7 Tips for How to Host on a Budget

Moment of truth: I am not very good at self-reflection, of thinking really deeply about myself personally or understanding what all is going on inside my head and heart at times. For example, at a Bible study the other week, I was answering many of the other questions talking about the passage of Scripture we were studying, thinking more reflectively. Then the question turned to looking back on our lives and seeing different Biblical themes. And I froze. Partly because I couldn’t think of answers, and also because I just generally don’t enjoy talking about myself. I have no problem with other topics, but when it comes to myself, it’s just more challenging.

One area that I will (as humbly as possible) say I am more gifted in is hospitality. In college I studied event planning, so it’s usually not to people’s surprise that I enjoy hosting gatherings and paying attention to the little details. While it can seem (and very well may be) an overwhelming and expensive task, here’s what I do to host on a budget and still add that special touch.

Hosting Graphic

1. Borrow decorations

  • Fortunately, we’d just had an Easter party for our ministry the week before and had plenty of reusable items. Ask friends for those centerpieces leftover from their weddings that are collecting dust in the basement, or come up with a good use for all those leftover giftbags you have from holidays past. Get creative before you spend any money.
  • If you don’t have resources to borrow from, start slowly building a collection of general decorations that can be reused time and time again. Have neutral-colored papers on hand, twine, tealight candles, glass bottles, and the like so you can easily customize it with any theme or color pattern you’re trying to achieve, without breaking the bank each event. Don’t splurge on a disco ball for your 70s themed party if it’s not going to be an annual thing. Be practical.
  • Use what you have. While I don’t have 12 matching drinking glasses, I had been saving glass jars from spaghetti sauce, honey, etc. There just happened to be more than enough to use these as drinking glasses. I ran them through the dishwasher before wrapping with twine and finishing off with a straw.

Ariel View Big Table

2. Invite others to contribute food

  • Typically wanting to do everything on my own, this can be hard for me to ask others to contribute. But I’ve learned that while this not only keeps costs down, it allows people to feel involved with the event.
  • Let them know the theme of the party (i.e., Easter brunch), and what you’ll be making. Suggest something specific for them to make, so it still flows with the day and you don’t end up with a ham at the dessert party you’re hosting. Keep in mind, suggest what you know they’d enjoy making or brining (if they don’t like to cook, for example, ask them to bring juice, coffee, etc.)

Photo credit and fruit-cutting skills go to the Mr.

3. Cook for the crowd

  • There were 12 people at our brunch. You want enough for people to feel full. A variety of items helps to fill the plate and their bellies. We had three quiches (sliced so that everyone could have at least one of each kind), 39(!) cinnamon rolls (thanks, girls!), a large bowl of fresh fruit, four types of juice, tea and coffee. People had seconds, and there were still leftovers (although not an overwhelming amount).
  • Rather than choosing to serve steak and eggs, I chose quiche for how versatile, quick, and cheap it is, not to mention you can make it in advance, always a planning plus!
  • My preference? Make a less expensive dish and use quality ingredients, rather than skimping on the good stuff just to mass produce it.
  • By keeping it simple, you won’t need to go hunt for and splurge on random ingredients like saffron, or buy a large bottle of buttermilk just to use a a couple teaspoons.
When you forget to take pictures of the food before it's eaten... Oops.

When you forget to take pictures of the food before it’s eaten… Oops.

4. Personalize it

  • It’s all in the little details, right? How special it can make your guests feel to have simple name tags handwritten. (Handwriting not your forté? Type up their names in a nice font and print out). Make sure you spell their name correctly! Watch out for those Rachel/Rachael, Niki/Nikki/Nicky names… Utilize Facebook.

Name tags

  • Make name cards for all of the food. Then you won’t have to repeat what’s in that dish 20x; also any allergies or dislikes can easily be avoided.

Food Tags

5. Go digital

  • Make a quick iTunes playlist. Or use Grooveshark. Throw up a quick slide and connect it to your TV. It can also provide some interesting, and unexpected, entertainment for your guests. (Prior to singing karaoke to Justin Timberlake, it had a “He is Risen” slide on it. Kind of goes to together…)

2013-03-31 13.10.53

6. Make it you

  • As I’ve mentioned before, I love handwriting. While this wasn’t one of my masterpieces (since I waited until the last minute to do it), it still added a little something extra to the room, and showed my personal flavor.
  • Do what you’re good at! If you love painting, whip up a little canvas; scrapbooking, make a favor for each guest; photography, take pictures beforehand to go with your theme and display them creatively, or set up a quick photobooth for guests to have fun at.


7. Cater to the audience + event

  • Being a significant holiday for Christians, and spending time with those on my ministry team here in Slovenia, I wanted to spend some time celebrating together, and focusing it on the real reason we were gathering, and not just to eat. Beforehand, I had chosen a couple of passages in the Bible to read together. I asked everyone to bring their Bibles and had us go around, taking turns reading aloud. After, I asked three others to pray for our time and thank God for sending His Son.
  • We did this prior to eating, that way everyone was together and no one was distracted or mid-bite when it was their turn to read.

Now for the…

Cost Breakdown

  • Borrowed/Already Owned: paper lanterns, decorative paper, twine, jars, clothespins, and tealight candles
  • Others Brought: one quiche, cinnamon rolls, fruit juice


  • Do as much in advance as you possibly can
  • Less is more. Stay simple with your decorations and carry colors/theme throughout (i.e. twine for holding place cards, wrapped around drinking jars, strung through lanterns, etc).
  • Give others ample notice of the date, time, and what you’d like them to bring
  • Make sure dress-code is communicated. We were going for a fresh-outta-church look.
  • Make lists to give your brain a break! Write down everything that needs to be done still, and put them in order of most- to least-time consuming. Here’s my house the night before, it gets a little messy.

What ways do you host on a budget? Any other tips or suggestions you’d add?


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