For those of you planning to throw an Academy Awards party (or a soiree for the SAG Awards, Grammys, or Golden Globes), here's how to roll out the red carpet for guests while keeping your budget safely in the black. These cheap party tips are a breeze to execute and transfer easily across party themes.
Take an inventory of items already on hand -- in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer -- and build a menu around these supplies before you go shopping. You might not have to spend as much as you think.
Instead of a rigidly planned menu, head to the store and let the weekly specials guide your Academy Awards party offerings. Search for more discounts and sales online.
Pay attention to the largest images in the supermarket sales circular -- they are good indicators of the week's best deals, notes Teri Gault, previously the CEO of The Grocery Game. Include these items in your menu, especially any featured meat or poultry.
If you see a quantity limit on an advertised item, buy that amount. This usually signifies a loss leader, which means the grocer is selling the product at or below cost. Just make sure it's an item that's likely to be a hit with the party -- a deal on a quirky food no one eats isn't much of a deal.
If you have time to shop for more than one week, take advantage of each week's best sales so you can gather whatever you need when the price is right. Use the extended shopping window to save money and avoid a last minute rush.
Stacking deals involves finding a sale and adding in other discounts. For example, sparkling grape juice that usually sells for $4.99 a bottle may be on sale for $3 a bottle at, say, Walgreens. Walgreens' coupon booklet contains an "instant value coupon" for another $1 off two bottles. Add in a manufacturer coupon from the Sunday paper for another $1 savings on two bottles. Bottom line: two bottles of sparkling grape juice for $4. Look for stacking opportunities on goodies like champagne, candy, and gourmet crackers, too.
Stacking deals at supermarkets and drugstores offers tremendous savings, but warehouse club stores like Sam's Club or Costco are particularly useful for big parties. The wide variety of frozen appetizers, sold in bulk, are tasty, budget-wise alternatives to hiring a pricey caterer.
An Academy Awards party should be a "grazing party," which means opting out of a sit-down dinner so that everyone can watch the show. Set out an array of fancy finger foods made ahead or bought at warehouse clubs. Decorating tip: For eye appeal, stack books under a tablecloth to create different levels for holding trays and plates.
Buy packages of sliced, cured meats and cheese at big-box stores. Roll each type of meat and arrange artfully on one side of a platter, fan cheese on another, and garnish with whatever produce is in season (think colors -- red, green, yellow, orange). Do this early in the day and keep covered in the refrigerator until party time.
Crackers are a food item for which "full price" rarely applies. Coupons are often worth more than half off the regular price, and the store brand is a good option (no one will know the difference) in the absence of coupons or sales on the fancy varieties. Most major supermarket chains stock premium store brands of gourmet products, such as fancy crackers, too.
For a festive display, stick skewers of fruit into a pineapple and ring the base with additional fruits. Decorate the skewers with Academy Awards thumbprint images found online. Some DIY lamination from an office supply store and curling ribbon will add pizzazz. Alternatively, make full-size prints and use as pennant banners.
There are scores of recipes online for inexpensive and no-fuss appetizers, such as tortilla pinwheels, stuffed cherry tomatoes, and bean and vegetable dips, which can be prepared in advance. Champagne punch sets the right tone because middle-of-the-road champagne pleases even the pickiest palate when mixed with something else. Beverage tip: Mix frozen juice concentrates (orange, lemonade), ginger ale, and champagne.
Make ice rings for the punch bowl and store in the freezer. If you don't have an ice ring, a bundt pan will do. Pour a thin layer of water in the pan and freeze; remove and add in-season fresh fruits and freeze again; repeat and finish with a layer of fruit before freezing. The day before set the bottom of the mold in warm water and turn out the ice ring, wrap in plastic wrap, and return to the freezer. Have fresh, in-season fruit ready to garnish each glass. Strawberries are especially striking.
Guests usually ask if they can bring something to share with the crowd. Don't be shy about accepting the offer. Suggest finger-food desserts, which are perfect for a grazing party on Academy Awards night.