Hosting and Entertaining Open Mic 4/11/10

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Today we’re opening up this Open Mic post for a conversation about hosting and entertaining guests. As we approach the summer, many of us have graduation parties, wedding receptions, and family reunions to host. We want it to be a memorable, positive event, but prefer not to spend a fortune.

You can ask questions, share ideas and answer questions left by others. The only stipulation is that 100% of the conversation be focused on entertaining, hosting and gift giving for events like weddings, graduations and the like. Save other money-saving questions for Thursday’s general Open Mic; any off-topic posts here will be removed. Read through the Open Mic archive for tons of money-saving tips and advice.

Two tips: 1) If you are reading this via email or an RSS feed, click on the title “Hosting and Entertaining Open Mic 4/11/2010” to come back to the site and leave a comment and 2) If you are concerned about your privacy, just reference yourself by your initials and know that we will not share your email address with anyone else.

Your turn: How do you save money on pet food and pet accessories? What do you do to keep vet care costs down?

About Carrie Rocha

I am passionate about helping people live within their means so they can get out and stay out of debt. I live in Minneapolis, MN with my husband and two little girls.

Comments

  1. Rebekah L. says:

    Some tips to saving money while hosting/entertaining:

    1. Have a plan in place – I create a menu of all the different food items we plan to have, and, in general, I base the menu on what meat is on sale or that I have an abundance of in the freezer.

    2. Make sure you have a detailed shopping list and only purchase what you plan to serve. I generally can't take the hubby with for shopping as he tends to impulsively "add" stuff to the menu when he sees it in the store.

    3. If someone asks what they can bring or help with, let them. Don't be too proud, picky, or organized to accept the offer.

    Some ideas for saving money on gifts for weddings, graduations, etc. I LOVE cooking and so does my husband, so I have put together a binder of our favorite recipes (5-10 recipes for each category) to give as a gift. We also include a copy of the Dave Ramsey book, "The Total Money Makeover", which you can get at Sam's club for $10-$15 or if you know that you will have several weddings/graduations you can order them in bulk from Dave's website for pretty cheap. Both my husband and I never learned how to budget, spend within our means, etc. until a couple of years ago and we wish that someone would have shared Dave's book with us before we got married so we could be saving more money now than paying off debt. A couple of items that I find useful for gifts – school supplies, stamps, small kitchen items (you can NEVER have enough serving spoons, wooden spoons, pot holders, etc.) and written words of advice.

    • I love the idea of the recipes! I have given people something off their registry like a muffin pan or bread pan with some of my favorite recipes (tried and true–not just random ones off the internet) on cute recipe cards for that particular item.

      Note: I am a proponent of doing something off their registry–even if it's a $5 item–because as someone who got married almost 2 years ago, my husband and I spent a fair amount of time registering for gifts, and only registered for things we really needed and thought would be useful to us. SOSOSO many people bought us knick knacks (NOT fans) and things that I'm sure the givers thought to be "thoughtful" but really, starting our new life together we really didn't want them, can't return them, AND when those people come over we feel we have to put their gift to use somehow… We ended up having to purchase so many things out of pocket that we needed, and a lot of extra time that we spent registering and then having to go back to buy the things we registered for…

      Anyway, you can still add a special "personal" touch to a registry gift by giving "advice cards for marriage," recipes, offers to clean or help out in a new home with repairs/remodels, etc.

      Also–great idea on the book, my husband and I are going through Dave Ramsey's course right now–it has totally changed how we budget and look at our money and spending. I wish I had known in HIGH SCHOOL what I know now! Between Dave Ramsey's insight and Pocket Your Dollars my husband and I are learning so much and changing our lives for the better.Thanks Dave! Thanks Carrie!

      • I agree — it is nice to buy off of the registry – for a wedding or baby – that said, I like to make my gifts 'better' by embellishing them – for instance if a bride registered for a $15 bakeware set or an oddball cake / baking pan – I would get that and then put it in a gift basket with the other supplies needed to make a favorite recipe (of course include the recipe); or just generic baking supplies – flour / soda / salt / extracts / etc… for hosting showers and such I also like to do larger 'raffle' style prizes than a lot of little stuff for everyone – for instance I've given a barbecue gift basket (sauce, apron, grilling supplies – and a small Cub gift card) as a raffle prize for guests.

        Happy hosting

  2. Sarah Beth says:

    One thing I like to serve at summer parties as a less-expensive option is lemonade instead of pop. People are often happy to have lemonade as it is more refreshing and not as much sugar (especially if there are kids in attendance). A thermos of ice-cold water is even cheaper!

