Your best friend just got engaged and you're broke.
If you think these two situations are unrelated, wait until you try to throw her an engagement party.
You'll soon realize that your financial means aren't up to par with your intentions, and unless you find a way to turn dimes into dollars, the grand celebratory bash you've planned will be more paper plates and beanies weenies than bone china and gourmet appetizers.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to throw a respectable engagement party on the cheap, so you don't have to divorce your savings account just to honor your friend's upcoming marriage. In fact, all you have to do is commit yourself to reading the rest of this article.
Let Them Know
For starters, tell the happy couple what you're up to. There's nothing wrong with letting the bride and groom in on your plans and asking for their input. Explain that you're on a budget, and find out what kind of party they'd like to have. Take note of what's really important to them. Don't blow all your cash on a fully stocked bar when they just want a nice lunch with family and friends.
Price It Out
Price out the party's total tab, including table and chair rentals, alcohol, food and decorations. This will help you figure out what's important, what's not so critical and what's completely out of your price range. You can stretch your budget by borrowing some items from friends and family members. Table and chair rentals are often one of the priciest party expenses, so even if you only collect a few, they'll end up saving you money. Every item you put up yourself or can mooch off friends is money you don't have to give the rental company. If you do end up renting, ask around for a discounted rate if you agree to use the company again for the bridal shower. Times are tough, and struggling companies should be willing to cut you a pretty good deal for the promise of future business.
Raising the Bar
Forking out for a place to sit and eat is expensive enough, but you'll just be pouring money down the drain if you're planning on paying for a bartender and an open bar. Booze is expensive! Unless you don't mind turning your respectable shindig into a raucous kegger, it's best to buy some cheap liquor and pour the drinks yourself. Sangria, White Russians and limoncello are all easy to make with alcohol that's inexpensive and readily available. If a few bottles of vodka, Kahlua and wine are out of your price range, make the party BYOB. As long as you furnish enough for yourself and the happy couple, you should be OK.
The trick to slashing your food budget is to avoid serving big meals. Plan the party for the afternoon (after lunch, but before dinner), and serve a few inexpensive appetizers. Or, have everyone meet up later in the evening. After-dinner get-togethers make great dessert parties, which are chic and inexpensive. Just make sure the invitation is clear about what's on the menu so you won't get stuck with a group of hungry, grumpy guests.
Forget landfill-bound party banners, balloons, napkins and other disposable goods. They're wasteful, chintzy and expensive. Instead, place a few single-stem bud vases on each table and fill them with pretty wildflowers. Add a few white votives, and you've got an intimate party atmosphere that cost you next to nothing.
You can also save money by investing in some basic linen tablecloths and napkins. They aren't too terribly expensive and can be reused later (like for a certain friend's future baby shower). Just be sure to go with ivory, as it matches everything and shows fewer stains than white.