We do a big xmas party every year. The budget killer is always booze. Encourage folks to bring a bottle or beer to share and you are halfway there. A 'spritzer' made with champagne and cranberry or pomegranate juice is relatively inexpensive 'signature drink' to offer. You can use cheap champagne- it's often on sale this time of year anyway.
Dips are good to make because they tend to go a little further. Add anything to cream cheese and voila! You have a dip. Spin dip, crab dip, pesto dip, etc- you get the idea.
We do chicken satay as a 'main event'- boneless chicken thighs are pretty cheap. Marinate overnight in some ginger, garlic, soy or tamari, red chili sauce, and broil or grill them on skewers. Make a quick 'satay' sauce by mixing some creamy peanut butter with a little soy (or tamari) and some chili sauce and there you go.
Go to the dollar store and grab a bunch of the LED tealights- drop them in jars and glasses around the house and you have a seasonal look without a bunch of money or the risk of fire.
You can make favors of the edible variety pretty reasonably- home made cocoa mix, nut brittle or candied nuts come to mind for inexpensive and easy. Wholesale clubs are the way to go for any sort of nuts- big bags for five bucks or so.
If not, check out the hams at Sam's club or Costco or even Kroger's. They are really good and a lot cheaper than Honeybaked. Or you may be able to score a sweet deal on a turkey Friday-Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Then you need to plan the sides and drinks. You can do both very cheaply. As a hostess, keep in mind some people will probably bring wine as a hostess gift. You can serve that at the party if you want, or I recommend getting some of the 1.5 liter bottles of inexpensive Australian or California wine. No one is going to care what brand you have at a party, and you can always take the labels off. If you have a Trader Joe's, their 2 buck chuck cannot be beat for a decent cheap wine.
For sides, think about what you want and then assess if it is easier and cheaper to buy premade or to make from scratch. Sometimes the answer will surprise you! You can always make a relish tray with deviled eggs, gherkins, cheeses, olives, and crackers which people will pig out on and will be pretty cheap (but look attractive) as long as you don't choose expensive cheese.
Baking from scratch is pretty cheap, but also the Sam's and Coscto cakes are really good. Actually, most of their food is pretty good.
For decorations and party favors etc., sign up for the mailing lists at craft stores like Jo-Ann and Hobby Lobby. They send out coupons all the time. Also hit up the dollar stores, because they have tons of stuff for cheap.
For live garland or wreath pieces, check with places that do "cut your own" trees. They usually have stuff like that, or you may be able to snag the bottom branches of the Christmas trees that people cut off before going home. You may have to be creative with them though!
Decorating, I would stick with one theme and/or color scheme. This will allow you to do less with more.
Make as much food ahead of time as you can.
The bottom line is that it comes down to planning, shopping around, and crunching some numbers. Don't forget craigslist and good ol' garbage picking sometimes! (I got a gorgeous antique table that way)
Will make a great party!
I would invest more in the food and beverage and just make the environment very tidy! Spruce it up with some cheap "non-scented" candles in every room - you can buy them at the "everything 1$ stores", and poinsettia's are cheap! Add 1 or 2 in each room...
Food: lots of different appetizers - then it's not a sit down dinner which is usually more costly and requires nice table decor. Some ideas:
- Mini Bruschettas
- Bacon wrapped scallops
- Chilled shrimp
- Chicken or beef satays
- Antipasto platter
- Fruit tray
- Raw vegetable tray with dip
- Cheese and cracker tray
- Brownies are always a favorite
- Cheese cake bites
- Lemon chess cake
* Just buy store mixes and make in large rectangle pans then cut into bite size pieces...spruce up the platters with strawberries, rasberries, and mint leaves to make them more festive and pretty
- And a nice holiday punch, there are tons of recipes on the internet for punch with cranberry juice, vodka, etc.
- Pitchers of iced tea and water
I always have a large pitcher of water with thinly sliced lemons and limes in it...pretty and refreshing
Or...cheap party idea is to do a wine tasting...have everyone to bring a wine bottle to share. Then, you don't buy the wine - only the food and alternate beverages.
MOST IMPORTANT...Don't get so caught up in hostessing that you forget to eat and instead only partake in drinking alcohol so that you get very drunk and have to slither up the stairs to the bedroom in front of your guests because you think it's the path to the hospital. Don't ask me how I know so much about this scenario.
Do BYOB or potluck, but still plan on providing the main course and a couple of sides, plus mixers.
For decor, focus on fresh flowers and pine boughs. Some velvet ribbon which can also be used to spruce up light fixtures, candles, and Xmas lights can make a very classy setting. Head to stores like Marshalls, Homegoods, and Tuesday Morning to look for cheap decor like table runners. Joanne fabrics has lots of coupons, as another poster mentioned, so it's easy to get deals there. I believe you can find some online as well.
Check with your local Xmas tree lot for scrap pine, or just...chop some from your backyard if you have it. It will smell lovely. Have a fire in the fireplace if you have one, and some soft music for ambiance.
For cheap wines, Trader Joe's, Bevmo, and Costco have great prices. There are less expensive wines out there that don't stink, such as Blackstone or Ravenswood. Even Korbel champagne isn't that bad, and can be spruced up with the addition of a cranberry. Or look for punch recipes online!
An easy spinach dip recipe:
1 cup of mayonnaise
16 ounces (1 container) of sour cream
1 can (canned tuna sized can) of water chestnuts (if you like it crunchy, i personally do, you can add 2 cans)
4 green onions
1 envelope of Knorr Leek soup mix
10 ounces of thawed, drained frozen spinach
This can be served in a bread bowl if you're feeling fancy.