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How To Throw a Dinner Party on a College Budget Like a Pro

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

If you’re on Pinterest or TikTok, you may know that dinner parties are currently all the rage, and honestly, for good reason. They’re a fun and (if done correctly) inexpensive way to unwind and spend quality time with friends. Let me guide you through the tips and tricks I’ve recently learned through much trial and error as I threw my birthday dinner party.

1. Planning Your Menu

The most important and often most costly aspect of hosting a dinner party is the actual dinner part of the evening. This was my biggest issue when I attempted to plan one, especially as I continued to invite people, began to do the math, and came to the horrifying realization that I had promised to feed over 15 people. That’s when someone reminded me of the existence of potluck dinners. Not only was this a huge money saver for me, but it also added variety to the dinner as each of my guests brought a unique dish for all of us to share.

In the end, we had an abundance of appetizers, leftovers, and other foods (charcuterie boards, salads, pasta dishes, wings, chips, and desserts). The best part of it all was that not only was it inexpensive for me, but also for my guests who simply brought one or two things each. Honestly, it’s the perfect loophole to invite as many people as you can because it means more food (and more leftovers).

2. Theme and Ambiance

Choosing a theme for your dinner party is the perfect way to make it more exciting and fun for you and your guests. It doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank. With the holidays quickly approaching, consider a “Friendsgiving,” ugly sweater party, or Secret Santa theme. You can also opt for having all your guests show up in the same solid color. The odds are most people already have pieces lying in their closets that could easily fit into these themes, so they wouldn’t require going to extraneous lengths.

Consider a costume party too, where your guests can justify giving their Halloween costumes another night out on the town. The choices are endless, and the more creative and niche you get, the more memorable your dinner party will be!

Here are some of my favorite dinner party themes that likely wouldn’t require extra purchases (or at least no costly ones):

  • PJ Party: It’s a classic and fun way to flex that matching set you own.
  • Black Tie: You probably have a random, stunning dress in your closet that you’ve never worn because you just “have nowhere to wear it to.” Well, here’s your chance!
  • Cupid: Everyone brings someone they consider to be their most eligible bachelor/bachelorette friend that they would never date but someone else could, AKA “one person’s trash is someone else’s treasure.”
  • Thrifted Treasure Soiree: Have all your guests show up in thrift fits from head to toe and be vague. No matter what direction people interpret the theme (wacky or cool), you’ll surely witness a wide range of impeccable fits.

Finish off by curating a playlist of music to match the theme, instantly set the mood, and elevate the ambiance of the party without any extra cost.

3. DIY Decor

Creating an inviting atmosphere for a dinner party shouldn’t cost a fortune. I like to DIY my decorations using inexpensive materials like candles, construction paper, or fairy lights. I also use items I already have, such as flowers, colorful dishware, or any of my décor. Whatever I don’t have, I can raid my nearest thrift store or dollar store and bask in the sight of a Pinterest-worthy party that didn’t break the bank.

Here are some of the ways I decorated my birthday dinner that ended up costing less than $20:
• I tied a sweet, in-theme ribbon around my glasses for a personal touch.
• I bought a paper tablecloth and had my guests doodle all over it in crayon (and then framed it for the memories).
• I scoured many thrift stores and yard sales for funky serving plates and unique glasses.
• I put my friend’s old wine/glass bottles to use by sticking taper candles or some fake flowers from the dollar store in them.

4. Shop Smart (If You Even Have To)

Don’t underestimate the power of asking to borrow things for your party. Ask your friends and close circle of people, but if they don’t have anything, don’t feel ashamed to expand on it. Try asking friends of friends, neighbors, or classmates. You might be surprised at people’s willingness to help out in any way they can. The worst thing that can happen is they say no, and the best thing that can happen is you get your item and a new possible guest to invite!

I’ve borrowed cooking supplies, tables, chairs, etc. You name it, and I likely borrowed it. Anything I didn’t find, you guessed it: I bought it at the thrift or dollar store. My only caveat with this is that if you decide after your first dinner party that you may have found your life calling (throwing dinner parties), consider getting some dinner party basics. I do this so I won’t have to spend money every time.

Pieces I recommend:
• Charcuterie boards
• Silverware
• Plates and bowls
• Party punch containers

As stressful as hosting can sometimes be (trust me, I know now), remember that it is ultimately about spending time and making memories with your friends and loved ones, so try to keep it simple. If there’s anything I learned throughout this whole experience, it’s that a little creativity and some careful planning go a long way. Happy hosting!

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Camila Fraser is an international affairs major who's a language enthusiast, fluent in three languages. She has a passion for exploring new cultures and loves traveling to broaden her horizons. When she's not jet-setting, you'll find her nose deep in a book, scouring thrift stores for hidden gems, or binge-watching the latest thing on tv.