Winter and Spring are party seasons for us around here. My mom’s 60th birthday is TODAY (Happy Birthday, MOM!) and we are throwing her a great bash this coming weekend. Between Christmas and New Years, a December and January birthday, and the remaining birthdays occurring between March and April, our schedule can be quite busy as we rotate through decorations and creative planning ideas.

With 4 kids, and in order to save our sanity (and our money), we decided to only throw “friend birthday parties” for ages 6, 10, 13, 16, etc. That doesn’t mean that the other birthdays aren’t special, we just do fun things together as a family for the off years. It has been working out great so far, but this spring I have 2 major birthday parties to pull off about a month apart! Yikes!

I’ve already started scheming and planning and pinning ideas as I come across them – that way I will have lots to choose from. But the trickiest part for me is setting a budget and not going OVER it as I can have a tendency to, ahem, overdo the theme a bit. Honestly, our kids most of the time have been happy to play with their friends and cardboard boxes, so if you’re party planning, keep in mind that kids like it simple!

So that leaves us with Christmas, New Years’, and my mom’s big birthday party. It’s so exciting to plan parties this time of year – the decor is so easy to figure out! But the budget? Ooooo la la, there’s the rub :0(

Today, we have a special guest post from Susan Yoo-Lee, editor at The Scratch, sharing some fantastic tips on big party planning on a budget! Please welcome her :0)

How to Throw a Dinner Party for Under $200

How to Throw a Dinner Party  for Under $200

Throwing a dinner party can be really stressful. From the food and drinks to the decorations, it takes planning, time, and money to feed a hungry crowd. For someone with a busy schedule and a strict budget, it can seem almost impossible.

With the holiday season just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to talk about budget-friendly party planning. I’ve got just the right tips that will not only allow you to throw a last-minute party, but to do it for less than $200. And no one will ever know — your secret is safe with me! Here are the steps you need to take:

1. Decorate – You can’t have a party without decorations! Most people spend a good chunk of their budget on decorations, but ideally, you should only spend about 30-35 percent.

"mantle" decor

If your budget is $200, that means you should spend $60-$70 at most (and I usually stay well below that number). Keeping things simple is the best way to go, as too many decorations will make it look like you’re trying too hard. I have a few go-to items that help my parties look polished and sophisticated:

  • Two large bouquets of flowers divided between Mason jars and placed on either end of the serving table and the dining table. Costco is a great resource for flowers, with large bouquets usually running less than $20.
  • Four large Mason jars painted them with chalkboard paint. If you don’t have time to paint the jars, you can always throw some cucumbers and lemons into the jar with the flowers to give them a rustic look.


 Photo Credit: helene_titsch via Compfight cc

  • Light, inexpensive fabric to cover tables. I love white, lacy fabrics because they add a delicate, pretty vibe to a tablescape, but darker, stain-resistant fabrics are good for parties with kids or messy food.
  • If it’s a kids’ party, I usually have three grouped balloons at each end of the table.

2. Food & Drinks: For my family and friends, food is the most important part of the party. The food costs can quickly eat most of your budget, but it’s the best part — so don’t skimp! It should be around 50 percent of your budget or more, which in this case would be $100-plus.

party food table

My husband is a chef, but if he’s busy and I need to make things on my own, I usually buy pre-made items from the store and give them my own spin — you can take pretty much anything plain and elevate it to the next level by giving it a homemade touch. Here are some common food items I rely on:

  • Pizza – Pizza is almost synonymous with parties, but you don’t have to make it from scratch. Order a few pies from your favorite pizza place (or Costco for a budget-friendly option) — cheese is always a crowd-pleaser. Then, purchase some fresh basil, chop it up, and scatter it on top of the pizza. Finish it off with some truffle oil. With the fresh basil and the truffle aroma, people will think you’ve spent hours slaving away in the kitchen.
  • Salad – Every party should have a salad, because it adds color to the serving table — and it’s healthy! Purchase a large pre-washed bag of lettuce and simply add your favorite toppings — I like to mix it up with tomatoes, oranges and a blend of one part balsamic vinegar, one part olive oil, salt, and pepper. For the cheese lovers, offer bowls of feta or bleu cheese on the side.


  • Dessert – Strawberry shortcake is the perfect dessert to break down into cute little individualized portions — i.e., it’s great for parties. Just purchase angel food cake, strawberries, yogurt and whipped cream. Stack each ingredient (except the whipped cream) into layers like a parfait in clear plastic cups. Top the cups with the whipped cream for a finishing touch. You can even sprinkle some nuts on top (but leave a few nut-free for any guests with allergies).

mmmmm punch

  • Drinks – For a child’s party, take an ordinary punch/lemonade mix and add fresh strawberries to make it pretty. For adults, you can serve water garnished with lemon and cucumber.

3. Presentation – Presentation is definitely the most important part of any party. You can take any plain party and make it amazing if you have thoughtful presentation. You’ll want to spend no more than $40 in this area.

  • Plating – Don’t leave your food in the container it came in or the pizza box it was delivered in. By doing this, you’ve made all your party guests regret making the trek across town to come to your party. Place your pizza on a white serving platter or tray. Present your salad in a large bowl with some wooden serving spoons. Make your dessert look delectable in clear plastic cups.

owl cupcakes

  • Decorations – Make sure your decorations look like they belong rather than looking like they’re out of place. Overly formal decor wouldn’t look right for a casual pizza party, for example.
  • Cleaning – Have a clearly visible place where your guests can discard their used plates and cups. Avoid placing a trash can next to the serving table — who wants garbage next to their food? Also, keep your bathrooms and areas where guests have access to very clean.

4. Party Details – When you go to professionally planned parties, the little details make all the difference. Set the tone by creating an invitation for your guests using a service like Paperless Post. Guests can RSVP easily, and cute cards are available for free. Another party detail you shouldn’t overlook is place cards. Have the place cards arranged on the dining table ahead of time so that people will recognize that you carefully thought about their place at the table.

With these easy tips, your next party should be a resounding success.

Do you have any other suggestions that can make your next party easy, breezy and budget-friendly? Please comment below.

Susan Yoo-Lee is a mother of two and the editor at The Scratch, a blog where professional funny people take a crack at saving you a buck. She founded Mommas in the House in 2009 when she was pregnant with her 2nd child. Currently, you can see some of her published work on,,,,, US News & World Report,, and more.