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Holiday Entertaining on a Budget
Take the time this holiday season to share what’s most important and forget about what’s not.

You don't need to spend a lot of money to throw a great party.

If there is anything good to come from such scary economic times, it is a refocusing on what is really important in our lives—our family and close friends. We can, and should, still enjoy the holidays with them.

No matter what your economic situation, I recommend that you rethink how you entertain guests this year. If you have entertained lavishly in the past, take measures to make your party a bit more homespun. Be considerate of what some of your guests may be going through. If you’ve always needed to keep a budget in mind, this year you can find new and creative ways to do that.

In either case, you can entertain in style. Try these ideas for holiday entertaining in today’s current environment:

1. If you want to really reduce costs, have a brunch instead of an evening party. Allow your guests to bring the kids too. This will save everyone the cost of a sitter and will save you a lot of money on the food and beverage budget. Serve egg casseroles, French toast casseroles, biscuits, bagels, Danish, homemade coffee cake, orange juice and even mimosas if you like. Target always has some fun giveaways in the dollar aisle for the kids. Brunch is easy to prepare and much less expensive than an evening party.

2. You could also have a dessert party instead of a party that provides full bar and dinner. Either invite your guests over around 3 p.m. and include the kids, or invite them around 8:30 p.m. and have them leave the kiddies at home. Offer Champagne, coffee drinks, after-dinner drinks and specialty drinks if you like and then a wonderful dessert buffet.

3. If you normally hold an extravagant evening gala with catered food, consider preparing some of the food yourself, picking up other dishes from the caterer and having a self-serve bar. Not having the catering staff on hand will give the impression that you have done it all yourself and that it’s a little less showy. The self-serve bar can be fun. You can have one bar with self-serve martinis with different types of themed mixers. If you want to make it a holiday theme, have Champagne , cranberry juice, maraschino or brandied cherries, ginger liquor and the like. You can stage some recipes at the bar on little cards or just let your guests play.

4. To still have an evening party and cut down on costs even more, prepare all the food yourself. Some advice for making this an easier transition:

* Choose recipes that have less than 10 ingredients. French Provincial cooking is one of my favorites for this very reason. The recipes call for good but few ingredients and skillful technique. The food is always well received. For instance, Antione Bouterin's Cooking Provence has a fantastic caramelized endive pasta among other things and Linda Dannenberg's French Tarts offers a wonderful potato pie made with a puff pastry, potatoes and goat cheese. While this recipe takes some time, it is wonderfully impressive and a true crowd pleaser.

* Use less expensive cuts of meat. Skirt steak is wonderfully tender and will make very good small steak sandwiches where you would once use filet mignon. When sliced properly and not overcooked it is a very tasty cut of meat.

* Use many recipes that have some of the same ingredients so that you aren’t purchasing 30 different ingredients, perhaps only 15. Maybe you will use most of them instead of letting them go to waste.

5. If you customarily have decorations from a florist, try your hand at decorating yourself. Holly, Hypericum Berries, Boxwood, Magnolia, Cedar and Acuba all make lovely arrangements and some are great in garlands too. If you are looking for a "wow" factor, Christmas lights are a wonderful addition and can be strung across the dining room ceiling and bunched right at the chandelier. They can also be wound around a branch cut from a tree and hung as the chandelier or made into a centerpiece for a more contemporary look. Use your imagination and try something different this year.

In The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato wrote that necessity is the mother of invention. I have found this to be very true in event planning and in life. My toughest challenges most often lead to my most creative moments. Have fun preparing for the holidays and realize our current economy is part of the cycle of life. We have been through this before and we will again. Embrace it, plan for it, and enjoy it as much as you are able. Cherish the things that are truly important and leave out the rest.

Angela Gala is principal with Rogers & Gala Creative Partners, a firm that plans parties, weddings, and special events nationwide. She can be reached through her website www.rogersandgala.com.

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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