Backyard get-togethers are a casual, easy way to entertain, from impromptu neighborhood barbecues to weekly get-togethers with friends—and now is the perfect time to give your yard or patio a refresh. Since outdoor upgrades can add up quickly, we recommend setting a budget and investing in a few key pieces that can work for any kind of gathering. Read on for summer entertaining tips that will help you prepare for a season full of fun in your own backyard. Whether you're hosting a simple potluck or a fancy garden party, here's how to plan for events that your guests—and your wallet—will love.
Host a Summer Party on a Budget
Set a Budget
Before you send out the invitations, set a budget for yourself. You'll want to set two separate budgets: First, decide how much you want to spend on making your outdoor space party-ready. This includes items you'll use for all your gatherings, like seating, lighting, and outdoor decor. Doing this at the start of the season will make each event cost less since you'll already have the basics covered. And budgeting early will help keep you on track.
"Review the big picture and put your dollars into what is really important in building value into the backyard event," says Greg Jenkins, co-founder of Southern California-based event planning company, Bravo Productions. "Last-minute planning will always result in overspending."
When your space is finished, set an individual budget for each event you host: This budget will cover things like the food and drinks that will only be used at that specific gathering.
Buy the Basics
When you're prepping your outdoor space, buy a few key products that can be used at any kind of gathering, all season long. Nothing says summer like relaxing outdoors with a cold drink in hand, so invest in a drink dispenser ($20, Walmart) you can use at every get-together. You can use it for anything, from serving pitcher cocktails after-hours to non-alcoholic options like lemonade, iced tea, and infused water. It's a cheaper—and more sustainable—option than handing out plastic water bottles and looks pretty too.
The Products Our Editors Swear By in the Dave and Jenny Marrs Outdoor Collection for BHG
Clear Iridescent Glass Dispenser ($20, Walmart)
Stick to Simple Decor
Hosting an outdoor event is a great excuse to let the flowers in your ceramic planters ($12, Walmart) and flowerbeds serve as natural decor. Rather than filling the space with new pieces, look for decorative versions of the items you'll be buying anyway. Instead of plain serving ware, opt for durable melamine plates and colorful trays that'll make a statement on your table.
Invest in Multi-Functional Pieces
When it comes to larger pieces, consider investing in multi-functional pieces to get the most out of your budget. Look for furniture pieces that can work for a variety of situations, like ottomans with storage ($143, Walmart) or a table with baskets. This will save you from having to buy seating and storage elements separately, and you'll ultimately need fewer pieces—which makes small-space entertaining easier too.
Outdoor Storage Ottoman ($143, Walmart)
Know What to Splurge On
When it comes to items you'll only use outdoors, consider what you'll get the most use out of and skip the rest. If you're planning a more elaborate event in your backyard, but still want to stay within a reasonable budget, the key is to identify the things that you can find cheaper options for and any areas that you want to splurge on. This depends on the guests you're inviting and your personal preferences. For example, if you're throwing a kid's party, you can spend less on food and focus more on games and activities. But if you're hosting a soiree for your book club, you're probably going to spend more on food and drinks and less on decor.
Splurge on seating if you have limited options for your attendees (we love this porch swing). If you need to rent chairs, cut costs elsewhere to make sure guests don't have to sit on the patio floor.
If you take a look at your budget and find that you have saved money on things like decor, food, and desserts, and have some money to spend, splurge on items that can be reused for your next gathering, like additional seating, or drinks that can be saved if they're unopened.
Manage the Guest List
While it may be tempting to invite a huge crowd to your newly updated outdoor space, keeping the guest list small will save you big money when it comes to food and drinks. Rather than volunteering to host the annual neighborhood cookout, stick to more intimate gatherings like a book club meeting or movie night.
Keep Your Menus Simple
When it comes to food, you don't need to plan an elaborate menu. A simple wood charcuterie board ($23, Walmart) is an easy way to serve appetizers while emphasizing a theme, and it's an inexpensive item to invest in at the start of the season. It's an eye-catching way to serve appetizers or treats, and you can keep the toppings as inexpensive as you want. Pre-sliced fruit platters might save you some time, but they're more expensive. Instead, hit the farmer's market for seasonal fruits and veggies and make your fruit and crudites platters, or arrange store-bought desserts on the board for a finger food spread worthy of any Bridgerton-style garden party.
Declare a Potluck
Speaking of appetizers, don't go overboard on the main menu either. Hosting a potluck is a great way to throw a backyard party on a budget—and when guests bring their own food, there's sure to be something everyone will enjoy. Host a summer potluck and have your guests bring in a dish of their choice—this way, you'll save money and you won't have to worry about cooking up a storm.
Make it B.Y.O.B.
Remember those college parties where you had to B.Y.O.B? Use the same rule here to save money on alcohol (one of the most expensive party items). "The cost of alcohol for a party can quickly knock your budget for a loop," says Tana Williams, personal finance blogger at Debt Free Forties. Plus, everyone will bring something they like, which will save you from buying tons of options that end up going untouched.
Keep It Small
If you're entertaining in a small space, look for tabletop versions of the pieces you like. A tabletop fire pit ($74, Walmart) will fit almost any space, and while it's still an investment, it's cheaper than a full-size option. Plus, it's portable—so you can take it to the neighbors' house or move it between your porch, deck, and patio as needed. It's an easy way to set the tone without having to install permanent light fixtures in your space, which makes it a great option for renters.
Round Tabletop Gas Fire Pit ($74, Walmart)
Repurpose Indoor Pieces
Outdoor furniture can be expensive, especially if you're buying it all at once. Rather than adding all-new items to your cart, consider whether you can repurpose some of your old furniture from inside the house—an old vanity could be a dessert table, or some shelves could serve as a way to show off party favors. A quick sanding job and a coat of outdoor stain will help these pieces last outdoors.
No matter what your event is, you can make it fun and memorable and still stick to your budget. There are plenty of options out there that are easy and cost-effective—you just have to have a clear idea of what you want the focus of the event to be. Set a budget, get creative, and throw a post-pandemic backyard party your friends and family will remember for years.
How do you throw a backyard party on a budget? ›
Hosting a potluck is a great way to throw a backyard party on a budget—and when guests bring their own food, there's sure to be something everyone will enjoy. Host a summer potluck and have your guests bring in a dish of their choice—this way, you'll save money and you won't have to worry about cooking up a storm.What should I serve for an outdoor party? ›
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