Party Without Plastic

When it comes to budget-busters, the holiday season is full of them. Egg nog, turkeys, stocking stuffers, and elf figurines can really add up. According to U.S. Census statistics, the average price of a "milestone" party (think large Christmas gathering, anniversary blowout, or that "29 Yet Again" birthday bash) is around $400.

Add some decent champagne, a DJ, and crudites and the bill can go much higher. Experts say to earmark $5 to $7 per person for liquor alone. (Therapy costs vary from city to city.)

The trick to emerging from the holiday party season with your finances intact is to leave your credit cards at home. (Or, if you do put your party on plastic, be prepared to pay the bill in full when it arrives.) A little bit of planning -- and a decent calculator -- can help you save time, money, and your sanity. Here are five tips on throwing an all-cash bash.

1. Budget: Even if money's not tight, pricing out your party in advance will save your sanity. At the very least, it'll encourage you to reserve items you need and buy non-perishables in advance so that you don't end up having to use Halloween napkins at your New Year's Eve fete.

2. Prioritize: Decide what will really make the event special for you and your guests. Perhaps it's party favors, fresh orchids at every table, or killer appetizers. Price those items first and then work your way down the list. That way, if you end up having to use plastic wine glasses, you won't be disappointed because you already planned to splurge for a fabulous vintage to pour into them.

3. Get crafty: Six out of 10 party planners prepare food from scratch. A simple artistic garnish can make your platters look like it came from the caterers. Same goes for decor and invitations. Have laser printer, will engrave. And there's no shortage of cable TV shows on making stenciled tablecloths and festive candle groupings. Browse the decor magazines in the checkout line and mercilessly steal the most appealing ideas. Walk the aisle of Michaels craft store (NYSE: MIK  ) and see what pro hobbyists suggest for decor. Get answers for all your glue gun questions on the Crafty Fools discussion board.

4. Borrow instead of buy: A wooden folding chair can cost $5 a day to rent. A cushion costs extra. Well before set-up, ask friends and neighbors if you can borrow furniture, dishes, serving pieces, vases, and whatever else you might need. A tasty sampling of leftovers and bottle of wine or box of chocolates is always a thoughtful thank-you gift.

5. Party on!: Get a pal to play caterer during the event and offer to return the favor at his or her next gala. Having someone else in the kitchen rinsing dishes, slicing pies, and sweeping through the living room to pick up empties frees you up to enjoy your company.

For other Foolish ideas on how to save on the big parties:

The Motley Fool has kicked off its ninth annual Foolanthropy campaign! Nominate your favorite charities on our Foolanthropy discussion board through Nov. 6. For guidelines on what makes a charity Foolish, visit www.foolanthropy.com.

Dayana Yochim's decor bible is Glue Gun Decor by Marian McEvoy. Dayana shops at Michael's but doesn't own stock in the company. The Fool's disclosure policy would look adorable with a pompon trim.


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