Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Party Perfect on a Budget

Being on a tight budget makes party-planning a REAL challenge, but ladies - I totally grabbed the bull by the horns. Yee haw! By giving myself lots of time and keeping detailed records of every penny spent, I managed to stay on task and stay on budget. This is quite a big deal for me as I don't like being restricted when it comes to planning a big to-do. Not that I always went hog wild before, but this is seriously the first time that I've tracked every dollar spent on a single event. And after seeing it all come together, I'm excited to know that I can throw a kick-ass party for only $250. Now I don't know if that's a tiny, normal, or big number to you, but to me that's pretty damn tight. We invited 50 adults and expected about 30-35 to attend. So here's the breakdown...

Food/Groceries - $119

Beer & Wine - $54

Favors - $27

Flowers & Decorations - $38

Invitations - $12

TOTAL - $250

I really didn't have to spend much of anything on decorations. I ended up having to buy a tablecloth ($11)- that was most of my "deocorations" budget. Actually that was really last minute - didn't realize I'd need it till the day before. And the rest was for these little engagement ring charm thingees ($8) that I put on top of my cupcakes (like these from a previous shower). I have only found them at Party City. I can't stand going in that place, but for those it's a necessity. And the rest was spent on flowers - some from Publix and some from Costco ($19). I have a bunch of vases, so I usually get a mix of flowers to display all over the house. I also work in ribbon with the flowers and vases a lot of times to tie in the shower colors.

As far as plates, cups, napkins, etc... I already have all that. If I have to buy anything in that arena, it's napkins. But I happened to have plenty of red and black ones (my shower colors) on hand, so no need. And in our basement I have two huge shelving systems filled with party supplies that I've gotten over time. I have clear glass plates in two different sizes, different types of stemware, flatware, serving dishes and whatnot - all stuff that is used solely for entertaining. Most of it I got at places like Old Time Pottery for stoopid cheap. It's a little investment initially, but if you like to throw parties or find yourself doing it a lot, it is TOTALLY worth it. Plus serving on real plates and using real glasses and flatware takes your shindig up a big, big notch. And hello, not to mention it's totally green! Less throw-away.

With my paper gig, I do have one-up on most people with the invitations. I had plenty of supplies on hand to make them without buying anything but the postage to mail them (and that was the $12).

Y'all saw my cutie favors. Favors are totally not necessary but I LOVE doing them. For me, the real fun in party planning is in the little details. I have enough ribbon to wrap around the world three times over, and a paper store in one of our spare bedrooms (since you know, I do paper stuff), so all I had to buy for these were the actual candy boxes. Hello Wally World! I was so excited to find all kinds of movie theatre size candy boxes there for only $0.88 each (so 30 of those, $27).

As far as drinks, we knew liquor wasn't an option if we were going to stick to this tight budget. Not for the hub anyway... he would've totally blown my budget in the liquor store alone! So we did beer, wine, and soda. Something else we cut out was water bottles. Instead we set out my set of super cute monogrammed cups (still the best $50 I ever spent) and had a pitcher of water and an ice bucket out. Saves on cash, and once again, green! As far as the beer, I totally started price-comparing between our local groceries and other places to see who had the best deal. Publix won that contest. For wine, I did a combo of the 2 buck chuck variety from Trader Joe's and one big $10 bottle of Pinot Grigio from Costco. For the soda, I also rummaged through ads to see who had the best deal. So for $54, I got 3 12-packs of Bud Light, 3 fridge packs of soda, and 7 bottles of wine (one 1.5L and 6 regular bottles). Pretty damn good!

Now for the food... the rest of the budget went to the menu, so I will just share the menu with you to see what all we had. It turned out perfectly and everyone had more than enough to eat - and we still have leftovers. I try to put together a yummy menu that has a little bit of something for everyone and that is also easy to do. It's a very casual yet chic menu. Chic enough for a couple's shower anyhoo. I make some of the stuff, but I mix in some store-bought items too. I'm all about food you can prepare ahead of time, throw in the fridge, and bring out just before guests arrive. Slaving away in the kitchen while watching the clock makes me nervous, so I look for a menu that won't have me doing TOO much the day of. So here we go...

* Sliced cheese and crackers (store bought, ready to serve)

* Raw veggies (celery, carrots, and grape tomatoes) with a variety of dips: hummus (store bought), parmesan pepper dip (made the night before), ranch dressing (store bought)

* Corn dip (Bestest's recipe! Made the night before) with Fritos (yes, even Fritos can be chic)

* Spinach artichoke dip (made the night before and baked before guests arrived) with tortilla chips, plus sour cream and salsa (store bought)

* Roll-up turkey and swiss sandwiches (store bought)

* Chocolate cream cheese cupcakes (baked early on the day of)

* Chocolate covered strawberries (made the day of)

Not bad for $119, huh?

