So by now you’ve probably caught on that our annual pumpkin party is a pretty huge deal around here. And since my husband and I both come from large families, the number of guests that are related to us alone makes for a big party. Some years, our guest count reaches near 100! Let me be clear: we are not rich. So throwing an annual party for close to 100 people that includes food, kid’s activities, decorations, booze, costume party prizes and more on a budget takes a TON of planning! But each year it gets easier, and I thought I’d share my top five party rules so that you, too, can save some time and money on your next party!
RULE #1: Start Planning Early!
If you’ve been following a while, you know that we start planning our annual shin dig while we are cleaning up the party every year. (Read about it here, here, here, and here). Planning so early isn’t just to satisfy my neurosis. As soon as you can, decide on your menu. Even before you pick a date for the party, and even if it’s a year out. Why? Because then you can shop the grocery store sale ads and collect coupons to stock up on non-perishable food that you need for your menu at the lowest price possible. What stores well: crackers, canned goods, grains, frozen food. Keep in mind that meat, some cheeses and lots of other fresh food items freeze well too. Another reason to plan early: so you can snag decorations on the cheap. After Easter, for instance, you’ll find lots of pastel and baby animal items on clearance. Baby shower supplies, maybe? Be creative! There is a reason our Pumpkin Party sticks to an orange and black palette 😉
RULE #2: Start Simple and Work Your Way Up
Our first Pumpkin Party was in a two-bedroom condo with an itty bitty yard. We cleared out the garage and held most of the festivities in there, setting up a couple tables and mis-matched chairs on the patio and keeping the food simple and coolers filled with drinks set up in the garage. Everyone had a total blast and our party grew each year from there, and with it, our stockpile of supplies. That first year I grabbed a bunch of decorations, serving platters and other random things after the holiday on clearance. As our house got bigger, so did my stockpile. I’ve added things over the years, and been able to get by spending less in the following years for party basics. If you entertain a lot then you’ll want to get either white, cream or black serving items and dishes so that your main pieces work for any occasion. Just in case you are wondering, ours are white!
RULE #3: Know Your Limitations
Sure, I love Pinterest as much as the next girl. But really, with a guest list as long as ours and a budget as small, I have to get real: I can’t pull off my entire Pumpkin Party Pinterest Board in one night. And with that many people in one space, some activities are just not possible. I mean, sure, I’d love to do individual party favors for each guest filled with golden pumpkins and sealed with the tears of baby unicorns after we do Autumn-themed group party games all night. But that’s time consuming, expensive, and would require waaay to much of a pep rally on my part. So since I’m not catering this event and I am on a limited budget, I just need to be realistic. And let’s not even get into the logistics of trying to coordinate that many people to do the same thing. Now, with that being said, I DO want our party to be pretty and Pinterest-worthy. Just on a smaller scale. So instead of making 100 individual 7-layer dip cups (BIG hit, BTW), I’ll make about 40, and if someone doesn’t get one this year, well, they’ll just have to have one of the other appetizers or more chili. Or another drink. Noone eats when they are drinking anyway. Because this girl does not have time to make 100 cups of dip, and 100 desserts, and 100… anything!
RULE #4: Handmade is usually cheaper (and cuter!)
I have decorations from our first Pumpkin Party seven years ago (I admitted my little secret here). And I intend to have the same decorations seven years from now. A lot of the things we’ve curated over the years are things I made myself, like this and this. And if I take really good care of them, they’ll last just as long as something mass-produced. The clincher is how incredibly cheap it is to make your own holiday decorations compared to how expensive it can get (even on clearance) to stock up on them. I always get more compliments on my handmade decorations then on anything else I set out.
RULE #5: Enlist Help
Look, I know we can’t pull all this off every year on our own. We have help from my mom, sisters, in-laws and friends. They are there before the party, slaving away on the projects I dole out. Without them, I could never pull this big of a party off year after year, especially as it continues to grow and evolve into something bigger and better. Joe’s awesome parents bring the chili every year, and other friends and family bring things they are excited to share. We borrow banquet tables and anything else too big to purchase. Trust me, you will want the help of at least a couple trusted people to pull off your vision without breaking the bank.
Of course I have lots of other tips, tricks and rules, but these are my top five. I’d love to hear about your tried-and-true party rules!