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Much of the fun of the holidays comes with the celebrations. Entertaining can be pricey, but with some planning and shortcuts, you can cut down on costs without compromising quality or decreasing the festive spirit.

Small bites = smaller cost

Often the largest cost in hosting a holiday party is the food and drink — and it’s something you know everyone will be looking forward to, so you don’t want to skimp. It is possible to lower the price, however, with easy adjustments to the menu.

Katie Sannito runs the Gourmet Goddess out of Munster as a full-service personal chef. She suggests scaling back to small bites to make your party a little more economical, yet elegant. “Rather than a formal sit down dinner, try cocktail party style with a variety of appetizers,” she said. “Anchor with a good cheese and/or charcuterie board.”

You can always scour Pinterest for easy recipes to make on your own. However, appetizers can often be labor intensive, so catering will free up time to focus on other party planning. Brainstorm with your caterer to serve a number of different bites so that you will have something available for varying tastes and dietary needs. Stuffed mushrooms, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, bruschetta, finger sandwiches, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and skewered meats or vegetables are popular items that will elevate your gathering.

Steve Teibel, co-owner of Teibel’s in Schererville, said that his 89-year-old family restaurant offers catering as well as on-site banquet rooms for holiday parties. He agreed that serving appetizers in place of a full meal can cut the price while still providing a nice menu. He said Teibel's has a basic price that starts with a 2-hour cocktail party with appetizers and can get more elaborate.

To save on a full meal at an outside venue, Teibel suggests going with a less expensive entree. “The meat is always where you can save if you have to stick to a budget,” he said. “If you stay away from the all-you-can-eat or the 3 or 4 meat options, you can save that way. Chicken is the least expensive meat and a lot of people will just do that as the meat. You can still have fun and base it on what you want to spend.”

Delegate dishes

Sannito also suggested delegating cooking duties to help ease the financial burden on the host. “Make it a group effort. Set parameters for the menu or delegate dishes and ask guests to pitch in,” she said. “Everyone loves to be able to help.”

Either by making the event a full-blown potluck or by supplying the main entree and assigning others to bring various side dishes, beverages or dessert, the expense can be greatly reduced.

Conserve on cocktails

While everyone loves to be able to choose from a fully-stocked bar, it can drive up the cost of a holiday party. You can limit your costs while still providing several options.

"Keep drink choices simple and cut down on feeling like you have to have a fully stocked bar by offering one white and one red wine, a beer option and a signature cocktail for the evening,” said Sannito.

You can also weave the drinks into a theme. Make it a wine tasting or craft beer tasting party where each couple attending brings their favorite bottle of wine or six-pack of craft beer. Or have a bartender competition as part of the evening and invite guests to craft their best cocktail and have a fun prize for the favorite.

Fashionably early

By moving your party time you can get more bang for your buck. Teibel said that a brunch is less expensive than a plated dinner and enables you to have a full buffet of savory and sweet items. The restaurant's brunch buffet includes classic breakfast foods such as eggs benedict and ham, sausage or bacon along with salads and pastries.

“Try an alternative time for the party like brunch,” said Sannito. “Breakfast is a really inexpensive meal and you can add in a few easy lunch options with mini grilled cheeses, mini chicken salad croissants or ham and cheese glazed sliders.”

The early time-frame at home also allows you to spend less on beverages. A mimosa bar is a fun addition that doesn’t require buying several types of alcohol.

Decorations

What’s a holiday party if you haven’t decked the halls? There are a couple ways to bling without breaking the bank. One is to hit dollar stores. Ribbon, ornaments, lights and garland can add up, but a visit to the dollar store for the small additions can save you a lot on these items and candles, which give any gathering a nice glow. Dollar stores are also good places for party favors or supplies to get crafty.

Second-hand, thrift and resale shops are have decor items. Seasonal items  often get donated rather than stored at the end of the season, meaning you can find a lot of like-new items for a fraction of the original cost.

Entertainment

If you want to add a touch of elegance to your gathering without hiring a band or DJ, consider hiring a local high school or college band member to play a few rounds of "Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree" on saxophone or some classics on the violin to accompany dinner.

You can also create a holiday playlist of your favorites and connect your phone to a bluetooth speaker for some nice background music. And for extra effect, set TV and computer screens to play a simulated fireplace (YouTube has many!) if you don't have one going in a real fireplace.

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