10 Tips for Packing a Budget-Friendly Picnic


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With the warmer spring weather comes ample opportunity for picnics, starting with National Picnic Day on April 23. Good food and a few inexpensive supplies are all it takes to serve a delicious outdoor meal. Pack these affordable basics to make picnicking a breeze.

The classic image of a picnic is a red-and-white-checked blanket, but a blanket or flat sheet you already own works just as well. The Camco Handy Mat (starting at $12 on Amazon) is easy to carry and water-resistant, to handle picnics in dewy grass as well as days at the beach.

There are several options when it comes to picnic tableware (in this case, blanketware). To save money in the long run, go green with reusable plates and cutlery, such as a set from Preserve ($21). Sure, you have to pack everything up and cart it home, but cleanup is a breeze, because all eight large plates, 10 small plates, 24 pieces of cutlery, and 10 tumblers are dishwasher-safe. They're designed to last through dozens of outings. On a per-use basis, this is quite a deal, and picnickers will feel better avoiding unnecessary waste.

The best place to find cheap picnic supplies is your own home. Take stock of the portable plates, cutlery, containers, and other provisions you already have, from salt and pepper shakers to corkscrews and napkins.

If you don't have a lot to work with at home, the dollar store is a goldmine for cheap picnic supplies, selling packs of reusable plastic plates, cutlery, cups, and more. Online retailers such as Amazon and Wayfair also offer low-cost picnic supplies. Sam's Club and Costco are good places to stock up on things like trash bags and paper products.

When the weather is nice enough for a picnic, sunscreen is an important accessory. One of the top picks in Cheapism.com's guide to sunscreen is No-Ad SPF 45 (starting at $8 for a 16-ounce bottle). It provides the "broad spectrum" protection recommended by experts such as the American Academy of Dermatology.

A picnic can lose its appeal if bugs get wind of your outdoor feast. The smell of common bug sprays can also be a buzz kill, not to mention unsafe around food. As an alternative, try some natural ways to repel bugs. Lavender oil, any type of mint, or equal parts witch hazel and vanilla can be applied directly to the skin. Homemade citronella candles can add a romantic touch to a picnic.

Tuna or egg salad is easier to pack and much cheaper as a main dish than meat. Deviled eggs are another good option for protein. For kids, try simple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut into fancy shapes with cookie cutters. A simple fruit salad makes a healthy summer side dish. Sliced veggies with homemade dip are also easy to put together. For dessert, homemade cookies are cheap and easy to transport.

Those who believe no picnic is complete without a bottle of wine must pick their spots, as open containers are illegal in most public parks. The easy part is finding a good spring wine for less than $12 a bottle. A French muscadet such as a 2014 Château de la Chesnaie ($10) or Domaine du Montru ($8) is a good warm-weather choice with a bright, mineral-rich taste.

No outdoor outing is complete without a first-aid kit, especially with kids in tow. You never know when you'll need bandages or alcohol wipes. Pharmacies and camping supply stores sell small, portable first-aid kits for less than $10.

In this transitional season, temperatures are often in flux and dressing for the weather can be tough. The most prepared picnickers dress in layers. It's easy to take off a jacket or sweater when the sun is shining and the heat of the day is on, or add a layer when the sun begins to set and the air gets a bit cooler.

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