a group of people eating and drinking together outdoors

Your guide to entertaining on a budget

Having your friends, family and neighbours over for a barbecue, party, or special dinner is a true joy. But with inflation biting, and the cost of living rising, your finances can take a hit when you’re hosting. 

Thankfully, there are clever ways to pull off an incredible event without sacrificing your savings. Read on to learn some helpful tips and tricks for entertaining on a budget.  

Fab food on the fly

Budget meals don’t have to be bland. From asking guests to bring a plate to making your own sauces, dressings and marinades, there are many ways to create memorable meals on a budget. 

If you’re planning a feast but are stuck for ideas, look to others for inspiration. Cabarita Beach local Nick Pearce shares simple and wholesome recipes via his popular Instagram account Recipearce. Nick believes that with a little creativity, entertaining on a budget is absolutely achievable for all of us.  

Here are his top tips for creating an amazing (and affordable) menu: 

Shop seasonal produce

Building your menu around in-season, local produce instead of imported, out-of-season fruit and veg is a smart way to save money and ensure that your dishes burst with flavour. 

‘Pay attention to what’s coming into season to get the best deals and the ripest ingredients. In summer, we love using fresh mango to make a simple dessert that will win everyone over,’ says Nick.  In the cooler months, think roasted veg like beetroot, sweet potato, and parsnips that will help warm up your home.

Keep it simple

It can be tempting to go overboard with a huge spread of different dishes. Over-catering usually results in more stress, excess food waste and a big hit to your budget. Instead, simplify your approach. 

‘Make your day easier and more delicious by covering all bases with just one dish. One starter, one main, one salad, one side and one dessert. Don’t stress yourself out and overspend by making five different salads and two different mains,’ says Nick.

Let the produce shine 

From seafood to lamb, we’ve got some of the world’s best produce right on our doorstep. While some meat and seafood may be pricey, the benefit of buying high-quality fish and meat cuts is that you don’t need many other ingredients to make the dish sing. 

‘If you buy great produce, it doesn’t need much done to it,’ says Nick. ‘Buy better quality and do less to it. For example, we ate a lot of barbecued king prawns over summer. While these are rather dear, you only need one or two per person for a mind-blowing starter. The same with a good lamb shoulder; even just with salt and pepper, it has so much flavour and goes a long way when feeding a group.’ 

prawns on a barbeque
Entertaining on a budget: let the produce shine.

Budget meals for a big group are simple when you let the produce do the talking. Image credit: The Picture Pantry

Cut your ingredient list

Got your heart set on making a 20-ingredient main course? Try adjusting your expectations and making a simpler dish instead. Breaking down the price of a meal by calculating the cost per serve will keep your budget on track. A simpler meal using in-season produce beats a fiddly recipe with a long ingredient list.    

‘If you’re stuck on making a dish with heaps of ingredients, you could be overcomplicating things,’ says Nick. ‘I think of what I’d like to eat and how I can make those dishes with the least amount of effort. This gives me more time to relax with my friends and family.’

DIY decor

Thinking of spending big on dressing your space for the big event? Think again. There’s no need to buy expensive decorations when you can make your own. These easy craft projects will add a pop of colour and interest to your event – no credit card required! 

Bust out some bunting 

Got some coloured paper, string and scissors? Then you’ve got all you need to create some festive bunting to hang up on your verandah for your next celebration. 

Choose a creative centrepiece

A large bowl of carefully arranged fresh fruit (think bananas, lychees, figs and grapes) is an enticing addition to a table. If you’re eating outdoors, arrange a few small potted plants on the table for a quick, no-fuss centrepiece that’s perfect for a laid-back barbecue. 

Bunting and scattered cushions for outdoor party decorations
Entertaining on a budget: Bust out some bunting

Bunting is a cheap and effective way to decorate your space for an outdoor bash.

Person's hand completing a flower arrangement
Entertaining on a budget: Forage for blooms

Forget spending up big at the florist and harvest some native blooms from your own backyard.

Forage for blooms

Forget spending big at the florist on imported flowers and look closer to home. Perhaps you’ve got some wattle or banksias growing in your backyard? Grab your secateurs, harvest some fresh native flowers and pop them in vases or old glass jars for some no-cost floral arrangements.  

Bring the wow factor 

With just a few thoughtful touches, you can celebrate in style without blowing your budget. Here are some low-cost ways to leave a lasting impression on your guests.

Set the mood with music

From a classy soundtrack of jazz classics to a rotating set list of party-themed tunes, a carefully curated playlist will help to create the right vibe. Don’t just throw on a random mix; think like a DJ and preselect a soundtrack that will get people talking.

Let there be (candle) light

Soft lighting instantly brings warmth and comfort to a room. Forget the luxury brands; just buy some basic candles and tea lights from the supermarket to create ambience while entertaining in the evening. 

Pick up some preloved furnishings 

Love a bargain? You can unearth all sorts of unique treasures at op shops and garage sales. From a cute vintage serving platter to a beautifully embroidered tablecloth, there are plenty of good buys at second-hand markets that you can use during your event and beyond.

Give price tag free presents

Gifting guests a small, thoughtful present before they leave is a nice touch. Simply bake a big batch of biscuits beforehand and wrap them up in brown paper and string. With a stash of fresh-baked cookies in hand, your guests will surely crown you the unofficial host with the most. 

Remember what entertaining is really about

It's easy to get swept up in the stress of table decor, the perfect playlist, or whether your guests will notice you didn't have time to vaccuum. But really, entertaining is all about having your favourite people all in one place, enjoying each other's company, and making memories together. How dusty the floor is won't matter one speck.

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