OK so two more recipes from here that you must have are the spin-arti dip and the chocolate-covered strawberries. OK the strawberries aren't really so much of a recipe, but I have some little tips that make them a no-brainer. I tried to dig back through my recipe posts but didn't see my spinach dip. So either I didn't tag it well, or I've robbed you of this yummalicious, stupid easy recipe! I doubled this one for the party and I could've made more. It was a major hit - especially to the bride's mom who was apparently having a bad case of the munchies. She seriously asked me mid-party if I could "whip up another batch." Um, no.

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip


1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayo
1 garlic clove, pressed
3 ounces fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (about ¾ cup)


-Preheat oven to 375 F. Drain and coarsely chop artichoke hearts. Combine artichoke hearts, spinach, garlic, sour cream, may, and Parmesan.

-Spoon dip into a pie baker. Bake 20-25 minutes or until hearted through.

Yield: 10-15 appetizer

I also add shredded parmesan cheese to the top before I throw it in the oven. The dip is great on a shoe, but I usually serve it with Stacy's pita chips or tortilla chips.

I've pretty much come to the conclusion that anything made with a base of sour cream and mayo is freaking awesome. And the good thing is, you can do low-cal versions of dips with that base.

Now for the chocolate-covered strawberries, it's pretty simple. It involves strawberries and... chocolate. Like I said, there's no real recipe here, but perhaps these little pointers will be helpful to some...

-First, get good chocolate. Anyone can make these, but many times they aren't as good as they could be because they were made with crap-ass chocolate. Don't get that tub of fruit chocolate dip in the produce aisle. No, just don't. You want to get some good, dark chocolate. Strawberries are sweet enough on their own, so you don't need sickly sweet milk chocolate on top of that. The perfect compliment to a beautifully sweet strawberry is a coating of luscious dark, semi-sweet chocolate. Great, now I'm drooling. Plus the darker color is much richer looking against that strawberry red. I personally prefer Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips. So that's what I always get. Get whatever brand you prefer, but even if you're not generally a dark chocolate fan - trust me here and go dark.

- To heat the chocolate, use a double boiler. Chocolate burns very easily and it smells like total ass - so you want to avoid that. I actually don't have a true double boiler, so I do the make-shift version with a saucepan and a metal bowl (see this ghetto double boiler below). Once the chocolate gets good and melty, cut back the heat.

- It's time to go dippin'! There's probably some fancy pants tool out there for dipping strawberries, but I just use my fingers. The most important thing to do first is to make sure your strawberry is good and dry before dipping it. I basically keep a heavy paper towel in hand the whole time to dry off my berries as I'm dipping them. The chocolate won't stick if the berries are wet. It'll just slide right off. So yeah, dry them off and then hang on to the green leafy part and dip away.

- After dipping, sit the strawberries on a cookie sheet or plate covered in wax paper. Don't forget that wax paper or your strawberries will lose their chocolate coats when you go to pick them up (I learned that one the hard way). When done, stick the sheet or plate in the fridge to cool and let the chocolate harden. They don't take long to harden at all, but once they do, they'll come right off that wax paper ready to devour. Mmmmm!!!

So there you go... and now I'm pooped. I'm off to grab a tres chic bowl of Cheerios and then I'm hittin' the sack. Have a good night, ladies!


LovesPINKandPEARLS said...

you are a party planning guru!

SLS said...

First off let me say that you should teach a class on entertaining or do a week of tips on entertaining - you have some great ideas!
I love the recipes you shared. Especially the cupcake and chocolate covered strawberries! I am hosting a Sip & See next weekend and since it's in the afternoon we are doing all deserts (and fruits) and I will definitely be using both of those recipes! Thank you so much for sharing!!! Oh and can I ask you if you have any suggestions for budget friendly favors?

Muffy said...

You did SO well! That many people for that low a budget??? You're a MAVEN! You should turn this amazing skill into a BOOK and be the next Martha Stewart! SERIOUSLY! Muffy says, "BRAVO!"

The Mrs. said...

You worked hard on this post and I really love all your ideas! Thanks for sharing!!!

thepreppyprincess said...

Oh my word... this post is heaven! Good gracious! First of all, we're presuming you know how gifted you are at this and planning your HGTV show on entertaining on a shoestring...?

That would be after the wicked-good strawberries but before the artichoke dip...?! Yum! Double-yum!

It looked like it was just fabulous. We don't have that much talent in our little toe. Sigh. Maybe we can come back in our next life reincarnated as Betty...yes?

Congrats on the coolness!

lisalyn said...

Very COOL party! The food looks just wonderful!
I found this post by doing a search for "movie theater favors". I love your hot tamales and I want to do a post about them on my blog (if it's ok with you)...but I cannot quite read the tag. What does it say?
Again....great party! I might have to try that dip too. Sounds yummy.