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How to host a holiday dinner on a budget

Posted at 10:47 AM, Nov 25, 2015

Will you, like millions of others, be hosting family and friends for dinner gatherings this holiday season?

I don’t know about you, but we certainly feel pressure in these moments to provide the perfect setting with the exact right mix of holiday cheer, gourmet tidbits and great company. But let’s face it, without the budget to hire caterers, buy expensive decorations, and load up on the fanciest treats, it’s all too easy to feel under-prepared to wow our guests.

While the company and conversation is on you (that’s the easy part!), don’t despair for the rest — take a look at these tips for hosting a fabulous holiday dinner party without breaking the bank.

Set the atmosphere with candles
There’s no need to go crazy with pricey holiday decorations when you can create a twinkly, intimate setting using simple, low-cost candles. Buy a big bundle and spread them around the house, from the dining room table to the mantel to the kitchen, and you’ll have a glittering, merry ambiance in minutes. Bonus: find a festive scent, and you’ll have the holidays wafting through the air too! Check out these sweet cinnamon balsam candles on Etsy for one option.

Create a festive — and free — centerpiece
Don’t we all have far more Christmas ornaments than we could ever fit on a tree? Dig into your boxes of ornaments, grab a handful of colorful, shining spheres, and lay them out across the center of the table. Voila! Your dinner is holiday-ready. If you don’t have ornaments to spare, snag a box of 96 of these silver ball ornaments (for around $15) for a classy spread. Lay out the ornaments across the table, with a few sprigs of holly thrown in, and you’ve got a Martha Stewart approved dinner table.

Cookies by contribution
It can be tempting to splurge on an impressive dessert, but this is one area that you can easily save on, while still impressing guests. Almost everyone likes to contribute to a dinner party, so ask each guest to bring a batch of their favorite holiday cookie recipe. You’ll have a gorgeous and delicious platter of desserts for everyone to enjoy, without spending a penny — plus a fun conversation starter. Not only do you avoid spending unnecessary money, you also involve guests in the dinner process, which makes everyone feel valued.

Choose one signature cocktail
Forget about food – you can really break the bank when you try to set up a stocked bar that will please everyone. This year, don’t worry about finding the ideal beverage for each picky guest. Instead, choose one delicious, fun signature cocktail that incorporates a popular liquor (like rum or vodka). You can keep your budget in check, but still provide a fun and festive element to the party with a holiday-inspired cocktail for all. For inspiration, check out these recipes for mulled wine with cranberries or eggnog martinis.

Wow guests with clow-cooker goodness
One of the most surefire ways to keep the main course in budget is to take advantage of that trusty slow cooker. Because main dishes (like pot roast, meatballs, or roast beef) made in the slow cooker simmer slowly at low heat, the meat becomes extra tender and flavorful, which means you can buy cheaper cuts of meat without losing any quality in the finished product. This may seem like a small thing, but when you’re feeding 10 or more guests, it can result in huge savings. Even better, you take care of all the prep work in the morning, then let the slow cooker work its magic, so your entire day is freed up to focus on other party details. Easy as pie!
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