Throw a budget-savvy holiday party



Linda White, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:00 PM ET

It may be the season to eat, drink and be merry, but hosting a holiday party doesn't have to be a recipe for breaking the bank.

Natural decorations can transform your home into a seasonal wonderland and serving simple food in unusual ways is sure to impress holiday revellers.

"The most important thing to remember is your guests aren't judging you with expectations of design magazine glitz," says Hilary Farr.

As host of Love It or List It on W Network, Farr knows firsthand the importance of creating a lasting impression and also the value of stretching a dollar.

"They're at your party to relax with friends, meet new people and celebrate this special time."

Anna Olson, host of Bake with Anna Olson on Food Network Canada, agrees. Her first tip is to consider the type of celebration you want to host.

"An open house leaves it open to question how many guests to prepare for, with the potential of overspending and over-preparing, plus the risk of having too much left over or potentially not having enough," she says. "A cocktail party implies drinks and hors d'oeuvres, which can often cost more and take more effort than a meal."

A weekend brunch or lunch is a much more affordable option. "Daytime entertaining is more relaxed so a less formal table setting feels appropriate," Olson says. "With brunch or lunch, the ingredients and portions are more modest and brunch egg dishes like quiche or huevos rancheros fit in perfectly."

Additionally, alcoholic beverages are consumed far less at brunch and lunch, if at all. When planning a menu, take inspiration from flyers. "Grocery stores are fighting for your business at holiday time so pay attention to their features and specials and plan your menu around the great deals that can be found and then search for the recipes and dishes based on those ingredients," says Olson.

Remember, unnecessary expenses can quickly drive up the cost of hosting a get-together. "Renting rooms may seem like a good idea but perhaps trim the guest list and spend less," says Farr.

Her favourite holiday decorating tricks include filling bowls with clementines and pomegranates for a double whammy of colour and fragrance. Decorate indoors and out with freshly cut evergreens. Farr is also a fan of oversized silver and gold candles, as well as glass vases filled with tree ornaments that can be used to trim your tree later.

Sending out invitations via social media or e-mail.

"Catering is a godsend when you're busy but it can be very costly. Don't go crazy with expensive, fussy menus."

Keep it simple. For example, rent oversized martini glasses and fill them with mashed potatoes and set out toppings like sour cream, cooked onions, crumbled bacon bits and gravy.

Offering a limited selection of spirits will also help keep your bar bill in check. "Warm, mulled wine is easy to make and on a cold night it's a delicious and traditional way to celebrate," Farr says. "You could have some fun and share the cost by asking your guests to bring a holiday-themed beverage to share and have a taste-off."