Over the last four weeks, our family has celebrated Father's Day and two birthdays, as well as hosted houseguests three times. We've absolutely loved the feasting and fun, but my grocery budget has definitely been challenged.
While I am rarely tempted to splurge in a clothing store, the supermarket is another story. Food is my love language, so I walk the aisles dreaming up 52 kinds of deliciousness and have to hold myself back from busting the budget.
Here are some of the strategies I use to host without going into hock.
1. Have a grocery budget.
Keeping track of my grocery expenses and comparing them to our overall food budget is sometimes sobering, but it's also a great way to keep our spending in check. It governs what we do and helps us achieve bigger and better goals.
If I want to spend more on a dinner than the grocery budget will allow, I have to spend less in some other household category or readjust my dinner plan.
None of my friends and family would want me to do financial damage at the expense of a party, so I don't worry if it's not a six-course dinner.
2. Shop the sales.
Shopping the sales is one of the best ways to enjoy great food at a reasonable cost. I can buy a large pork roast for a great price and let the slow cooker do the work for an easy pulled pork recipe. Tacos and sandwiches come together easily, and everyone loves them!
3. Keep the pantry stocked.
I regularly stockpile my pantry with items we use on a regular basis, as well as those great deals I find on sale. In doing so, I can keep items on hand that will serve us for special occasions without having to buy them right then and there at a price that might be too high.
I am not that great at baking cakes from scratch, so when there is a free coupon for a cake mix, I am sure to use that coupon, even if we don't have a need for a cake mix at the time. My pantry will be stocked when birthday season rolls around.
→ Shop better: 5 Tips for Building a Budget-Friendly Pantry
4. Serve meals that can be stretched cheaply.
When we host friends and family, I try to make meals that are easy to prepare and economical. Serving a buffet allows me to prepare small amounts of several different items of varying complexity and expense that feels luxurious. It helps that the base of these recipes is a cheap ingredient, like pasta, rice, or bread dough. Here are a few of our favorite dinners for a crowd:
Pretty much everyone loves pasta. With a little creativity, you can serve a pasta bar that suits everyone's tastes.
- Prepare a selection of long and short pastas as well as some zoodles and gluten-free noodles.
- Lay out bowls of different sauces: alfredo, bolognese, marinara, and pesto.
- Include some toppings: chopped fresh herbs, Parmesan cheese, sliced sausages, and meatballs.
Rice bowls are one of my favorite ways to feed a crowd. There's no end to the flavor profiles you can explore; so many cultures enjoy rice! It's a fun and casual meal that suits everyone.
- Cook up a big pot of rice, or maybe two if you want to serve more than one rice variety.
- Grill or sauté vegetables and meats and chop into bite-sized pieces. This chicken-cilantro mixture is a huge hit at my house.
- Round up some other toppings: cheese, beans, lettuce, or other greens.
- Lay out a collection of sauces: salsa, Sriracha, soy sauce, sour cream, or guacamole.
We are big fans of homemade pizza. It took me awhile to perfect it, but now it's one of my family's favorite meals. And it's so much cheaper than buying it at the pizzeria! A batch of dough only costs a dollar or two.
- Mix up a batch or two of homemade pizza dough.
- Form individual-sized pizza rounds.
- Lay out a variety of sauces and toppings.
- Let diners assemble their own pizzas.
- Bake them on the grill or in the oven.
- Provide veggie dippers to snack on while you wait for pizzas to bake.
5. Let folks contribute.
My social circle has always been made up of folks with small children and limited budgets. We all understand that it takes a lot to pull off a big shindig, so we have no qualms over contributing to the meal. We give more weight to the social interaction than we do the meal itself or who cooks it.
While I wouldn't ask or accept contributions to a birthday party meal, I have no problem with letting my friends bring salad or a bread basket to a backyard barbecue. Part of the fun when I'm a guest is getting to bring something creatively delicious without bearing the full responsibility of being the hostess.
6. Remember it's about the people.
Any celebration or feast is really more about the people than it is the food. It took me a few parties, too-high grocery bills, and more than a few tears to realize that stressing over the food was robbing me of the enjoyment of the people. I still have to remind myself that the food is not the end-all, be-all of the party.
Being "the hostess with the mostest" nowadays means that I get a chance to talk with and enjoy my company, not worry if there are four kinds of desserts. This keeps both my stress level and my grocery bill reasonable.
How do you host without stressing out or spending too much?