  3. A few things I do for gifts – for graduation I like to get a laundry basket at the dollar store and then fill it with all sorts of things a college freshman would use/want like laundry soap and other cleaning products, microwave popcorn and other snacks and some school supplies. I buy all those things in advance, as I can get them free, so I end up with a very nice gift basket for under $10 (tops). You can also include a small ($5) gift card to Caribou or Starbucks too.

    Entertaining – I have found a taco bar to be a pretty inexpensive option for feeding people "real" food. I use ground turkey (and no one has ever said they notice a difference) and have been getting it for $1.50/lb or less. I use shredded cheese I get for less than $0.25/bag and have kept in the freezer, some tomatoes, lettuce and then tortillas. Corn tortillas are cheap (really cheap!) so I use the small ones when I serve for a lot of people. I keep the taco meat warm in the crock pot. I also have some Wholly Guacamole in the freezer from earlier this year and can serve that too.

    • Carrie, I love the laundry basket idea for a high school graduation gift! I'm a HS teacher so get A LOT of invitations to graudations for my students and have usually given gift cards – but they can add up really fast (especially when I buy 30+ of them – and you know how "well" teachers get paid! ;)

      Anybody have other fun, useful, and of course inexpensive!, ideas for HS graduation gifts?

      • Sarah Beth says:

        You can buy dorm sheets (Twin XL) when they go on clearance and save them for the next year. They are harder to sell/often go on clearance because of the odd size. Walmart and Target had a lot of white/black sheets on clearance last year after the college rush for $5 or less. You can even find fun patterns if you are daring.

      • For graduations I have been planning my gifts too….I was thinking rolling up a bath towel tie it with thick ribbon and stuffing under the ribbon; toothpaste, a razor, toothbrush, deodorant, shampoos etc….all those great freebies we have stacks and stacks of.

      • I do something similar to Carrie except I buy those shoebox-size clear boxes @ the dollar store and fill it mostly with free things I've collected like the travel size laundry soap,bandaids, hand sanitizer, microwave popcorn,Crystal Light On-the-Go packets to flavor bottle water,EasyMac, small sewing kits (dollar store), ear plugs, tea bags and or packets of hot cocoa mix.Everyone I've given this gift to has later told me how useful the items were-especially the ear plugs. Often I've spent less than $5.

    • Here is a comment for all the parents "giving" gifts to teachers and child care providers; as I am one of those I really wish it was more commonly known to NOT give things like the knick knacks or frames etc… for their home. As much as I feel I get to know my parents; they really have no way to know how I decorate my home or would like to….or getting Christmas ornaments or decorations for Christmas….it is SO OVERLY DONE and something at my age certainly do not need or want. After being married for 30 years and having my own kids gifts from when they were little I have more than enough of that kind of thing and I have enough of my own pretty pretty decorations that I want and have room for up already. Please please just give them a gift card or something you KNOW they will use…like for instance if you see your provider feeds the birds…give her bird food or a new feeder to replace one that looks worn out….or if you know they garden get them potting soil or something to set in the flower garden. If they love to bake buy up baking supplies….get things that will be used up and not stacking up in the house. When my kids lived in apartments I always made sure the gifts I gave them were gifts they would use up and not be a “thing” they “had to” set out because I gave it to them and then dust around for years to come…each person has their own taste so buying such things for their home is inconsiderate. I don't mean to be ungrateful as it may seem, but when on the other side of this type of gift getting; it is overwhelming to know what to do with all the stuff you don't want or need.

  4. Saving time also saves you money–do you know if I can make a pound cake (from scratch) ahead of time, freeze it, defrost a day ahead and then frost on the day of the party?

    • I've never done frozen a pound cake, but I have frozen regular cakes (from a box) and then frosted it that day. It works out really nice!

    • I have frozen pound cakes (made from scratch) many time and have had no problems. We like our pound cake plain or with strawberries, so I don't know about frosting it. I often make other cakes (always from scratch) and ALWAYS freeze them before I frost them as a frozen cake is easier to frost ( less crumb issues). I usually make a cream cheese frosting.

  5. I get volunteered to make shower gifts often and am thrilled that now they have a bunch of supplies at the dollar tree. They are the same things that are like $5 or more at the craft stores.

