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Hosting the annual holiday party is serious business. And with so many factors at play, it’s not difficult to send your friends and family away thinking, “Well, we’re not doing that again next year…” So here we’re going to cover the ins and outs of how to host a killer holiday party – without going broke!
(Photo courtsey of Randy Monfredi)
But first, a MikedUp Blog original:
As I unlaced my shoes and took a long deep breath, I quickly reviewed our entire battle plan in my head. Where were we exposed, did I plan for all potential contingencies, and what could come up during the conflict that I hadn’t previously expected? So many questions running through my mind and only a single white door separated the present from the future…
On one side of this door stood me – inside of my garage (…that probably needed a good sweeping and reorganization… Focus, Mike!! This is not the day!). And on the other? My home; and in it my wife and in-laws… And a surprise attack that no one saw coming.
It would be the fight of a lifetime. Not because of the difficulty of battle, per se, but because of what spoils would be bequeathed to the victors…
Christmas Eve was up for grabs, and dang-nabit – I was zeroed in!
You see, we had reached that point in our family’s lifecycle where it was socially acceptable for the children (although I’m an only child, my wife has 3 other siblings) to start offering up some assistance during the holidays. We were all in our 20s or 30s with jobs and a relatively stable financial situation, and speaking personally now – our home had the space to host a family gathering of 25 without incredible strain.
I won’t bore you will all of the details, but there were babies, varying Christmas travel schedules, and the question of who was going where… and when? It just so happened that our home is somewhat centrally located and we were more than happy to host the Christmas Eve party. The only thing left was clearance from the parents and in-laws (the battle referenced above)…
As I turned the door handle and took my first step inside, my heart-rate instantly skyrocketed
We made small talk, I kissed my wife, then it was business time.
“Hey guys – can we talk about Christmas Eve this year?” Forceful but cautious… I gave myself a B-
Monica was quick to jump in, “Yeah, we already talked about that earlier. We’re going to have it here.” Cold and casual. Like a true professional: A+.
I gave my wife a quick glance of respect and a, “How was that so easy for you?” look.
Now we were set!
But I quickly realized the largely exposed flank in my battle plan
We had won the battle and it was a huge and glorious victory… But now we had to actually host the Christmas party for what could be 20-25 friends and family members – and we hadn’t a clue how to do that… We won the war and colonized Christmas Eve but didn’t have the ability to manage that territory’s infrastructure. A 2nd generation monarch’s mistake…
We were exposed in two key areas:
Could we host this party without spending a small fortune, and maybe more importantly –
Would this be a fun and enjoyable party to attend / would our guests want to come back next year?
With those 2 main questions driving us, we set out to host a killer holiday party without going broke
Humblebrag alert: we’re currently 3 years postmortem on the original party – and guess what – they’re coming back again this year!! (and we’re not broke yet!!). Here are the 9 steps that allowed us to make it happen (separated by categories):
Basic / Obvious / Slightly Cheesy Category
1- Don’t be a hero – ask people to share in meal prep (delegate)
If not for my wife and mother-in-law, I was 100% set to make this mistake on Year 1. With some intervention, we decided to enlist the help of all cookable parties attending. And it was glorious for everyone involved.
The diversity and quantity of food were far superior to what one family could’ve prepared – And the aunt who is a master chef had the ability to focus all of her efforts on desserts, for example. I 100% appreciated that.
Everyone felt ownership of the day – Just coming in, sampling the fare, and taking off could easily make someone feel a lack of investment in the party… But, if you’re preparing a dish, now you’re concerned that people actually like it.
We (the hosts) saved money – Cold hard facts. And isn’t that one of the pillars of this post?? It is.
One thing to delegate to those who don’t enjoy cooking: put them in charge of the booze. It’s easy for them and cost effective for you… Win-win.
2- Take a hike!! (And find your decorations there)
Call me crazy here, but if you’ve got young kids this is a win that keeps on delivering the goods.
As a team, you can look for cornstalks, leaves, pinecones, and (insert fall/winter item here) that can normalize the vibe of your home to the season. Have you ever built something then actually used it? I have (once) and the sense of pride you get from creating a usable item (decorations, in this case) is unrivaled.
Your child helped decorate the house with the items they found in the wild… They’re going to tell everyone who walks through that door exactly where the pinecone on the mantle was found and why they think it’s awesome they decided to put it there. I mean, c’mon. At this point, you’re just handing happiness out as your guests arrive.
If you don’t have kids, you’re still saving money by not buying seasonal decorations at the store. And if you’re anything like me, you don’t need to have kids to act like one. In that case, refer to the bullet points above and have yourself a great time.
3- Plan ahead
This category gives you multiple things to pay attention to. For example, if you’re less inclined to go find some decorations outside (#2 above) and you’re set on making purchases – consider this:
Decor: I have a friend that buys all of her Thanksgiving and Christmas decor for next year immediately following the holidays. She’s always touting the 50-75% savings earned immediately after the holiday. And, in some cases, even shopping later on Thanksgiving day you can find the same deals… Says she.
