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20 Tricks for Entertaining on a Budget

Smart tips for throwing a grand fete on a not-so-grand budget.

Food

1. Serve seasonal foods: Fruits and veggies that are in-season are always cheaper because they’re usually grown locally and cost less to produce. Fringe benefit: They’re fresher and tastier too! Save even more by buying produce whole, instead of prerinsed, peeled and packaged.

2. Do just desserts: Have a late-night party instead so you can serve dessert only instead of dinner.

3. Host a potluck: Why bear the burden of producing an entire menu when each guest can shine by bringing their own prized recipe?

4. Divide up one-pot dishes: You’ll get more mileage out of your ingredients with dishes like lasagna and chili, and they'll present less work for you too.

5. Fake a posh menu: Offer fresh popcorn that’s been doctored up with herbs and spices. Or use the same fancy recipe, but substitute a less expensive cut or type of meat.

Decor

1. Use candles: Few decor elements have the visual impact of candles with the accompanying rock-bottom prices (they’re just wax!).

2. Use fruits and vegetables: In cool months, gut pumpkins, squashes and other gourds and use them to hold candles, flowers and even ice. In warmer weather, fill up clear vessels with colorful citrus fruits and berries, which come in an array of bright colors like orange, yellow, green, red and blue.

3. Gather monochromatic objects: Separately, they may not be too visually stimulating, but if you group together a few different objects of the same color, it creates an instant focal point. And chances are, you already have some pieces you can work with.

4. Choose foliage over flowers: Interesting leaves can be even more striking than blooms, and they’re almost always less expensive.

5. Use backyard salvage: Arrange branches and stones from your backyard into modern, organic vignettes.

Amenities

1. Prepare the bathroom: You're spending so much time prepping in the kitchen, you may overlook another room where your guests will be spending a lot of time: the rest room. Make sure it's clean, especially in spots you can't see right off the bat: under the toilet seat, in the tub and underneath the sink for example. Keep it stocked with ample hand soap and toilet paper; you may want to buy in bulk to make sure you're prepared.

2. Adjust the temperature: Bear in mind that the more guests attend -- especially in close quarters -- the warmer the space will get. Cut corners by lowering the thermostat and letting body heat do its thing.

3. Clean out the closet: Some people don't prefer to toss their coats and bags on the bed, so make ample space in the closet instead.

4. Freeze up ice in advance: Buying ice in bulk for everyone's beverages can get costly, so freeze up a whole bunch -- more than you think you'll need -- in the days leading up to your party instead.

5. Have stain removal tools on hand: Spills will happen. Have your favorite stain-removal supplies at the ready and ask guests to let you know as soon as a stain happens. It's better to take a time out to soak up that red wine spill than it is to invest in a new living room rug.

Activities and planning

1. Dance party: What could be a cheaper activity? You have a free DJ: your MP3 player!

2. Board games: Odds are you already own a few -- and if you don’t, ask friends to bring theirs over.

3. Email your invites: Use a free internet-based service that aggregates RSVPs and provides template "stationery." Not only are they free, but they also require less effort on the part of you and your guests.

4. Forget disposables: Plastic forks and paper plates are often the go-to for parties, but they’re just an added expense. Use your own dinnerware and flatware instead. Who cares if they don’t match? It’s quirkier that way.

5. Save on your look: Just because it’s your party doesn’t mean you have to go out and splurge on a whole new outfit. Cut corners by getting a few new accessories instead -- or using what you already own -- to make your reliable little black dress look like it’s right off the runway.


Nestpert: Kristine Kennedy, editorial director of Wayfair.com (www.blog.wayfair.com)

-- The Nest Editors