Elegant barbecues. A creative theme and decorations add extra seasonings to the standard backyard grill. For instance, with elegant picnic baskets and other decorative touches, Deco Productions, an event planning company, once created a cookout with a "weekend in the Hamptons" theme. Dollar stores, discount outlets and other specialty retailers are a great source of affordable decorations, which can be saved and recycled for other events.
Upgrade appetizers. Lobsters, prime steak and other expensive treats may be too pricey to serve as a main course. If so, Gladstone recommends serving smaller portions of luxury treats during the appetizer course. "You can still have the expensive item and serve something more affordable for your main course," she said.
Go green. Shop in season and purchase organic produce directly from local growers, a food co-op or a farmers' market. Save paper and postage by sending electronic invitations.
Save on centerpieces. "You don't have to go to florists to make wonderful centerpieces," Gladstone said. Select flowers and greenery from your own backyard. Design centerpieces based on the party's theme or the dinner menu. For example, a centerpiece arrangement of bell peppers in a variety of colors or festive containers of different herbs and spices can create visual accents for an Italian meal.
Lower the bar. Cut the cost of an open-bar by serving a "signature drink," which is a cocktail that has been creatively renamed to reflect an event, the host or the season. Serve sparking white wine instead of champagne, Gladstone said.
Sharon is the author of the Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money and a contributing writer in Wise Bread's 10,0001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.