The Frugal Holiday Host’s Best Friend: the Open House.

Holiday-Party-BostonReady to celebrate the season with friends and family? Feeling festive, but constrained by your budget? Take heart- it is possible to entertain over the holiday season and stay within the perimeters of your budget. The open house is a budget-friendly, fun solution.

Why an Open House?

Rather than a traditional sit-down meal, or an evening soiree, where there are expectations (and expenses) associated with food and drink, an open house is less formal. The breeze-in, breeze out nature of the invitation (pop by sometime between 2-4 just to say hi and have a snack!) invites a casual air which automatically lowers food and drink expectation (and host obligation).

Also, this places emphasis on the “visiting” part of the holiday party—which is what it is all about, right?

Estimate with Real Numbers, don’t Guestimate

Leave yourself lots of time for planning by sending invitations and requesting replies early. Save even more money by using an electronic invitation system, or by sending a mass email invitation.

Not only does this save on postage and on invitations themselves, it gives you a chance to follow up so you can really nail down your numbers.

In order to best plan for food and drink, you need an accurate picture- or else you will be short (gasp!) or waste food and money.


The beauty (and potential frugality) of the open house lies squarely in the simplicity of the menu. Think snacky finger foods that can be nibbled on while circulating with guests.

Go for standards like veggie platters and cheese trays, but you can also accomplish an interesting spread with a little extra thought- and not much more cash. Smear bits of cream cheese or sour cream on pieces of baguettes or flatbread, top with something savoury ( thinly sliced meat, a shrimp or two, or colourful slivers of vegetables) and garnish with a sprig of whatever fresh herb complements.

One of my favourite snacky buffet dishes is a variation on the wrap. Smear the inside of a tortilla shell with cream cheese and red pepper jelly. Fill with lettuce, onion, peppers and diced or shredded chicken. Seal the seams and let set for a few hours. Cut on an angle when ready to serve into pinwheels.

Bring your Guests Down Memory Lane

Take BYOB or pot luck to the next level with a theme. Having guests bring something with them is a sure-fire way to reduce your overall budget, and people are usually more than happy to contribute.

Have guests bring an item with them (food, drink or décor) that is one of their holiday favourites, with a story to go along with it. Perhaps it is a favourite childhood dish or an ornament that was central to a memorable moment.

This can also help break the ice if you are inviting guests from several different circles.

Décor (double duty, outside)

In addition to the holiday décor that you already put up as a matter of the season, head outside instead of going to your local florist and save!

Collect pinecones or cut brush from evergreen trees. You can make a snazzy centrepiece with some blingy ribbon that costs very little.

Drink stations

Much like the food, drinks are self serve at an open house. Set up drink stations, with things like punches and egg nog. Politely suggest that guests BYOB. Given the time of day that open houses run (usually through the afternoon) alcohol consumption is generally lower and the price tag smaller too.