When daylight hours lengthen, my backyard beckons to me. Summer evenings were made for outdoor living, including cooking on the grill and dining al fresco. And, eating outdoors is best when it’s shared with family and friends.
Barbecue parties with good company, delicious food and unforgettable memories can be the highlights of your summer. You don’t want to get to the end of the season, however, and realize that you blew your budget on hosting extravagant gatherings. Instead, use these seven tips for a frugal summer barbecue so you can throw outdoor parties the smart way.
Use Electronic Invitations
A summer get-together is better with friends, but paper invitations and stamps can put a dent in your budget long before you start buying food. Instead of taking a traditional approach to inviting folks, rely on an electronic method.
While you could send a basic text to all of your friends, an eye-catching digital invitation is more appealing. Free and low-cost invitation apps often allow you to customize graphics and party details to create a personalized invitation that’s unique to your event.
Just be sure to request RSVPs. That way, you can plan for an accurate number of guests. You don’t want to run out of food, but you also don’t want to cook too much. An overabundance of leftovers becomes wasted food, and that’s money down the drain.
Choose Your Grill Wisely
If you already own a grill, you can skip this step, but those looking to purchase a new grill should carefully consider their options. Charcoal grills usually come with a lower price tag than gas ones. However, charcoal is a more expensive fuel than gas.
For those who don’t barbecue often, the initial cost savings of a charcoal grill can make it a good choice. However, those who cook out at least one night a week throughout the summer will save money in the long run with a gas grill.
Keep Your Meat Budget in Check
The heart of a summer barbecue is the meat that you serve, but that doesn’t mean that you must buy filet mignon for 20 guests. Instead, feed a crowd with lower-cost meats. Some of the best budget-friendly choices are hamburgers, hot dogs and bone-in chicken thighs. If that sounds boring, just remind yourself that all three are classic grilling items.
Even better, you’ve heard of BYOB, right? How about a BYOM party: Bring Your Own Meat? Ask guests to provide their own uncooked meat, and you’ll grill it up once they arrive. With this method, not only will you save money, but every family will get to eat exactly what they want.
Make It a Potluck
Asking others to pitch in doesn’t make you any less of a hostess. Rather, it invites others to join in on the fun of planning your get-together.
When everyone brings a side dish or two to share, there will be plenty of tasty accompaniments to go around. Assigning side dishes to guests is one way to make sure that you won’t have repeat dishes, but using a sign-up system allows cooks more freedom to decide what items to bring.
If cooking isn’t a strong suit for some of your guests, there are still plenty of ways for them to contribute. Ask those folks to bring buns, chips, paper goods or drinks.
Prepare Low-cost Sides
You’ll probably want to prepare a few sides to share, too. Select recipes with low-cost ingredients so you can make each dish for just a few dollars.
The price of fresh veggies plummets in the summer, so give them a starring role in your sides. Whip up a crunchy salad, or toss seasoned zucchini and asparagus on the grill. If you have a home garden, you can save even more on vegetable dishes.
Need something other than veggies to round out your party? Try soft homemade rolls, juicy watermelon slices, creamy deviled eggs and warm fruit cobblers.
Serve Drinks in Batches
Individually packaged drinks are convenient, but they’re also expensive. Whether it’s beer for the grownups or fruit juice for the kids, you could easily spend a dollar or more on each drink.
Making a big batch of punch is a money-saving alternative. You can make one variety for everyone and set mixers on the side for adults, or you can make both a kid-friendly punch and an alcoholic one.
Offer Simple Desserts
Fancy sweets are fun, but the ingredients can really add up. And let’s face it: After filling up on burgers, hot dogs and a slew of side dishes, there’s only so much room left for dessert anyway. Keep it simple with easy treats that feature short ingredient lists, such as cookies, cake pops and crispy rice treats.
If you can’t imagine heating up the oven to bake something, go one step easier and buy frozen juice pops. These icy treats will appeal to both kids and kids-at-heart, and they’re a perfect finishing touch for a summer gathering.
Is a budget-friendly summer party possible? I find that when everyone pitches in, we all go home stuffed but not broke. If you’re a budget-bbq pro, post a comment about how you throw frugal parties. Then, share this article with the friends you’ll be inviting to your next summer bash.