Last month was our ten year wedding anniversary. We had planned for years to have a big gathering to mark the occasion, but we didn't want to spend a fortune.
We thought about having the party at a metropark. Ultimately we decided against this as April (our anniversary month) is hardly a dry month and to plan sufficiently in advance we would be unable to know how the weather would be. We didn't want to have the expense of restaurant meals/drinks, especially given how frugally I can prepare a meal for a crowd.
I always try to prepare a good meal. I love good food and like to show off a little. I also want to keep the cost reasonable, since we are saving for our goals. The most important thing to accomplish both objectives is to have a clear plan, with the ability to be flexible. I decided I wanted to do a taco bar for this party. I had thought of having a grilled cheese bar, but didn't want to be tied to a griddle for the entire party.
From there, I brainstormed different dishes I could prepare. I made an extensive list of ingredients needed for different dishes and made my shopping list accordingly. A few days before the party, I headed online to check sales flyers for Aldi, Lucky's (a Trader Joe's type store), Meijer and Kroger. I had already hit the salvage grocer and got some hot sauce, salsa and horchata mix ($.10/bag!). For my shopping list, I listed the store, then each item on my previous list that was on sale. As I checked out other stores' ads, if I found an item for cheaper than I'd previously listed it, I'd cross it out and write it under the new store. For any items on my list that I didn't find on sale, I wrote on the back of the sheet and looked for unadvertised sales while shopping. I ended up getting a pretty good discount on everything.
Here is a list of the dishes/items I offered and the prices of ingredients:
Tacos: ground beef ($2.29/lb at Kroger; two other stores had it on sale, but not this low) with taco seasoning ($.39/Aldi), al pastor- pork butt ($1.29/lb at Meijer) with pineapple ($1/Kroger, but I only used some of it) and seasoned with a little enchilada sauce ($.49/can at the salvage grocer) and taco seasoning (Aldi), Mexican pinto beans- pinto beans ($1.29/2 lb bag at Aldi), salsa ($.49/jar at the salvage grocery), sauteed onion ($.33/lb on sale at Meijer) and peppers (free from the farm; frozen), cilantro lime rice - rice (bulk purchase from the ethnic grocer; I can't remember the price), cilantro ($.49/bunch at Lucky's; used 1/4 bunch), limes ($.25/each at Lucky's; I used 2). Other fillings: tomato ($.91/lb at Meijer on a buy 10 get one free sale), sweet peppers both sauteed and raw (free from the farm; frozen), onions both sauteed and raw ($.33/lb on sale at Meijer), cilantro ($.49/bunch at Lucky's , I used just a bit), scallions ($.50/bunch at Lucky's; I put the stubs in water to grow more), two kinds of lettuce ($1.99/lb at Kroger; we used around a pound), sour cream ($1/16 oz for regular; small container of fat-free for $.59/clearance), cheese ($2.29/lb at Aldi), salsa ($.91/jar at Meijer) and hot sauce ($.59/bottle at the salvage grocer).
Cheese dip- generic processed cheese...stuff ($4/Aldi, with some leftover), 1 jar salsa ($.49/salvage grocer), a can of drained tomatoes/chiles ($.25/salvage grocer; drained fluid went into a container in the freezer to make taco soup later), tortilla chips ($1.19/bag at Aldi) and corn chips ($.91/Meijer on a buy 10 at $1, get 1 free sale).
Stuffed pepper/poppers-A combination of jalapeno, padron and Hungarian peppers (free from the farm; seeded and frozen whole), stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese ($.99/Aldi), sour cream ($.99/Aldi), a drained can of tomatoes/chiles and cheddar ($1.99/12 oz at Aldi).
Pan-Fried Corn-sweet corn (frozen when it was on sale for $.10/ear), onion, jalapeno, sour cream, and cheddar cheese powder.
Horchata- horchata mix ($.10/bag), milk ($1.69/gallon) or walnut milk (for the vegans; $.59/quart).
Iced tea-made with store brand tea and white sugar
Coffee - just plain ol Folgers
Cookies - Maple Bacon (from a mix from the salvage grocer $.50 plus a stick of butter and an egg), confetti cake mix cookie (Cake mix was $.50 or less, with oil) and sugar cookie (from mix, $.50, plus egg and butter), cream cheese icing ($.50/jar, manager's special because it had a holiday print on the label). While I would have preferred to make something from scratch, there wasn't time or energy for that.
Churros- $.79 from Aldi
We had a couple folding tables around and threw lace curtains over them as tablecloths. These were curtains that I used to use for staging for my Etsy photos and were briefly used as tablecloths at the booth. We pulled out all the chairs from around the house-lawn chairs, desk chairs, whatever. I repaired a little foot rest to provide one extra seat.
My dad brought his corn hole and hillbilly golf games for us all to play.
I made a slideshow from all my favorite photos from the last ten years. I ended up having 450 photos. We made a playlist on Spotify with our favorite love songs that played in the background. I just set the laptop up on the chest freezer for people to watch. We got a lot of laughs.
There was no rhyme or reason to the event. People showed up when they wanted, left when they wanted. We enjoyed getting to talk with everyone.
All told, we spent around $65 to feed 25 people with so many leftovers we could barely stand it. So the cost per person was $2.60, not factoring leftovers. I have never heard of any caterer charging that price for an event! We used the leftovers as is for a week and the rest were made into soup a couple weeks later which served for another few days. All in, we got around 14 meals for two out of the leftovers, which effectively brings the price-per-meal down to $1.67. Also, when we go out to eat with friends, it is easy to spend $30, so the cost of our event was equivalent to two evenings out.
Entertaining can be done frugally. With a little planning, you can put on a great party without ruining your budget.