This is going to be a bit different than my other gourmet on a budget features, as I’m not offering you one recipe as much as a bunch of ideas for a yummy, cheap, expensive-looking/tasting holiday party.

I found myself tackling this: how to spend less than $100 (including booze) for a party for 15-20 people (yup that’s $5 to $6.67 a person, did I mention including alcohol?). Well, first, I cheated a little by asking people to bring either alcohol or an appetizer to the party (no shame in that). But here are my other ideas for good tasting, inexpensive food/drink that you make yourself:

Typical party spread (courtesy of Jon Ben, Flickr)
  • Do a signature drink. With not very many ingredients, preferably with only one kind of alcohol. Have the guests bring beer or wine. I think a punch, mulled wine, or some simple cocktails will do the trick. You could go with a keg or a ton of cheap beer, but we’re trying to keep it classy here.
  • Other cocktail thoughts: Make your own simple syrup: YES. Super easy and inexpensive (and it’s our little secret: infused simple syrups are SO easy and sound so impressive, make one). Squeeze your own orange /grapefruit/pomegranate juice: NO. More expensive and time consuming. Might not be as good but we’re on a budget here.
  • Make smaller versions of your favorite comfort foods as appetizers, maybe something that reminds you of the holidays. Suggestions include mini potato latkes, meatballs, pizza, and eggplant parmesan (buy smaller eggplant or cut the pieces small). And the key here is MAKE, not buy pre-made.
  • Vegetarian food is generally cheap and by serving it you cater to the vegetarians who might be coming to your party. Have a massive crudite spread that includes plenty of fresh vegetables, breads, etc. Make your own dip (in fact, make multiple dips by yourself): it will taste better than store bought, be cheaper, and impress your guests. All you need is a food processor and 5 minutes and you’ve made all of these dip recipes.
  • Things that are already small/are on a stick are perfect. Kabobs, ravioli, etc. are all great options.

Things to stay away from:

  • Cheese and charcuterie plates are expensive. Especially when you’re me and need to buy the most wonderful, exotic-sounding cheese and charcuterie. Save it for a smaller gathering.
  • Also: seafood is expensive, some people don’t like it, and it spoils easily. Leave it off your menu for a larger party.
  • Don’t get too complicated (this is especially hard for me). Sometimes when things are cheap, the trade off is that you have to spend more time making it: try to strike a balance. Choose some things that are quick and some that might take longer. Don’t tackle 5 things that each take 2 hours to make.