Betty Goes Cheap: Throwing a Party

Throwing a Party on the Cheap

I love having friends and family over to my house; cooking, drinking and socializing. What I don't love is having the break out the credit card to do it. This spring I threw a few get-togethers, one was an Easter Beer-Hunt (it's exactly what it sounds like) and the other was a surprise 60th Birthday party for my mom. I knew what kind of party I wanted those to be so I knew I'd have to balance my anal retentive attention to detail with my bottom line.

Doing two parties a few weeks apart seemed daunting, but by making the decor and menu very similar it became much more manageable. I also swear by doing parties potluck style where I make the entree, one side, a dessert, and provide basic beverages and ask guests to bring additional sides and beverages. This cuts down on the total time and money you will be spending. Also no one wants to spend an entire party chained to the stove. 


I went with mostly things that could be made ahead of time so that on the party day, I could just plate, have a glass of wine, and enjoy my company. Things like the dinner rolls, mayonnaise, cupcakes, pie and burger patties can all be made during the week before the party so you're just spending an hour or two after work each day prepping rather than scrambling day-of. That left me just with cooking the meat, frosting the cupcakes and preparing the green veggie... all totally do-able. 

  • Make-your-own Sliders
    • Easter: spicy pulled pork (another brilliant recipe from Pioneer Woman
    • Mom's Bday: Beef & sage (from Rachael Ray) and Lemon salmon (via AllRecipes)
    • Both with homemade dinner rolls from King Arthur Flour
    • Condiments like BBQ sauce, garlic/herb mayonnaise, ketchup, etc (I had fun making my own mayo with the tried-and-true Julia Child recipe
  • Green vegetable
    • Easter: steamed asparagus with lemon hollandaise (via Better Homes & Gardens)
    • Mom's Bday: green salad with a simple vinaigrette 
  • Dessert
    • Easter: Lemon cupcakes with raspberry buttercream. I use Joe Pastry's version with a tbs of vanilla and 4oz of raspberries. I also found the whisk attachment to be better on the cupcake batter in this case instead of the paddle
    • Mom's Bday: Same cupcakes as well as a cherry pie (because my dad LOVES pie)... if the idea of making pie is scary, don't worry, you're in good company and there will be a pie-baking post coming later this summer
Raspberry Lemonade cupcakes... they're a thing of beauty!

Raspberry Lemonade cupcakes... they're a thing of beauty!


As far as decor goes, my favorite things are: 

  • Plenty of fresh flowers for every vase I own on every stable surface I can find (my local farmer's market or Trader Joe's seems to have the best selection and price)
  • Fun and springy table linens or plates. Most of mine are from Cost Plus World Market, TJ Maxx or Ross as well as a few choice finds from local vintage and secondhand shops. If you aren't picky about matching, finding great deals becomes much easier and much more fun
  • Depending on the event, I've always got tons of candles around (to keep all of the vases company...)

For my Mom's birthday, I added another element to my standard decorations by making a trio of brightly colored pennant banners.

To start, I went to the craft store to gather my supplies. Both Michael's and Joann's regularly have sales on scrapbook paper, but even the regular price is pretty reasonable

  • two sheets each of 12"x12" scrapbook paper in green, pink, blue, yellow and a multicolored floral
  • a roll of cream grosgrain ribbon
  • a roll of double-sided tape
  • white eyelets (optional)

To make the pennants:

  1. Using a pencil and ruler, make tick marks every 3" along one side of the paper, draw a line parallel 9" from the ticks. Use the ruler and the tick marks as guides to draw 3 isosceles triangles, allowing you to get 3 pennants per page
  2. Decide the order of the colors you picked by laying the pennants out on your work surface. You'll also want to determine how much ribbon should go between each pennant. (For reference, I chose to space them 5" apart)
  3. Using the double stick tape, tape the ribbon along the top edge of each pennant in your chosen order. I ended up making 3 pennants of 3 different sizes to fit over my dining room window, the doorway from living to dining room and over the fireplace.
  4. Finally, the optional step to punch holes at each corner of the individual pennants and set and eyelet. I did this because I want to keep using these and I thought the eyelets would extend their lifespan (or, rather more likely, I was watching BSG and got carried away). 
I used tiny clothespins to pin pictures of my Mom and family to the banner over the fireplace

I used tiny clothespins to pin pictures of my Mom and family to the banner over the fireplace

I am inordinately inordinately happy with how these turned out and can't wait to use them over and over. I have a feeling they will be super versatile as you can certainly add letters to them or make it in any color combo you can think of.

The Verdict

Ultimately I am happy with how this plan turned out. The menu is nebulous enough to fit with almost any occasion and the ingredients are themselves fairly cheap. In the end I think I spent around $100 for the menu/ingredients and $40 on the decorations. It's also important to remember that buying the most expensive ingredients isn't what makes the food good, it's how you prepare it and the company it is enjoyed with. This may sound nutty coming form someone who blogs about the details, but truly, all of this is about the fun, not about the stress of perfection. Try not to get too bogged down in the things that at the end of the day, not even you will care about or remember. 


Share your spring get-togethers, good buys and ways to keep the fun without breaking the bank at #BudgetBetaTester! As always, leave me your comments, questions and suggestions below, on the social media or via email (