Handling Hostess Sticker Shock

When it comes to gifts, it's the thought that counts. But if you're inviting people to a holiday bash, warm thoughts alone won't cut it. Your guests expect some decent vittles and a comfy corner to perch in, which, according to U.S. Census statistics, will run you around $400. Add some decent champagne, a DJ, and designer crudites, and the bill can go much higher. Experts say to earmark $5 to $7 per person for liquor alone.

Some short-term savings and a bit of planning ahead will ease the hostess sticker shock and free up some extra cash for that spa retreat you'll need once the relatives are out of your hair.

Set a 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 nonperishables in advance so that you don't end up having to use Halloween napkins at your New Year's fete.

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 fill them.

Get crafty: Six out of 10 party planners prepare food from scratch. A simple artistic garnish can make your platters look like they 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. Folks on the Crafty Fools discussion board can answer all of your glue-gun questions.

Borrow instead of buy: A wooden folding chair can cost $5 a day to rent. A cushion costs extra. Well before setup, ask friends and neighbors whether 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.)

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.

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