How to Host a Holiday Gathering on a Budget

Quick Answer

Whether it’s a big bash or an intimate dinner, hosting a holiday gathering can get pricey. You can cut costs for your holiday events by making a budget, borrowing things from friends, choosing less expensive foods and getting creative.

People seating around a table during a family holiday gathering.

Celebrating with friends and family is at the heart of the holiday season. But rising inflation might have you seeking ways to save on your holiday celebrations. Budgets vary, but whether you're planning a small dinner party or a blowout New Year's Eve bash for 200 people, some tried-and-true practices can cut your costs. You can host a holiday gathering on a budget by spending strategically, shopping around and asking friends and family for help.

What Holiday Party Costs Do You Need to Consider?

Depending on the scale and opulence of your event, you may need to budget for different kinds of costs. For a large, elaborate event, expenses may include renting a venue; hiring caterers, servers, bartenders and entertainment; and renting tables, chairs and tableware. Hosting a more modest event at home may only require planning for food, drinks, entertainment and decorations.

Start by making a list of what you'll need, such as:

  • Invitations
  • Venue
  • Seating: tables and chairs
  • Tableware: linens (tablecloths, napkins), glasses, utensils, plates, serving dishes and utensils
  • Catering: chefs, servers and/or bartenders
  • Food: appetizers, main courses and side dishes and desserts
  • Drinks: alcoholic and non-alcoholic
  • Ice
  • Décor: centerpieces, signage and lighting
  • Entertainment: music, games and activities
  • Party favors

How to Save on Holiday Gatherings

You don't want to cut too many corners when hosting a holiday event—after all, you still want to impress your guests. Decide which elements matter most and focus your spending there. Try these ideas for cutting costs in key areas.

Invitations

Digital party invitations are cheaper than paper and postage, and have other advantages too. Guests can't lose the invitation, you can easily see who's responded and you can use the invitation app to communicate with guests.

Venue

Renting space in a restaurant or bar may be cheaper than a hotel ballroom or banquet hall. Choosing less popular dates, days and times also saves money. Hosting your event midweek, during the day or early in November, for instance, may save you money over booking on "peak" days. Also investigate venues like local community or recreation centers, fraternal organizations' venues such as Elks or Moose lodges or church halls.

The most cost-effective location for an event is usually your home. If yours isn't big enough for your event, does a friend or family member have a home you can use?

Seating and Tableware

When renting chairs, tables and tableware, compare prices at various rental companies. Choosing mid-range options rather than the highest quality will save money; guests probably won't notice the difference. You can also save by picking up and returning furnishings yourself instead of paying for delivery.

Look at what linens, tableware and serveware you have before renting or buying. Can you use that silver or china you inherited from Grandma? Could you borrow tables, chairs, linens and tableware from friends or family?

For casual gatherings, disposable tablecloths, plates, flatware and drinkware save money and cleanup time.

Catering

Using a catering service reduces stress—at a cost. Try these tips to save:

  • Have the caterer prepare the food at their site and pick it up yourself.
  • Contact a local culinary school or college with a hospitality major to find students who can cater for less.
  • Hire friends' teenage children as servers.
  • Serve strategically. Passing appetizers on platters or serving food buffet style typically saves on food costs over individually plated dinners. Caterers can suggest other ways to save.

Food

Guests typically eat and drink more at night, so adjusting the time and format of your event can save money. For example:

  • Switch an evening party to a casual brunch.
  • Hold a daytime open house; guests typically don't expect a lot of food at these events.
  • Instead of a formal sit-down dinner, serve cocktails and appetizers.
  • Hold a dessert-only party with gourmet coffee, espresso and cocoa.

To get the most bang for your buck, choose lower-cost, but filling, foods such as pasta or soup instead of steak. Consider serving one or two showstopper items and surrounding them with inexpensive eats.

Preparing your own food can cut costs too. If you're going this route, plan menus and start shopping early, watching for sales.

Drinks

Keeping drink options simple is the best way to save money. Limit your selections to wine and beer—and possibly one signature cocktail, such as eggnog or holiday punch.

Save by purchasing alcohol in bulk, shopping at warehouse stores or buying lower-cost brands. One tried-and-true move: Start the evening with top-shelf liquor and switch to cheaper brands as the night wears on.

Pitchers or dispensers of water with lemon or cucumber slices add a festive touch for non-drinkers. Save even more by eliminating alcohol and serving seasonal drinks like hot chocolate, cider or non-alcoholic punch.

Décor

Look around the house for items to use as décor. Candles, a roaring fire and glass bowls filled with pinecones or ornaments go a long way. Gather discarded evergreen branches at Christmas tree lots and tie them with ribbon. Cover art on your walls in holiday gift wrap.

Need more décor? Watch for sales and coupons or visit discount stores. Ask to borrow decorations from friends or family.

Entertainment

For an affordable live band, contact local music schools whose students might perform for low prices, and investigate bands that play at local bars and restaurants.

Need a DJ? Friends or family members may have spinning skills (or kids who do). You can also make a party playlist on your laptop or phone and stream it through speakers.

For a smaller, casual event, borrowing board games from friends and family provides plenty of entertainment.

Favors

Save money on party favors by shopping sales and discount stores for bulk Christmas ornaments, candles or candy and splitting them up into gift bags.

How to Host a Holiday Party for Next to Nothing

No matter how tight your holiday budget, you can still host a gathering practically for free.

  • Go potluck: Have guests sign up to bring a dish, drinks or paper and plastic goods. Make it more fun with a theme—for instance, a favorite holiday dish from childhood or a dish reflecting your ethnic heritage.
  • BYOB: Supply a few basic alcoholic beverages and ask guests to bring their own drinks.
  • Borrow or ask for help: Ask friends and family to lend whatever you need—chairs, décor, a punch bowl, a karaoke machine. See if they'll help cook, DJ or decorate, too.
  • Thrift it: Visit thrift stores for dishes, serving ware, linens and décor. Join a buy nothing or freecycle group to find items for free.
  • Take it outside: If weather permits, host your party in a park or at the beach. You'll have room for unlimited guests and won't need décor.
  • Have a progressive dinner: Invite neighbors and have one course at each person's house, then move on to the next. Each host only has to provide one type of food or beverage.

Making Memories Without Breaking the Bank

By setting a budget, trimming your guest list and adjusting your party plan, you can throw a memorable holiday event no matter what your financial situation. A holiday gathering is about the people: Keep the focus on your guests and they won't care how much you spent. If you do overspend, prioritize getting your budget back on track and paying down credit card debt. Free credit monitoring from Experian can alert you if excessive spending negatively affects your credit score.

The purpose of this question submission tool is to provide general education on credit reporting. The Ask Experian team cannot respond to each question individually. However, if your question is of interest to a wide audience of consumers, the Experian team may include it in a future post and may also share responses in its social media outreach. If you have a question, others likely have the same question, too. By sharing your questions and our answers, we can help others as well.

Personal credit report disputes cannot be submitted through Ask Experian. To dispute information in your personal credit report, simply follow the instructions provided with it. Your personal credit report includes appropriate contact information including a website address, toll-free telephone number and mailing address.

To submit a dispute online visit Experian's Dispute Center. If you have a current copy of your personal credit report, simply enter the report number where indicated, and follow the instructions provided. If you do not have a current personal report, Experian will provide a free copy when you submit the information requested. Additionally, you may obtain a free copy of your report once a week through December 31, 2022 at AnnualCreditReport.