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Holiday party ideas on a budget

Holiday party spending tips
December 01, 2016

By Alissa Green

Whether you prefer your holiday parties served with egg nog, potato latkes or both – there’s no doubt a good holiday party gets everyone in the spirit of the season. But that doesn’t mean hosting a holiday party needs to upend your December budget.

We’ve researched some helpful holiday party ideas and tips to ensure you won’t need magic elves to bail out your bank account.

Consider hosting a holiday potluck, AKA Friendsgiving:

Potlucks are appealing because you can taste everyone’s favorite holiday dish while avoiding an enormous grocery bill. The trick to not appearing like a cheapskate is all in how you promote the party.

In recent years, Friendsgiving has become a trend around Thanksgiving, but there’s no reason you can’t extend it to Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa.

My in-laws always host my physics professor father-in-law’s international graduate students for a Christmas Eve dinner since they often can’t travel home. One year, my in-laws changed things up and hosted a potluck. Don’t tell them, but it was my favorite year by far. While more casual than the traditional Christmas Eve dinner they typically host, it felt exotic to taste holiday fare from around the world.

Even if your friends are all local, they likely have a unique family recipe or two up their sleeves. For example, The New York Times published a Thanksgiving article this year detailing how many Americans integrate holiday traditions with their own cultures and heritage (Egg roll stuffing from Laos! Pumpkin flan from Cuba!).

Go traditional for the holidays and decorate on a dollar

If you’re thinking of hosting a traditional holiday party, consider dollar stores or resale shops for decorations. While fashion trends may change with the season, Hanukah and Christmas decorations haven’t changed in decades, which is what often fuels holiday nostalgia. My aforementioned father-in-law has a train set from his childhood that always makes a welcome guest appearance around the Christmas tree.

Another holiday spending tip is to incorporate holiday decorations gifted from nature, depending where you live. Pinecones spray-painted gold or silver and evergreen boughs both evoke the holiday spirit without costing much at all.

A cheap holiday party can still look and feel plenty festive.

Thank the British for the Christmas luncheon

While there’s nothing wrong with an evening holiday party, it’s also not the only way to celebrate. The British have their Christmas celebrations at lunchtime, so take a page from them. Why does it help you party on a budget? Less alcohol.

Consider having your party at midday with a “Christmas in London” theme and throw in a mini Christmas cracker, a crown and Christmas pudding for true authenticity. For devoted anglophiles, BBC America has additional British party tips. 

Consider a pre-holiday gift exchange

Most people have a few items kicking around their home that they just don’t use that much. Before you add something new to your holiday list, see if you can swap with a pal. Think of it as the opposite of a white elephant gift exchange.

A friend of mine organizes a clothing swap a couple times a year for her friends. If you hold one before the holidays, you can also score new holiday party clothes.

Don’t forget: Holiday spending tips look like everyday $$ tips

Like any other time of year, there’s no shame in using coupons or shopping at discount stores. While everyone wants to provide the best for our friends and family, store-label brands still taste and look remarkably similar to brand names. Your financial wellness is as good a gift to your loved ones as anything store bought – and arguably – even better. To that end, consider how your holiday shopping can affect your credit score.  

In short, don’t throw out your smart spending tips just because it’s the holidays. You got this.


Alissa Green is the Digital Marketing Manager at Alliant. She has 10+ years experience writing/blogging and has written for Jezebel, The Onion, MyFirstApartment.com, and MyFirstCondo.com amongst other sites. The best piece of financial advice she’s gotten was from her mother, who says one should never try to beat the market (thanks, mom!). In her spare time, you can find Alissa enjoying the local comedy scene, exploring different Chicago neighborhoods, supporting the Chicago Humanities Festival and reading up on FinTech.