En­ter­tain guests - for less!

Drinks, dec­o­ra­tions, desserts… host­ing a hol­i­day gath­er­ing can get pricey. So FIRST polled pros for their se­crets to help you save hun­dreds on your fête

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Know ex­actly how much you’ll need

“Set­ting a bud­get is the first thing you should do to avoid over­spend­ing when plan­ning your hol­i­day party. It’s re­ally easy to do it just like the pro­fes­sion­als do: You can use tools like the party bud­get es­ti­ma­tor at Evite.com, which cal­cu­lates the cost of ev­ery­thing from food to drinks to dec­o­ra­tions. That way, you’ll have an es­ti­mate of about how much the party will cost per per­son, so you can set­tle on a bud­get and re­ally stick to it.”

—Car­son Yar­brough, sav­ings ex­pert at Of­fers.com

Time your party right

“Brunch is such an over­looked en­ter­tain­ing op­por­tu­nity, but peo­ple’s sched­ules are of­ten packed at night and you’ll save 75 per­cent on food and drinks than if you host din­ner. Make low-cost dishes, like an egg and tor­tilla bake with ba­con or sausage, and in­stead of cham­pagne for mi­mosas, use pros­ecco, which is just as tasty but costs less.”

—Julie Har­ti­gan, Cook­ingWJulie.com

Score gor­geous flow­ers—for free!

“Around the hol­i­days, churches have flow­ers near the al­tar that they give away af­ter the ser­vices each week. Flow­ers also get left be­hind af­ter wed­dings. So you can call and ask if you can pick them up. I do this all the time— most churches are more than happy to have them taken. Then you can just ar­range the flow­ers in small vases and add a lit­tle green­ery.”

—Stacy Lyn Har­ris, au­thor of Stacy Lyn’s Har­vest

Make your dessert dol­lar go far­ther

“To wow guests with a fancy-look­ing dessert that re­ally isn’t fancy at all, use frozen berries. You don’t even have to be that con­cise with the mea­sure­ments: Bring a bag of frozen berries,

1⁄4 cup of sugar and 1⁄4 cup of wa­ter to a sim­mer in a saucepan. Let it thicken, toss in a few fresh berries and pour 2 Tbs. over ice cream or a slice of store-bought pound cake. A lit­tle goes a long way. I once served this to 25 guests at a party and used just one big bag of frozen berries. Your guests will love it and you’ll save some cash!”

—Stacy Lyn Har­ris

Hire help with­out break­ing the bank

“If you need help serv­ing or clean­ing up, in­stead of pay­ing a caterer, you can of­ten hire col­lege stu­dents who are home for the hol­i­days. These ‘helpers’ can do all sorts of things, like writ­ing out menu cards so they look luxe, set­ting and clear­ing the table and do­ing any heavy lift­ing you may need. Find ex­tra help on craigslist.com or TaskRab­bit.com or check com­mu­nity col­leges and vo­ca­tional schools that have culi­nary pro­grams—many have on­line job boards or re­fer­ral ser­vices. You can save 30 to 50 per­cent by us­ing in­ex­pen­sive stu­dent la­bor ver­sus splurg­ing on a pro­fes­sional.” —Julie Har­ti­gan

Whip up a gourmet ap­pe­tizer for pen­nies

“My se­cret weapon for drop-in guests is my spiced nut dish. It’s so cheap to make (you can get a 16 oz. bag of shelled wal­nuts for $6) and it takes 3 min­utes to throw to­gether. In a dry skil­let over medium heat, add 2 cups of chopped wal­nuts, 1⁄3 cup of maple syrup and a pinch of salt or red pep­per flakes. Move the pan around con­stantly for 3 min­utes, un­til the nuts have soaked up the syrup, then dump on parch­ment pa­per to cool. The nuts are al­ways a big hit! You can even give them as fa­vors—just toss into a bag and tie with rib­bon!” —Stacy Lyn Har­ris

Save big on liquor with a sig­na­ture drink

“To save on drinks, make a sig­na­ture cock­tail us­ing what you have in your liquor cab­i­net. Most liquor doesn’t go bad as long as you store it away from sun­light or heat. Then you can do a quick in­ter­net search for a recipe and make it sea­sonal by us­ing fruit, like cran­ber­ries, as a gar­nish. Premix it and pour it into a carafe. You’ll save $150 over of­fer­ing a full bar.” —An­drea Cor­reale, Ele­gan­tAf­fairsCater­ers.com

Get cre­ative with serv­ing pieces

“I like find­ing al­ter­nate uses for around the-house items. For ex­am­ple, I might take a beau­ti­ful tea cup and saucer, put some dip inside and place crack­ers around the plate. It’s so easy and un­ex­pected and guests just love it, plus it saves you from buy­ing ex­pen­sive serv­ing dishes. Or I line a few jam jars down the cen­ter of the table and fill them with flow­ers from a $5 gro­cery-store bou­quet. An­other thing I do is use col­or­ful mag­a­zine cov­ers or the front page of the news­pa­per as place mats. This re­ally gets peo­ple talk­ing, es­pe­cially if I use the cov­ers of a gos­sip mag­a­zine. You’ll save at least $5 per place mat and it’s such a great con­ver­sa­tion piece!”

—Lucy Buf­fett, au­thor of Gumbo Love

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