The Little Money-Saving Trick I Swear by When Hosting on a Budget

published Apr 21, 2023
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Joyful group of female friends sitting in the dining room and eating vegetarian food together, having fun
Credit: mixetto/Getty Images

When I was a broke newlywed, I once — in a moment of madness — invited my boss and his wife over for dinner. I grew up in rural Texas, where a meal isn’t officially a meal unless it involves beef, which is why I splurged on short ribs for this impulsively offered dinner. I firmly planned to eat rice and beans the rest of the month to cover the expense, and I had no regrets … other than offering to host in the first place, of course.  

The day of the dinner arrived, and I welcomed my (actually really nice) boss and his spouse into our postage-stamp-sized apartment. As expected, the ribs were a hit. Such a hit, in fact, that he asked for more. Of course, I didn’t have seconds. I barely had firsts. I was embarrassed, he was mortified — he did know how much he paid me, after all — and I vowed never to repeat the experience. 

No, I didn’t give up entertaining. I gave up spending money I didn’t have on expensive food I would have to serve in tiny portions. And therein lies the secret to hosting on a budget.

I called up my crunchiest friend and said I wasn’t ready to become vegan, but I was ready to dabble in vegan entertaining, which I thought of as the opposite of stingy — it was inclusive. My friend was thrilled by any step in the eco-friendly direction, even if economically motivated. She introduced me to a whole host of foods I’d never looked at twice in the grocery store: lentils, tofu, chickpeas, quinoa. Beans, I knew, but only as the side no one ate at Tex-Mex restaurants, so they required a reintroduction. 

Because these foods fit into our shoestring budget anyway, I got lots of practice. Yes, there were plenty of mistakes (I’m looking at you, rubbery tofu), but there were many solid wins, and even new favorites that I never would have tried if we hadn’t been drowning in student debt. 

Now, 15 years later, our student debt is almost paid off, we own a house, and we’re saving for retirement. So, have I reverted back to short ribs and burgers? I have not! I still confidently serve plant-based protein at our dinner parties because it’s budget- and planet-friendly — but mostly because it’s delicious. 

I like lentil curry, black bean tacos, and tofu just as much as I like short ribs. And I always have seconds. 

What’s your best tip for budget-friendly entertaining? Let us know in the comments!