Organising an outdoor summer party on a budget

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Outdoor summer parties are often easier to host than indoor parties, and the casual atmosphere of entertaining al fresco means you can get away with being a lot less fancy than you might strive for with an indoor dinner party. I’m hoping to bring my garden up to scratch in time for some entertaining this summer, so here are my tips for budget  garden parties:

Advance Planning

The choice of decoration, food and drink can be overwhelming but if you decide on a themed party this automatically narrows the choice down and makes your job easier. Themes can be as simple as being colour-based, so don’t automatically think it means fancy dress or investing in new tableware. If the party is for a special occasion, such as a graduation or milestone birthday, let the occasion dictate the theme.Plan as far ahead as you can, so you can take advantage of buying decorations (or making them if you like crafts and sewing) out of season. Other money-saving ways to buy table linens, lights and even furnishings is scouring online auctions or charity shops. Buying bits and bobs over a few weeks or months helps spread the cost and lets you buy things when you see them at great prices, rather than paying ‘whatever it costs’ for last-minute items.

Furnishings for Outdoors

The lovely thing about entertaining outdoors is that furnishings can be kept to a minimum and still make everyone think you’ve gone to lots of trouble. Picnics can feel quite luxurious with just few blankets or sheets on the ground and piles of cushions for roman-style lounging. Kids especially like picnics, so you could set up a picnic area for them and reserve more formal seating for the grown ups.

Table dressings set the stage, but the table itself needn’t cost a fortune. Pushing several smaller tables together to make one long banqueting table looks really impressive. Cover it with a few metres of inexpensive cotton fabric and you’ve immediately got a coordinated look. There’s no need to sew the edges either, as people won’t be inspecting the finish of hems. If you have pinking shears use those for pretty, fray-free edges. Matching accessories are brilliant for pulling themes together and creating a look that appears sophisticated. Cut any leftover fabric into squares to double as napkins, or into lengths to tie around bundles of dining utensils.

The skill in entertaining well on a budget is knowing where you can save money and what is wise expenditure. If you’re putting on a show or other entertainment for a large party, hiring a stage is a good investment. Everyone will get a good view and hear properly, and you won’t run the risk of a collapsing DIY stage. A few folding deck chairs will create the impression of a seaside chill-out or lounging in the park, and might be all you in terms of seating.

Budgeting for Food

Keep the menu as simple as possible. Outdoors entertaining naturally leads to thoughts of barbecue, and if you shop at bulk outlets for sausages or burgers you’ll save a lot over branded items sold in small quantities. With a very large party, you might have to think about safety around cooking areas, especially if you’re having a BBQ outdoors with kids running around too. Metal barriers you can hire are good for cordoning off places where there may be trip, burn, or fire hazards. Other ways of cutting down on menu expenses include the ‘potluck’ idea. Ask guests to bring a dish along with them, but try and stipulate the type so not everyone arrives with a bowl of trifle. 

Recycling for Fun

The idea of using jam jars or small bottles instead of drinking glasses is all over Pinterest, so save up your empties in the run-up to the party. Keep the lids too, as these make handy covers to keep wasps out of drinks. You can make layered desserts in them too – here’s my cheesecake-in-a-jar recipe. A dab of chalkboard paint on jars intended for kid’s use means you can personalise each one with their name or initials.

Entertaining on a budget isn’t so much about cutting corners as being creative. People care much more about the company and having fun than about how much you spent. Do you have any tips or ideas for entertaining on a budget this summer? I’d love to hear what you got up to for your last garden party (all ideas gratefully received!) so please leave me a comment below 🙂

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Cassie is a freelance writer with a Masters degree in Lifestyle Promotion Studies and is trained in Personal Money Management. She loves to ‘get the look for less’ so regularly shares thrifty-living advice, DIY interior design ideas and low-cost recipes on her blog.

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