  6. Can't remember if I've ever actually frozen a pound cake, but I have lots of experience in freezing in general. A pound cake should come through great. The high fat content will help it stay moist. Just make sure to keep it wrapped while you defrost so that any condensation will not make it soggy.

  7. Sarah Beth says:

    I'm also curious what people BRING to a party/potluck event that doesn't break the budget?

  8. I am hosting a milestone birthday for my dear hubbie is May. Threw around the idea but now it is for sure and have out of state relatives coming. Two questions here- how do you keep the numbers down when you have a huge family. Do you invite the elders(aunt's and uncles's) but not all your cousins( who are closer to your own age). I have over 50 guests right now and seems dear hubbie is inviting more and more for his big day. Also I want to be serving liquor to the pm crowd. What is the best way to cut down on those costs?. Has anyone rented a port a pottie and what do they run?. Sorry I guess it is more than two questions. Thanks!

  9. Here are a couple of my favorite entertaining ideas. I have a lot because I love to cook. One of my kids does NOT like cake (what is wrong with him?) but he loves ice cream. Dairy Queen or any of the other restaurants frozen ice cream cakes are sooo expensive. A couple of years ago I started making my own and they are delicious (any pretty affordable if your talking about ice cream cake). I will tell you what I did for his last birthday. I bought two cartons (one chocolate and one vanilla bean) of Edy's ice cream (when I got them on sale for .99) a jar of hot fudge and some oreo cookies. Mix the chocolate ice cream in a stand mixer until it is like soft serve ice cream. Dump it in a springform pan. Freeze for a couple of hours. Melt the hot fudge and let it cool so it's not too hot but spreadable and cover the first layer of ice cream. Smoosh up some oreo's and spread over the hot fudge. Freeze for a couple more hours. Mix up the chocolate ice cream in a stand mixer until it is like soft serve ice cream. Dump it over the fudge/cookie layer. Freeze for 24-48 hours in a deep freeze (if you have one). When your ready to eat, use a knife and go around the outside edge of the pan to loosen it up. Unclasp the pan and woola, ice cream cake! You can make this all different ways. Experiment with different kinds of ice cream flavors. Looking to cut down on the calories/fat…use frozen yogurt. Turns out just as good. You can also put fruit inbetween the layers. Make a 3 layer ice cream cake. Toast almonds and put them on the top. Make a strawberry shortcake glaze and drizzle it over the top. Possibilities are endless. My favorite is using the java chip ice cream with a chocolate ice cream. I mix espresso in with my hot fudge for the middle and put toasted almonds and chocolate covered espresso beans on top. You can also make this in any other size/type of pan. For a small cake, I use a bread pan. You can also do a 9×13 inch pan (takes about 3 or 4 cartons of ice cream) When ever I use a pan other than a springform I use parchment paper so when it is completely frozen I can pull the whole cake out of the pan (it is easier to cut that way). You can also buy the big tubs of ice cream and when you are mixing them up add ingredients to make your own layer flavors.

  10. My other favorite entertaining idea is shredded turkey. Something different then is usually served at large gatherings. At Thanksgiving I stock up on Turkeys (usually buy 10 or so at .39 per pound or less). 30 hours or so before your event cook your turkey (just like you normally would. When it is finished let it sit for about 20 minutes and start carving. Put all of the meat in your slow cooker. Put a couple quarts of chicken broth in with the turkey (I make my own with bouillan). Turn the cooker on low and let it go for about 12-14 hours. After about 14 hours use a 2 forks to start mixing up the meat, while doing this it will shred. Dump in about 2 heaping tbsp of lowrys montreal steak seasoning for flavor and let it go until ready to serve. Put this on a bun and your ready to go!

    • Oops, I meant McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning. The other thing I forgot to mention is I make this for my family (quarterly). The I freeze the extras in about 4 separate portions, you can re-heat it and it is just as good as when you make it fresh.

      Also, neither of these things are hard to make and it is great because you make them up a couple of days before hand and the day of your event you have nothing to do (for these two things anyways)!

  11. Jessica F says:

    Host a keg and a signature drink- vodka lemonades or cosmos. If you decides to do a wine, go to Trader Joes. Good quality and cheap.

  12. I completely agree! I so appreciate the thoughtfulness however there are only so many candles, lotions, etc that one can use. I do appreciate gift cards but also am thrilled with things that I can use in the classroom. Stickers, glitzy craft items, etc all can add up and are often things that teachers buy on their own. I appreciate having gifts that I can use with the children and "pocketing my dollars" for other necessary expenses.

