1. Have a sangria bash.
You don’t have to have a full bar (or anything like one!) just because you’re having a party. Sangria is inexpensive, delicious, easy-to-make, and a little goes a long way. Add red wine, carbonated water, sweetener such as honey or orange juice, and a small amount of spirits, such as brandy or triple sec, to a pitcher full of chopped or sliced oranges, apples, or other fruit, and refrigerate for two hours before your guests arrive. Add ice, stir, and your guests will be delighted. For a variation, use white wine, and you have sangria blanca.
2. Decorate seasonally.
Don’t feel that you need to spend money on flowers or centerpieces when you’re having a party. Try using whatever produce looks beautiful just now. If it’s spring, place a glass bowl of bright lemons in the center of the table, with a couple of smaller bowls of perfect strawberries to either side. If it’s autumn, put a few pomegranates in the center of the table. In the winter, arrange some holly branches and berries. In summer, pick wildflowers or heap up some lovely summer tomatoes. The star of the show should always be the food, so decorations shouldn’t be the slightest drain on your party budget.
3. Turn down the lights and save.
When you have votive candles flickering around the room and tapers on the table, surfaces seem to gleam and people’s faces glow, making everyone look — and feel — younger, prettier, and happier. If a few cheap votive candles can accomplish that, they’re worth every penny. Candles are the easiest, best decorations you can buy, they have the added benefit of hiding dust, and they’ll keep your electricity costs down.
4. Start with soup.
Most folks love a bowl of homemade soup, which is wonderful because soup is super-inexpensive and supremely delicious — plus, it fills people up before they get to the roast beef! Make a savory leek-and-potato or creamy butternut squash soup. Float some croutons on top of each bowl or — even easier — some bruschetta (toasted slices of hearty country bread brushed with olive oil on both sides and rubbed with a raw garlic clove).
5. Slow-cook a bigger, cheaper cut.
Whether you fancy chicken thighs or boneless country ribs, take advantage and haul out your slow cooker. Sure, you’ll have to plan ahead to do this, but the result is a much more deeply flavored dish that you’ve prepared ahead, which brings down the stress levels on the day of your party, and you’ll save lots of money. Your low-priced and plain protein — slow-cooked or in a nice sauce — suddenly becomes dinner-party fancy.
6. Take advantage of discounted wine.
Trader Joe’s famous discount wine sells for less than $4 a bottle. Charles Shaw wines, as they are more formally known, are worth stocking up on. Some wine critics champion them, others scoff at them, but ordinary wine drinkers feel the extremely low price helps the wine slip down easily.