Food is an integral part of entertaining guests - there is no way around that, but here are a few tips for planning a frugal feast to take you through the holidays and beyond.
You don't have to go broke to throw a good party, according to Money Management International (MMI), a non-profit financial consultancy.
The average holiday shopper spends $688 on holiday-related expenses each year. A simple way to save money? Gift homemade treats as gifts - find recipes for your favorite bakery items or confectioneries and spend money only on the packaging, MMI suggested on December 16.
Some other ways to save:
Forget dinner parties (it's the most expensive meal to serve, says MMI), and instead serve brunch. That little window of time between breakfast and lunch is great for serving food because the menu options are so much cheaper and easy to make (i.e. Eggs Benedict - just eggs and muffins).
This is a new spin on the classic BYOB (bring your own beer) bash. Instead of beer, ask each guest to bring one bottle of wine (vino) or cheese to share at your party. Alcohol is one of the most expensive entertaining staples, and there are so many varieties of wine and cheese that sampling itself will make your party a success.
Bite-sized desserts are all the rage for 2010 - with shrinking budgets and growing health awareness, who wants a whole pie anyways? Translate this trend into entertaining by baking or buying (or asking guests to bring) one or two entire cakes or pies and cutting them into small sample sized bites.
Wait as long as possible to buy table centerpieces like ham or turkey. Grocers tend to mark meat prices down as it gets closer to big holidays.
Shop with a list and on a full stomach
Impulse purchases are a no-no when shopping on a budget. Always go grocery shopping prepared with a list and eat something first! If you shop on an empty stomach, you are more likely to fill your trolley with impulse purchases.
Start a new tradition
If all else fails, instead of hosting an elaborate dinner, try something new. Mobilize your friends and family to donate the most precious resource of all - their time. Spending your holiday serving meals to the homeless or sick will cost less and, more importantly, remind everyone of how fortunate they are.