9. mrs.m

    I’m loving all the tips. My little one turns 5 in December so this is really helping me plan his party too.

  10. kelli

    The walmart subs are a great deal at $28 for a 6 foot sub. or costco pizza for 9.99 and have them double cut it so the pieces aren’t huge.

  11. Susanne

    For my son’s 5th birthday party the first weekend in October, I purchased two 24 count packages of King’s Hawaiian Rolls from Sam’s Club for $3 each, two large fresh footlong sub buns from Sam’s Club’s bakery for less than $2, two large variety packs of fresh deli meat ( turkey, ham, & roast beef) for $8 each, and cheese slices from Aldi for $2 each and made my own mini sub tray. I also purchased fresh veggies from Aldi & made my own veggie tray with way more veggies for a lot less than buying one pre-made. Tostidos spinach dip with a variety of Keebler crackers from a 3pk special at Sam’s Club was also a hit. I made two gallons of sweet tea for the adults and found a great deal on Kool-aid pouches from Target for the kids (BOGO half price sale + 20 or 30% off cartwheel offer & paid $1.20 per 10pk). Everyone loved the Kings Hawaiian mini subs the best- I will definitely make those again! You can buy inexpensive party trays/platters from Dollar Tree and GFS FOR $1-3 and then reuse them for other occasions.

  12. Libby

    Just made all the decorations for my kids birthdays, except for dollar store balloons. Get creative, it make take some time but its fun 🙂

  13. dorfmunder

    Sloppy Joe in a crockpot has always been a surprising hit at parties for me. The first time I served them it was because I was on a tight budget but people went crazy over them and some commented on how long it had been since they had them! It’s shocking how many sandwiches you can get out of a few pounds of ground beef. Pair it up with chips and snacks from Aldi and a Costco sheet cake (SO DELICIOUS) and you’re good to go! Pasta dishes are cheap to serve and most people love pasta. I’ve also done a build-your-own taco bar that has gone over really well, and you can be as simple or fancy with that as you want with the number of meat and topping choices. Chili and soups give you a lot of bang for the buck, plus are really nice this time of year. If you do chili, grab some dogs and buns for chili dogs as an option with it and kids who don’t like chili can just have a dog! I’ve learned over the years that people will gladly eat whatever you serve and appreciate a free lunch no matter what it is. 😉

    The suggestion for party supplies at Dollar Tree is a good one, that’s about the only place I buy them. Just get a mix of solid colored items to match a few themed decorations, it saves a ton of money and your kid still feels like they’ve had a themed party. Same with balloons, get one or two special balloons and get a mix of colors in plain ones. Dollar Tree also does balloons!

    I’m sure you’ll have a great party and a happy kid and guests, lots of great suggestions here! 🙂

  14. dorfmunder

    Oh, and don’t be shy taking people up on an offer to contribute food LOL! People that offer usually enjoy making and sharing food, so it’s a win-win. I have family members that would be insulted if they were told to not bring anything! 😉

  15. lili

    A huge pot of chili with rice or cornbread is a favorite economical way to feed a party 🙂

  16. bea

    I did a burrito bar for a friend’s house warming party and it was so great! Get cheap dry beans like black and pinto or both to make it fancy. Get tortillas from Costco or Sam’s and you can even get a huge container of salsa. You can get really cheap produce if you catch a sale for the lettuce, onion, tomatoes (canned diced tomatoes works also) and buy a couple blocks of cheese for shredded cheese and you don’t even need to buy meat. IF you get the extras like peppers, sour cream, canned olives or even another type of cheese. I put everything in separate aluminum trays and let people choose what they wanted. People really liked it and no one seemed to missed the lack of meat. The kids enjoyed creating their own food and is was highly successful.

  17. Holly K

    One idea I didn’t see mentioned by others – stick to one main food. The more variety you offer the more people will take, whether they eat it or not. For example, if you have pizza, they will eat one or two pieces. If you have Pizza plus hot dogs, most people will take some of each, and kids will probably take both and waste half. I really like the meat free suggestions, because meat where I live is sky high. No such thing as dollar packs of hot dogs, and the cheapest hamburger meat is over $5 a pound. Hope your party is wonderful!

  18. Joannie

    One of the easiest and cheapest party foods I’ve done (and I’ve done it quite a few times for those reasons) is to set out 3 crock pots (borrow if you don’t have that many). One is filled with hotdogs in some water. One is filled with a gigantic can of chili. And the last one is filled with a huge can of nacho cheese sauce. Then, all you need are some tortilla chips, buns, condiments, pitchers of lemonade, iced tea, and water. I want to say it usually ran $25 to no more than $30, and that would be for a fairly huge gathering of both kids and adults. This is also good if you don’t want to hassle with preparing food during the party. Shop at dollar stores, .99 only, Grocery Outlet, Aldis, etc. if in your area. Avoid the bigger chains like Ralphs/Kroger, Vons/Safeway, etc. unless there’s a good sale.

    For my youngest DD’s birthday in December, I did Subway sandwiches one year. In December, they usually have a few select 6″ varieties for only $2 each. We bought 8 and cut them into three even-ish pieces. Served that with a $2 bag of chips, and for $18, we fed everyone and still had leftovers.

    And definitely skip the store bought cake! That can cost just as much as the food. And usually a homemade cake/frosting tastes way better, I think, than one you buy at a store. If you’re not the best cake decorator, then bake a batch of cupcakes and stick out bowls of homemade, tinted frosting (or a couple tubs if you find a good sale &/or aren’t that handy in the kitchen) and a few things of sprinkles, and let everyone decorate their own. Trust me, they’ll have a whole lot of fun, and nobody will miss the way overpriced store-bought cake.

  19. Carolyn

    We always order pizzas, because that’s what our kids request. If you don’t have a Little Caesars, you can call your local pizza places and ask them to give you their best price/pizza for a large order. (I’ve been able to get large single topping pizzas from a great place for $6 each.) Dollar Tree is the cheapest place to buy serving trays/bowls and balloons. They also have plates, cups, napkins, table covers, plastic cutlery, etc. The $1/item price is great, but you won’t get many plates/cups per package. Target often has coupons for their own disposable table wear as well. If you have a Hobby Lobby near you, you can use their app and get 40% off a single full-priced item each day. They’ve got lots of party supplies. Also, consider single-serve drinks vs cups and gallon jugs/2 liter bottles. Depending on coupons and sales, one may be much cheaper than the other.

  20. Carolyn

    I agree with others about having the pizza double cut. It’s easier for the kids to eat and leads to less waste.

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