Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Does it cost an arm and a leg?

Does it cost an arm and a leg to throw a happy shindig? Because I really don't have any of those to spare.

I recently hosted a Valentine's Day Ladies Tea at my home (for the 5th year in a row), and I've learned a thing or two since I first started. The truth of the matter is - yes, you can throw a good party without spending a fortune. For me, I've invested money in staple items that will be used every year and/or at other events - my china, for instance. Also, my table linens are burgundy, and look very nice when dressed up for Christmas dinner, too. And my pretty serving dishes were all handed down to me from my mother, and can all be used at any meal I'm hosting. So, the first rule is to be wise when investing money on more costly items. Make sure the more expensive stuff can do double duty or at least be used for a long time.

Valentine's Day is typically celebrated with flowers that are way expensive. Yes, the florists' prices do go up leading up to this holiday! There were two ways that I economized with flowers at my tea party this year. The first, was making your own centerpiece. I picked up a teacup and saucer from a local antique market for $2.50. I tapped my good friend (who was a florist before becoming a stay-at-home-mom) to put her mad skillz to work. She put together a lovely centerpiece for me, which would have only amounted to about $7-$8 for the cost of the flowers and supplies. My wonderful friend, however, would not let me pay her at all. The reason being, she said, is that her daughter (my daughter's best friend) often stays with us while my friend goes in to work around holidays. And this seasonal florist is in demand when holidays like Valentine's Day rolls around. She figured the centerpiece was a return favor. The moral of this story that I share with you, dear reader, is to see what kind of things for which and with which you can barter. Have a friend whom you think could help in some way with your party? Perhaps you can arrange a similar situation. The old I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine. I ended up with the perfect centerpiece for my tea party for a miniscule fraction of the cost I originally had budgeted, and coming from my friend, it was so much more meaningful. She was also a guest at my party, and I made sure to let everyone else know that she made it! Public praise is a good thing.

The other way I economized with flowers, was to visit a nearby greenhouse to select fresh pesticide-free flowers to use in the menu and for decorating the food and table. The owner had quoted a cost of 15 cents per flower when I originally inquired about obtaining the flowers. But when I went to pick them up a few days before my party, she was so happy to share the details about her trade and appreciative of my planned use of her lovely flowers (and charmed by my two year old, I think!), she just kept snipping away and giving me ideas on how to use which... she said, "I've lost count" When she had to go after another clam shell container to hold the lavender she was snipping, I also lost count. I was stunned when at the end she said, "It comes to $5." Now, I'm sure I had more than $5 worth of flowers, so I was delighted. I used edible flowers in two different foods at the party, and used fresh flowers to decorate the cake, and used the lavender sprigs as garnish. The tea party's theme was "floral flourish" and boy, did that ever shine through!

No tea party would be complete without tea, right? I happened to pick up some tea at a very unlikely place - the annual state farm show where I live. We take our girls there every year to appreciate the fun that livestock and 4H-like activities can bring to a child. The Dairy Council's milk shakes are always there to tempt me, too! I hadn't even composed my tea party invitations at this point, but I was pleased to no end when I found a vendor selling a large variety of teas at the farm show. I picked enough lavender tea for the party for less than $3. While browsing, I also found handmade earrings that were little teapots. Well, I couldn't resist! So, the best tip I can offer after this experience is to keep your eyes open for party finds, even if the party isn't going to happen right away. You can get great deals by shopping sales and special events!

That brings me to the final nugget of information I want to share on this topic - keeping your eyes open for deals throughout the year, and watch for coupon savings, too. After Valentine's Day, I always hit the sales to buy things that are marked down. I store them, and other things I pick up on sale or clearance the entire time between one party ending and the next one being planned. So about a month before the next party, I can pull it all out, take stock, and then see what else I need to find to fill it out. Places like Bath & Body works often has great coupons (you can find these on the deal sites) that can stretch your dollar pretty far. I picked up items from B&BW throughout the year with coupons when I had them, and then shopped their semi-annual sale, and I was set for prizes for the games I planned.

Having said all of this, there may be the occasion when you find something that you just want to splurge on that is truly an indulgence. I hope that every so often you allow yourself to do that. My indulgence this year was a gigantic diamond ring. No, I'm not talking about something I could actually wear on my finger, but instead, something more along the lines of a paper weight. I saw one of these things many years ago and thought it was hilarious. So when I happened upon one just days before my tea party for $4.99, I knew I had to have it. No, it wasn't necessary, but it sure did spark some funny conversations when made part of my table decor!

I hope that this information demonstrates that you truly can throw a party without having to drop tall cash!


Toni said...

Wow! Great advice! Such little investment for neverending memories!

You know what's funny? I have one of those rings too! LOL My MIL gave it to me a few years ago and to be honest, I don't know where it is! So when I saw yours, I had to stop and think for a second haha

Brenda said...

All great ideas! I'm a big bargain shopper & firmly believe in early planning to catch the best deals. I am working on a Mad Science party for my son right now & I got all of the goody bag favors on clearance after Halloween for a fraction of the cost. Just make sure to check your expiration dates if you are purchasing candy for future use!