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Throw a Holiday Party on a Budget

It's easy to host a holiday bash on a budget. With our simple menu and easy decorating ideas, you can have 12 people over for just $150.

Cake mix dessert

Yuletide Chocolate Bliss ($13): Two boxes of cake mix divided into three layers (freeze one layer to use later) create a stunning centerpiece dessert. Canned chocolate frosting can fill the layers and cover the sides; canned whipped vanilla frosting with a shaved chocolate bar sprinkled on top gives it a special-occasion look. To shave a chocolate bar, let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, then use a vegetable peeler.

Festive frames

Make a white frame a pretty focal point by hanging an ornament from the hook in back. Or spray-paint a frame white; a can of spray paint runs just $5.

Complement that look by framing a section of wrapping paper (Slide 1); we wrapped the cardboard that comes with the frame, ensuring a perfect fit.

Cookie sampler

Friends always ask what they can bring to a party. Ask them to share a batch of their favorite holiday cookies. You'll end up with a nice variety for guests.

See 32 holiday cookie recipes

Easy flower arrangement

Create your own customized flower composition by covering coffee cans with wrapping paper and embellishing them with ribbon. Fill with inexpensive white carnations and baby's breath, plus evergreens cut from your yard.

Pretty pillar candles

Simple white pillars of varying heights run as little as $3 each at big-box retailers. Use what you already have at home with some new ones. Ribbon scraps pinned around a few candles will coordinate them with your party decor.

More ideas on decorating with candles

Snowflake decor

Create beautiful snowflake decorations for just the cost of paper. Hang from windows or string them in a garland to dress up the front of your buffet table.

Run some ribbons

To give our table some pop, we picked out three spools of ribbon, in various widths and shades, to use as a table runner. We wrapped our bud vases with the ribbon, too. Cost: A mere $15.

Easy place settings

We spent $2 on a packet of 15 doilies, then printed out guests' names and laid the printed, cutout circles on top of the doilies. (Dollar stores sell durable, clear plates for about $1 each.)

Faux snow

To make a stunning centerpiece, you just need to find a serving tray, a clear glass vase and solid-color ornaments. Then sprinkle faux snow (or coconut!) over the display and wrap it up with some ribbon. Cost: About $4.

More seasonal decorating with glassware

Variety of wine

Buy one bottle ($13) to start with, then ask friends to bring their favorite bottle to share. By the time most of your guests arrive, you'll have an array of interesting tastes and built-in conversation starters.

Party menu

Just because you're cutting costs, it doesn't mean you want to skimp on dinner party customs, like showing guests the evening's menu. Here's a pretty solution: Stop at a scrapbooking store for card stock ($2), then print out your menu, glue it to a doily and mount it on the card stock.

The next slides show the specifics for these menu items.

One festive cocktail

A full bar will set you back. Instead, offer this festive Red Apple Crisp (left, $22 for the bottles of liquor, juice and club soda), created by Blue Plate Catering in Chicago. Rum, red apple liqueur, cranberry juice and club soda, garnished with an apple slice and cranberries, fill it with flavor.

Red Apple Crisp

Easy appetizer

Orchard Cheese Melts ($11): Turn grilled cheese into a special appetizer with artisan breads and cheeses and thin apple slices.

Budget meal for 12

Confetti Pasta With Shrimp ($38): Stretch your budget by halving each shrimp lengthwise, which gives them a corkscrew shape when they cook. For 12 guests, use 3 pounds of shrimp, 1 1/2 pounds of pasta tossed in olive oil, a bag of frozen peas, chopped sweet peppers and chopped fresh herbs.

Fresh Mixed Greens With Cranberries ($17): Combine two bagged salad mixes with crumbled goat cheese, slivered almonds and dried cranberries.

Cake mix dessert

Yuletide Chocolate Bliss ($13): Two boxes of cake mix divided into three layers (freeze one layer to use later) create a stunning centerpiece dessert. Canned chocolate frosting can fill the layers and cover the sides; canned whipped vanilla frosting with a shaved chocolate bar sprinkled on top gives it a special-occasion look. To shave a chocolate bar, let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, then use a vegetable peeler.

More ideas for easy sparkles

The great thing about holiday decorating is that just about any entertaining staple can turn into something festive. You'll probably find most of these items packed away in cupboards. Time to dig them out.
-- Silver serving dishes They add a level of sophistication. Use them for food, candles or after-dinner mints.
-- Holiday-theme props Drag out the storage tubs filled with ceramic Santas, nutcrackers and other holiday knickknacks normally reserved for mantels and shelves. Try scattering some across a buffet table or clustering them on a dinner table.
-- Candles Candlelight adds instant atmosphere. Buy a bag of tea lights ($5) and put them in (or on) pretty glasses or plates, and place them at different levels of the room. For the tabletop, surround pillar candles with pine branches.
-- Runners and cloth napkins Take a solid-color tablecloth from your cabinet and use it with a holiday-theme runner. Cloth napkins add instant class.
-- Empty boxes of varying sizes For a buffet table, turn boxes upside down, cover with a tablecloth and place serving dishes at different heights on the boxes. It makes the food more interesting.

Do you have a tip for saving money on holiday parties? Share your ideas in the Comments section below!

(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® November/December 2009.)

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