Fun: Producing a fun time can happen spontaneously, sure. But I’ve found that having a few tactics in your playbook to call on if the need arises can be extremely beneficial. Nobody want’s a thumb-twiddler on Christmas Eve – we want a-rockin’ good time that will only build anticipation for next year. Who’s with me?!?!
Food: Use Pinterest to your full advantage. Find some awesome recipes that are sure to be scrumptious and cost-effective, create your meal plan, write out your shopping list, and stick to it. It’s incredibly easy to do some mindless shopping during the holidays, so be disciplined and stick to the list!
4- Turn on the radio to fine-tune the fun
I admit this is a terrible pun, but I really love it. Sorry, I’m not sorry…
I’m going to break this one into 2 subcategories. Here’s #1 – At our first Christmas Eve party, our daughter was just over a year old – right at that age where you need to act like a complete lunatic to get a laugh. My modus operandi at the time was amazingly poor dancing. Yada yada, we ended up having an hour-long dance party that spanned the entirety of our house.
Total price = $0 / Fun-o-meter = 11.5 (out of 10)
#4.2: Christmas-themed song pop – I’ve honestly not pulled this one out of my bag of tricks yet, but heads-up to the family for this year…
This one’s simple, create a Christmas song playlist on your music player of choice and break into teams. Nothing brings the family together like some common opponents 😉. First one to get the song title and artist gets the point. First team to 10(000___) points gets the prize. Prizes range anywhere from the Christmas Song Pop Championship Belt (that is proudly displayed at the winners home for an entire year) to who gets first crack at the dinner buffet… Choice is yours – host. Choose wisely.
5- Get some spare change and a deck of cards
Penny poker is a cost-effective way to spend some quality bonding time with the fam. And it’s something that the kiddos can enjoy as well as you teach them the ins and outs of check-raising grandma while forcing her all-in because she’s pot committed… #GenerationalWinning
If poker or another card game aren’t in your wheelhouse, we’ve found success in asking our guests to bring their favorite board/other fun game for the group. Depending on the outside weather and your interior space, you can get pretty creative with this category. And as I stated above, you don’t necessarily need to deploy these tactics… But it’s nice to have them in reserves
6- Do a gift exchange rather than buying for everyone (I’m not talking about the kids here…)
This is a practical and realistic way to keep the Christmas cheer alive while not spending countless hundreds of dollars buying presents that may or may not be re-gifted next year for family members who have to then reach down deep while finding the ‘appropriate’ blend of smile and joy to show via their face and body language.
Put the names in a hat, have someone draw names in September/October, focus all of your gifting efforts on one person, and make it memorable. Now you’re mixing in the surprise of who has who with the joy of exchanging presents.
This should go without saying but kids under 5-ish are fair-game for gifts from everyone at our gatherings… And per Santa’s recommendations in his year-end review 2017, this is the preferred practice.
Next-level Savings Ideas Category
7- Shop at Aldi
I wrote an article a few months ago about how we cut our grocery bill in half by simply changing the store we shop at. Now, we go where everything is on sale, all the time. We shop at Aldi, and the article details why we’d still shop there even if their prices were similar to the brand names you may be more familiar with.
Shopping for your holiday treats should have no exception to the Aldi rule… Save money, eat healthily, and carry on with your party planning. G’day, mate.
8- Cut the cord and stream the game / use an antenna
If you’re a millennial, it’s OK to skip to the next tactic here… (but be careful – you may learn something)
Where I come from, football games are synonymous with holiday gatherings. And if you also call yourself any derivation of ‘thrifty’ or ‘frugal’ then there’s a decent chance you no longer pay for a cable bill. Does this mean you won’t be showing the game at your ‘killer party’? Not so fast…
Heads up, there are an increasing array of options for you and the fam to still have the game on in the background so that grandpa will know (up to the moment) if his team will cover the 3.5 points Vegas afforded them. Those options include (but aren’t limited to):
NFL Sunday Ticket (a la carte)
There are actually many others as well. And these are not only NFL specific. College football, basketball, hockey, … You name it. If you’re looking to stream the game – there’s an app for that.
9- Forgo the paper plates and plastic silverware
Rounding out the money savers, this may be a little counter-culture, depending on your history. For years, I was a proponent of paper plates and plastic silverware. Less time spent washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen = what I thought was a win.
What I didn’t stop to consider while using paper and plastic were the consequences of that decision on my wallet and the environment.
So, thank your rich uncle who doesn’t like to cook but had no problem supporting the bar options (I see you #1), grab a glass of your favorite holiday spirit of choice, hand wash some dishes, and catch up with that relative that you thoroughly enjoy talking with but don’t get to see all that often…
And then hurry up so you can both catch the dance party about to break out in the living room. Christmas cheer for the win!
Ok, Team. Who’s coming over for Christmas Eve??? Space is limited so act now! Also – if you need my wife to negotiate anything on your behalf, just say the word.
In all seriousness – what do you think of my 9 tips and is there anything I left off of this list that you’d recommend using to help throw an awesome holiday party without going broke? Let us know in the comments below and all my relatives will thank you later!
Thanks for reading!
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