Fun (and frugal) holiday party ideas

Before you groan at the thought of yet another holiday-themed post, hear me out on this one.

Nearly everyone will have some sort of get-together before the month is out, whether it’s a holiday cocktail party, traditional family gathering or a New Year’s Eve bash to ring in 2009. Problem is, it’s too easy to overspend. I meant to throw a low-key Christmas open house last year. But before I knew it, I’d raided the Christmas décor section at the Crate & Barrel (it was on sale, but still expensive!) and bought ingredients for a bunch of pricey appetizers, including three out-of-season tropical fruits for my "festive" martinis. Then, of course, I started thinking about investing in a new cocktail dress to go with those fancy cocktails…

Needless to say, it doesn’t take long to break the bank. But while you might bask in the glow of your hosting triumph temporarily, you won’t be too happy once your guests have cleared out and you’re left to look forward to the new year with a stocking full of debt (and that’s before the bills from your Christmas shopping adventure arrive).

But your soiree doesn’t have to bust your budget. Of all holiday seasons, people will be most understanding if you go frugal this year. Fortunately it’s becoming almost trendy to be low-cost. What used to be something you didn’t talk about—like sex and politics—has been swept out into the open. So embrace your budget-consciousness, and use it to throw a party that focuses on what really matters—quality time with friends and family. For inspiration, check out the get-togethers I’ve recently attended on-the-cheap.

Swap cookies

I assume the cookie exchange is not a new idea, but I swear that until now, I’d never heard of them, let alone been invited to one. This year? I’ve been to two already and am considering a third. Cookies have caught on like wildfire because they are easy—and affordable—to make and give. It’s really just a new take on the age-old potluck party. When you invite friends, ask them each to bake their favorite holiday cookie. Then you split them up and everyone takes home a sweet variety. Of course, the traditional potluck party works just as well—and provides a more well-rounded meal. The theme is up to you.

Play games

Kids always seem to have the best time around the holidays. Sure, it could be because they get the best presents (what kid has to feign a smile after opening up a pair of socks?). But I think it’s because, unlike us adults, kids know how to relax. Maybe that’s because they know how to play. But they don’t have the Monopoly (get it?) on fun. Set out some easy (and cheap) snack food and break out the cards, dominos and board games. Laugh, goof around, and forget about your troubles for the night. That’s what the holidays are supposed to be about.

Watch movies

Get out your stash of holiday-themed DVDs—sentimental or hilarious—and ask your guests to bring theirs as well. Or break out the home movies. Pop some popcorn and make some hot chocolate while you relive old times. Maybe play some cinema-themed trivia. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper than going to the theater.

Of course, you shouldn’t feel limited to these three suggestions. I’m no professional party planner. But these are the kind of parties that have kept my spirits up this year. It’s amazing—it seems like the less I spend, the more I focus on the feeling of being with the people I love. It’s a welcome distraction.

Holiday gatherings ought to be joyful—not painful. If you find yourself feeling pained because you feel you’re pinching pennies to no avail, give yourself the gift you really need this year—relief. Debt relief. Check out tips on saving money, stopping foreclosure and more in our new (and free!) Debt Relief Toolbox. For immediate help, sign up for a free personalized debt analysis with a DebtStoppers attorney. So you can spend more quality time with your family—and less time worrying about your wallet.

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