How to entertain this holiday season without going broke

Review a few dos and don'ts for how to entertain guests during the holidays without breaking your budget.

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One of my favorite things to do now that I have my own place is to entertain. I throw house parties for local political candidates. I host TV watching parties. And I absolutely love putting on holiday parties, which are such a great, fun way to reconnect with friends and family—even if the price tag can sometimes spiral out of control before you realize it's happening.

Here are a few simple dos and don'ts for how to entertain guests in style during the holidays without breaking your budget.

DO Set a budget for the event.

First, outline a budget for your event. Be realistic about where your finances stand and how much you can afford to spend. That’s your starting point.

Once you determine that dollar amount, you can further break the budget down into relevant categories—food, for example, or decorations, or party favors. Be sure to allocate some funds for those miscellaneous, unforeseen "other" expenses sure to crop up.

Tip: List your items in order of importance in case you go over budget and need to cut back.

DO Consider making it potluck.

If you are short on cash but still want to entertain, hold a potluck. You can provide the entree and ask others to bring sides, drinks, and desserts. Also, there's no hard and fast rule mandating a party include a sit-down dinner: Hors d'oeuvres can be a low-cost option, and you can still ask guests to bring items of their choosing to share. It's the consideration and company that makes a party memorable, not how much you charge to an overworked credit card.

DO Get creative with décor or make your own.

You don't have to buy decorations for a great party! Here are two creative ideas you can use to give your event a more festive feel:

  • Glitter–festooned pinecones make amazing decorations for holiday parties. Leave them loose or keep them in glass jars for a cheap and easy solution.
  • Ribbon, holiday print fabric, candles, and other items (think: plastic reindeer indoors?) can be an easy, inexpensive way to brighten a room.

DON'T Go overboard with gift-giving.

You don't necessarily need to buy gifts for your guests. If you have a budget for party favors, and are hosting, that's probably sufficient. If you think it's more satisfying to exchange gifts, put a dollar limit on spending. Drawing names or holding a white elephant gift exchange or a Yankee swap can also reduce the financial pressure on everyone involved.

DON'T Skip a retirement account contribution to "free up" more room in your holiday budget.

Finally, even if you don't go into debt, don't skip out on other financial goals. You might think it's okay to skip a retirement contribution to free up more room in your budget. It's not. Don't get in the habit of skipping out on your future goals to pay for short–term pleasure.

Holiday entertaining is a blast, but don't break the bank—or put your future in doubt—to do it.

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The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Neither Fidelity Investments nor your employer can guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any statements or data.
Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917.
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