PARTY WITHOUT PENALTIES
As the NFL playoffs heat up, don't let tailgate parties, fan gear, and game-day food and drinks deflate your wallet. Football fans can use the following tips to support their favorite teams on the cheap.
CHOOSE A LOCATION WISELY
For tailgaters going to the game, or those who want to be in the thick of the action, setting up right outside the stadium is optimal. But those spots could cost a premium, and frugal tailgaters always try to park in a free (but legal) location. Generally that means venturing farther from the stadium -- but still within walking distance if attending the game is on the agenda.
SNACK FOR LESS
Make sure fans' appetites are well sated before the game begins, to avoid heading to a concession stand for pricey temptations while the clock is ticking. Deviled eggs, a variety of dips, caramel corn, trail mix, and even fried chicken can be made for less than $1 a serving with tips from MyRecipes. Even better, these snacks can be prepared at home before heading out to tailgate, leaving plenty of time for socializing and watching the game. If you plan to grill out, buy meat in bulk and choose cheaper cuts.
PICK UP DOLLAR-STORE SUPPLIES
With finger foods customary on game day, utensil costs are almost nonexistent. But a tailgate party still needs paper products such as napkins, paper plates, and cups. Look to the local dollar store for low prices.
MAKE IT BYOB
Cases of bottled water and soft drinks are relatively cheap to pick up at Costco or Sam's Club, but cases of beer can drain your wallet. If guests want to imbibe, suggest they bring their own adult beverages.
CHOOSE A CHEAP PORTABLE GRILL
Cheapism.com's top pick among portable grills is the Char-Broil Grill2Go X200 (starting at $117 at Walmart). This single-burner propane grill fits 12 burgers and saves tailgaters the extra weight and mess of hauling around charcoal.
SAVE ON SEATING
There's certainly no need to buy -- or even bring -- folding chairs when hosting a tailgate. Use the car: The seats, bumpers, and hood are all efficient, no-cost substitutes. Guests can also be encouraged to bring their own chairs, but it's not a must. Many will prefer to stand anyway.
Licensed decorations with team logos can be pricey, so stick with plain decor, such as plastic tablecloths, in team colors. Make a team banner instead of buying an official flag, and find other ideas on Pinterest.
BUY LAST YEAR'S FAN GEAR
Styles are relatively consistent from year to year, and team apparel left over from last season is always a bargain buy. Amazon's NFL Fan Shop stocks a large selection of accessories and men's and women's apparel at half off. The NFL's official online shop sells clearance items at up to 75 percent off.
SHOP SECONDHAND STORES
Local thrift stores are likely sources for cheap fan gear, as are online sites selling secondhand goods. Garage sales, too, might harbor team apparel and other useful items such as coolers.
IMPROVISE TEAM APPAREL
Fans don't have to wear official gear to show their spirit. How about a plain shirt in a team color? Wearing a scarf in the right colors is an easy way to show your loyalty on a chilly day. Again, look to Pinterest for ideas such as homemade team jewelry.