  13. My graduate is invited to soooo many graduation parties. I am stumped as to whether it is necessary for him to bring a gift. I feel that if our whole family is invited, then a gift is called for. However, if this is an invitation via Facebook, what are your thoughts on gifts? I was thinking a $5 Starbucks card, but after 10 invitations to grad bashes, that's $50 he doesn't have. How do some of you handle this? Is it tacky to come with nothing?

  14. I should also mention that I'm new (unfortunately) to pocketing my dollars, so I haven't accumulated much of anything to throw into a grab bag–sigh…

    • Elle, I don't think your son is expected to bring a gift to EVERY party. I've been to a few grad parties before and it seems like the other grads just kind of come and go and hang out without passing out gifts. I don't think that's tacky, especially if those kids are coming to your son's party as well. Turn it around and think of if you would expect every person your son invites to bring a gift….probably not, right?

      Perhaps he would like to give gifts for his good friends; otherwise I think he can skip gifts for most.

  15. Jean Michaels says:

    I alway do a signature drink when entertaining my favorite is Trader Joes Red wine mixed with 7up diet or regular. I put it over ice with a couple frozen berries. I get so many complements on it. cheap and good and stretches out the wine. i also have just Cranberry juice and 7up for the non drinkers. The berries really add to it.

  16. I also totally agree! Another option besides a gift card would be making a donation in your child's teacher's name. Heifer International and Lutheran World Relief do this right on their websites (heifer.org and lwrgifts.org) On Heifer you can give a 'share of a sheep' or similar animal to a family in a third world country for $10, then print out a card on the spot to give to the recipient. I received this one year from a student (used to be in youth ministry) and was so touched, now I give that for special adults in my childrens lives!

  17. These are great ideas! I remember when I graduated HS (20 years ago!) and my Mom's friend gave me a small pink bucket with toothpaste, shower gel, deodorant…basically a shower kit. I thought it was odd at first, but boy did that come in handy!

    Do they make a budgeting book for 18 year olds? If so, that would be an awesome gift. Oh the things I wish I would have known back then.

  18. Do a "make your own" veggie tray? You can get great deals at Aldi's or Trader Joe's on veggies, or check sales at Rainbow or Cub. Also, making your own dill dip and serving it in a green bell pepper adds a nice touch too.

    Another twist to the veggie tray is to grill veggies like asparagus, zucchini "chips", bell pepper "strips" and server them cold with dip…yum!

    • One more thing, simple strawberries and fruit dip always go over big with my friends. (I think it's all about the dip!) But making a nice presentation can make any inexpensive dish look like you spent top dollar.

  19. A tip for the after party. A keg will save you money on beer for sure.Hard liquor can be purchased at Cosco or Sams WITHOUT a membership. I know that the beer we drink and captain morgan is at least a dollar or more cheaper there. We buy all of the company party stuff there rather than the regular liquor store.

  20. Anyone have ideas for a 7 year old girls home birthday party? My daughter's birthday is in Aug. but last year I had to send invites home with her classmates in June and only 2 responded and only one came. I'm sure the invites got lost, misplaced, etc. So this year I'd like to do one in May but could use some ideas. Last year I made homemade playdough, brought out the 100 + cookie cutters, let them play with it and then let them take their playdough home. I also had food – I made cupcakes, had cut up cheese, crackers, etc. They also just played in our basement playroom. It was fun and low key but I'm open to some new ideas!

    • When my daughter was 8 we did a tea party with my china tea pot and cups. We had fancy cookies and cakes I had made and I used cloth napkins/tablecloth. The girls all came in pretty dresses. Each made a paper crown ( so they could all be princesses) and decorated them with stickers I had collected. They also made necklaces using yarn and a bunch of colorful beads I had leftover from a Sunday School project.

      When I was the same age I went to a friends party where we baked cookies. We made 4 different kinds (chocolate chip, sugar cookies,peanut butter cookies and ginger snaps) and got to bring home half a dozen of each. We each got a small spiral notebook with the recipes written in it (I still have mine!)

  21. Oh, we also made foam door hangers with foam letters. I got 2 containers of foam letters 75% off years ago at Target and bought the door hangers at the dollar store. We also used markers and decorated the door hangers with those too. I just need some new cheap craft ideas. I suppose I could just look around at the dollar store but…

  22. Crown Financial Ministries has a student/teen money management program. I bought the books but haven't used them. I used to listen to the radio program, and they are very similar to Dave Ramsey, but use more Biblical principles.

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