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Great Summer Celebrations Without Breaking the Bank

With Independence Day just a few weeks away, many people are making plans to celebrate. The trick is being able to have a great time, and not stress out over the costs.

My favorite way to celebrate is with a party. Even if it’s just with one other family.

4th of july celebration on a budgetRegardless of the number of guests, the easiest way to cut the cost is to make it a potluck.

Generally, even with a potluck, the hosts are expected to provide the entree, condiments, decorations, tableware, and at least some of the beverages. So, let’s tackle these in order:

Entrée
In the land of the free and the home of the brave, 4th of July just *demands* a BBQ. That doesn’t mean you have to go broke buying steaks.

BBQ pork is a fabulous big party dish because you can cook for a lot of people all at once. Pork prices have dropped again this year, so if you plan ahead you might be able to find a pork shoulder roast (also called a Boston Butt) for as little as 88¢ a pound. (Last year the price never dropped below $1.29.) Pork roasts should be slow cooked at a low temperature. If you don’t have the time or skill to watch the grill, you could take a shortcut and do it either in the oven or even a crockpot. The secret is to cook it just until a fork stabbed in it turns easily. Overcook it and it’ll be dry.

Another great, inexpensive food for BBQ is chicken. On the grill, the best things to cook are cut pieces and NOT boneless, skinless breasts. Chicken legs and MADE for picnic style eating. If you’ve got 10 minutes you can cut up a whole chicken yourself and save even more money. (if you don’t know how, a quick trip to YouTube is in order!) For added moisture, brine the chicken for up to a day before cooking.

Hot dogs. If there will be kids at this shindig, hotdogs are a must have. My family and I did a taste test with all the brands in the store one year and Gwaltny dogs won hands-down in our household (even against Oscar Meyer and Ballpark). At about a buck for a pound during BBQ season, they make for cheap eats. Get the grocery store brand buns and you’re all set.

Condiments
Before heading off to the store, check your pantry and make sure you don’t already have plenty of condiments. Obviously what you choose for an entree is going to determine what you need. For BBQ pork you should probably serve it with a choice of sweet, Texas-style (tomato based) sauce as well as a southern style, vinegar-based sauce.

Decorations
Head to your closest dollar store and grab a few red, white and blue table clothes. Hang out your American flag. If you are trying to be really festive, make some fake jumbo firecrackers out of toilet tissue and paper towel tubes and construction paper.

It’s easier to round out a menu with many guests, but if it’s just one other family you can probably skip most of the decorations, can certainly use your regular tableware, etc.

Tableware
If you’re really trying to save money, skip the paper plates and plastic forks and just use what you’ve got in your kitchen. If not, the dollar store is your friend here again, with an assortment of paper plates, napkins and plastic cutlery in various colors.

Beverages
If you have separate freezer, start making ice a week before your party. That way you can avoid having to buy it. Instead of serving up expensive cans of soda, consider serving fruit punch (Kool-Aid for 20¢ with some orange juice and lemon-lime soda added) and iced tea, along with plenty of cold water. Let the guests bring the beer and wine.

Party Entertainment
If you’re having multiple families, especially with kids, some traditional picnic activities are in order. Bring back the sack races, water balloon toss, and games like croquet and horseshoes. Sew up the sacks with some old sheets, or other inexpensive fabric (ask around somebody is bound to have something you can recycle). Ask your guests if they have any of these old fashioned games tucked away in their garage or attic.

Music adds a subtle ambiance to a party. If you or one of your guests have an iPod or other MP3 player, set up a playlist and hook the device up to your stereo.

If you live in an area where fireworks are allowed, ask your guests to bring some so you don’t bear the expense alone. And please shoot your fireworks off responsibly and safely.

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