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If money is tight, should you give up on inviting people over? Is entertaining on a budget impossible?
No, and no.
When my husband and I were newly married, we lived on a super tight budget. We went on $10 date nights, ate a lot of beans and rice, and almost always said no when friends asked us to join them at a restaurant. We just couldn’t afford it.
So I spent those years learning how to save money on food. I read books on frugality, I price-matched at Wal-mart (back when they still had that policy), and I learned all kinds of tips and tricks for keeping food costs down. And not just because my husband and I needed to eat. (Although that was very important!)
We felt strongly about inviting people into our home for meals, even when we didn’t have much to share. It was the best inexpensive way we found to hang out with other people. If we (and our friends) hadn’t have made inviting each other over a priority, we wouldn’t have built the relationships we did during those lean years.
Hosting guests for dinner doesn’t have to be expensive. I learned lots of ways to entertain on a budget during those early married years.
And today I’m going to share 6 tips with you that you can use to cut costs when entertaining.
1) Raid your pantry, fridge and freezer.
Before you even think about going to the store, check to see what you already have on hand. Why buy more food if you already have something you can use?
Make a list of what you have to work with. Meats, veggies, canned goods, starches.
Let’s say when you check your freezer, you find a pound or two of ground beef. In the fridge you spot some cucumbers and lettuce. And in the pantry, you find a box of penne pasta.
You have the makings of a great pasta dinner. You can buy ingredients to make spaghetti sauce (or buy a couple of jars of premade sauce); lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes for a salad; and a loaf of bread to make garlic bread. Add a simple dessert, and you’re set.
2) Plan your meal around the store ads.
If you don’t regularly look at the grocery store ads, you’re missing out on a great way to save money. Back in my early married years, I had to actually go to the store to pick up their flyers. These days, you can find them on the store’s website.
Look at the first page of the ad for the best deals. Because meat is usually the most expensive part, plan your meal around whatever meat is cheapest that week.
On the front page of my favorite store’s ad this week, chicken breasts are on sale for $1.79, and I notice asparagus is $1.99 a pound. That means, if I’m having someone over, I’ll make a main dish with chicken, and my veggie side will be asparagus.
If it were ground beef on sale for $1.99, then I’d probably make a pot of chili with chips and cheese as toppings.
If I didn’t pay attention to the ad, I could easily spend $5 a pound on meat, and when you’re feeding several people, that adds up quick.
3) Go easy on the meat.
We Americans love our meat. Most cultures, other than our own, eat a lot less of it than we do. Like I said earlier, meat is usually most expensive part of any meal. So it makes sense to pick a main dish that stretches your meat or uses little meat at all.
Here are six types of cheap meals that capitalize on things other than meat:
- Baked Potatoes
- Beans & Rice
- Pasta dishes
- Soup & Bread
- Breakfast for Dinner
4) Make it homemade.
There is nothing wrong with buying store-bought anything. No shame in that game.
But if you’re wanting to save money, it’s almost always cheaper to make something from scratch than it is to buy it from the store.
Here are several things you can make from scratch to save money:
- salad dressings
- dips (salsa, guacamole, french onion dip, ranch, etc.)
- bread (loaves, tortillas, pita)
- chicken or beef stock
- pie crust
- pizza dough
- barbecue sauce
- spice mixes (taco seasoning, cajun, Italian seasoning, etc.)
It takes a little more time to make these things homemade, but if your budget is tight, it’s worth it.
5) Let your guests bring something.
Don’t be a hosting martyr! If your guest offers to bring a dish, let them. It helps them feel like they’re contributing. And it takes some of the expense pressure off of you.
Better yet, plan a potluck where everyone brings something. People love potlucks. There’s something about seeing tons of different dishes lying out together waiting to be sampled that makes people get excited. (Or is that only me??) It’s like a restaurant buffet — but free!
6) Do something other than dinner.
There’s no rule that says if you’re having people over, it has to be for dinner. If you invite people at a time other than mealtime, it can save you a lot of money and yet still provide opportunites to connect.
We made friends with another family on our cul-de-sac just by inviting them over for ice cream cones one night. We also have been known to host board game nights with a couple of snacks provided.
You don’t have to feed guests a whole meal to enjoy spending time together.
Entertaining on a budget is definitely possible. You just have to be a little creative, that’s all.
So if you’ve been reluctant to invite people over because money’s tight, use one of these six strategies to help you entertain on a budget. Check what ingredients you already have, plan around the store ads, use less meat, make it homemade, let your guests bring a dish, or invite people over just for dessert or snacks.
Which one of these strategies will you use the next time you entertain? Did I miss any ideas for saving money on food? Share them in the comments below.
For more posts about entertaining, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Casual Dinner Party Menu and Choosing Go-To Meals for Last-Minute Entertaining!