Shannon Sickmon

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The chaos of the holidays is officially upon us.  You realize that you have been invited to so many birthday and/or holiday parties, showers, book club chats, and dinners throughout the year, and you’d love to reciprocate.  You want to show your friends that you appreciate their hospitality by throwing a festive holiday fete, but unfortunately your bank account prohibits anything but an intimate gathering.

holiday budget party

Don’t worry—at Moneytime, we understand.  We’ve got four fabulous holiday party ideas for you, all with a budget of $125.00 or less. Here are some tips on how to pull off a great bash on a tight budget.

  • Keep it small. Invite 10 to 12 of your closest friends.  You’ll have more fun that way. Think about it—trying to include a massive guest list not only will cost you more money, it’s a bigger headache.  Including only your best confidantes at your party means that you don’t have to worry about losing your valuables or whether they’ll judge you for having a Snoopy toothbrush.
  • Plan ahead. Take the time to trawl through store circulars and look online for discount codes and sales. Since you will be making most of the food yourself, wait until the items you need go on sale—you can always freeze things. Pre-prepared party trays of crudités and canapes may seem like an easy shortcut for the stressed holiday host, but if you are on a budget, anything ready-to-eat will be twice the price.
  • Prioritize your budget. If you know that you want to spend the most money on the food or the liquor, pre-price these items online first. Then you’ll know how much you’ll have left to spend on décor, ice, cutlery, and the like. If you have money left over after buying everything, even better.
  • Pick a simple decorative theme. These folks are your friends. They won’t be expecting you to channel Martha Stewart and have a lavish, ribbon-encrusted, evergreen extravaganza. A few candles, some pretty table linens, and evergreen fronds are all you need to set the mood. Check out Pinterest for some easy, cost-effective ideas. The Dollar Store has great deals on napkins, plates, and other party items. You could also hit up the local thrift store for punch bowls, serving trays, and table linens.

Here are four holiday party ideas that will impress your friends but not decimate your bank account.

Note: Prices may vary by region and availability.

Caroling and Cookies.                                         

Yes, it’s old-school. With this idea, you keep your friends busy singing their hearts out for a couple of hours.  Provide the music sheets and allow 15 minutes before to practice. You could bring everybody to the local assisted living facility or the VA and sing for them—not only will you make their day; you might hear some neat stories. If that’s not an option, wander your neighborhood and regale your neighbors with your rendition of Silent Night and The First Noel. Then, after you’ve entertained the neighbors/retirees/veterans enough, herd your pals back to your place for boozy hot mulled cider and homemade treats. 

christmas cookies

Even if you’re a hopeless baker, chocolate and pomegranate bark or strawberry Santas are foolproof recipes that anyone can put together. Add some store-bought cookies (buy in bulk to save money) or homemade snickerdoodles and sugar cookies.


  • Food: $45.00
  • Alcohol: $15.00, Total Wine, 1.75 liter of mid-priced bourbon.
  • Décor: $47.00, Dollar Tree.
  • Printing:  $13.00, 100 pages at an average of $0.13 per page.

Holiday Movie Festival.

This is a great idea for even a lazy host. You’ll provide warm blankets, pillows, popcorn, soft drinks, and movie-style candy.  You can stream movies, or ask friends to bring over their favorite holiday classics. If your friends are snarky like mine, you could screen some of the cheesier offerings on the Hallmark Channel, Hulu, or Netflix.  Ask friends to comment freely in the style of MST3K. Have one of your friends keep track of the funniest ones, and read them off at the end of the night.  In your candy-and soft-drink-induced sugar haze, they’ll seem even funnier.  The winner gets a gift card.


Wine and cheese tasting.

For this one, you’re going tospend more on food and wine, so budget accordingly on the decorations and supplies. Ask your friends to bring over their favorite bottle of wine to share, but put a price limit on it.  $20 will net you a fantastic bottle in most areas.

You’ll provide the cheeses, bread, crackers and appetizers. Ask the cheese monger at your local grocer about the best cheeses that they are offering right now. Get some salty prosciutto or Genoa salami to pair with stronger reds, and serve everything with a baguette and assorted crackers.


  • Ice buckets: $11.99, Available at Walmart.
  • Food: $65.00, Includes 4-5 artisanal cheeses, prosciutto, baguette, crackers, and fresh fruit.
  • Wine: $17.97, We bought Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé.
  • Stemless wine glasses: $11.05, Available at Walmart.
  • Assorted serving trays and table linens: $18.00, Goodwill.
  • Fresh evergreen fronds from local tree stand: FREE
  • Hand-made labels for the cheese: FREE

Holiday Baking Championship.

Just like the ubiquitous, beloved show on Food Network, you are going to challenge your friends to present their best holiday desserts to share.  If you have friends that hate to bake, designate them the judges.  You’ll want at least two friends to judge the desserts.  As the host, you’ll be an honorary judge, as well.

You’ll provide coffee, tea, and a festive hot cocoa bar.  The winner of the championship gets a gift card—and bragging rights.


  • Hot cocoa bar: $25
  • Gift card: $25
  • Assorted mugs: $12.72, Purchased at Goodwill.
  • Plates, forks, table linens:  $19.87, Purchased at Dollar Tree.
  • Serving chargers: $10.60, Dollar Tree.
  • Cake and pie spatulas: $6.69, Available at Walmart.
  • Coffee and Tea, sugar, and cream: $18.00

There you have it—our roundup of fun holiday parties that anyone can afford. Do you have any go-to holiday entertaining tips? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below.

holiday hot cocoa

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