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Originally published Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 5:01 AM

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How to host a holiday party on a budget

12 penny-pinching ideas to please your guests and your pocketbook.

Special to The Seattle Times

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When you’re already shelling out for gifts and travel, the added expense of hosting a party can be a bit intimidating. These tips will save you cash without cramping your holiday style, whether you’re planning a casual “ugly sweater party” or a glitzy soiree.

Consider co-hosting.

Go in with a close friend or family member to share the costs and you’ll instantly cut your bill — and your workload — in half.

Choose a theme.

Giving your party an identity can help contain costs by limiting the number of items (both food and décor) you need to buy. A few ideas to consider: intimate dinner party, wine-and-cheese tasting, cocktail party, holiday movie marathon, potluck, cookie party, game night, goodwill party (in which everyone brings something to donate to a predetermined charity) or brunch (frittatas are cheap to make and you don’t need more than Bloody Marys or mimosas). The possibilities are endless.

Ditch the formal invitations.

Traditional mailed invitations are lovely if you’re flush with cash, but they’ll still end up in the trash. For a free and eco-friendly way to get the word out, send invites via email. You can design them yourself with simple photo editing software or use a service such as Evite, Paperless Post, Pingg or Seattle-based company Greenvelope, which often offer free trials.

Beg, borrow and get thrifty.

Shop for serving items, platters and vases at thrift stores such as Goodwill, where you can often find glass cake stands, cupcake stands and ceramic serving platters for less than $5 each. Or borrow what you don’t have. Maybe Mom has extra serving trays collected over the years, or your sister has a dozen champagne flutes left over from her engagement party last spring. All you have to do is ask. If you have to buy something new, try to invest in items that can be used again to save you money on future parties.

Get a luxe look for less.

To spruce up your space, choose options than look more expensive than they really are. Glittering “dollar store” ornaments placed in glass hurricanes look chic but cost only a few bucks. Dozens of candles placed around the room — even tiny Ikea tea lights that cost a penny each — instantly give the impression of a special occasion.

Keep it all in the (color) family.

Another way to create a high-end look on a budget: Keep everything within one color palette (for example, all white or silver and gold). Keep place settings simple and monochromatic, too. If you already have plain white dishware, use that and create a “winter white” tablescape to play off it.

Get crafty.

Hand-make place cards for the dinner table and other details for a personalized touch. Takeaways and party favors are another great chance to DIY, such as giving cookie mix in a custom-labeled jar or homemade truffles in a tiny decorative box.

Tune in.

Instead of loading your iPod with $.99-songs or buying CDs to play, stream free music from Internet radio options like Pandora.

Score your main course for free.

Watch grocery store circulars for free turkey and/or ham promotions. Around this time of year, large chains like Albertson’s and Fred Meyer often reward shoppers with a free bird just for doing their regular shopping there (typically, you’ll need to spend around $100 to qualify).

Choose your menu wisely.

When planning out what you’ll serve, stick with low-cost foods (like squash) and foods that are in season.

Create a signature cocktail.

Serve a festive mixed drink rather than offering a variety of options. This will save you time — you can mix up a big batch ahead of time — and money (no need to set out the expensive vodka or Champagne).

Accept offers.

When invitees ask, “What can I bring?” (and most usually do), take them up on their offer. Ask them to bring something for the cookie bar or their favorite bottle of wine to share.

Above all, plan ahead so you have time to prepare and are ready to relax when your guests arrive.

Andrea Dashiell is a freelance writer.

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