Monday, March 31, 2008

Better than a Cold Bowl of Cereal (Part 1)

Have you ever wanted to get together regularly with your neighbors, but you just can't seem to find a good time to meet? Evenings are busy, the kids all have different bedtime schedules, and you don't want to take away from weekend plans.

Well, if you don't mind getting up a little early, try hosting a Saturday morning breakfast or burnch once a month! A few less hours of sleep is worth it, trust me.

When we were a CARES Team, this was one of the first regular events we instituted in our complex to get to know our neighbors, and I can testify that it was one of the most well-attended ongoing activities we had. (Of course, we also had folks who came, grabbed a plate of food, and ran off, but all our neighbors weren't so rushed. I'd hope yours would at least want to stay and say hello!) We were also on a limited budget, especially during the winter, and often only had less than $30 to spend to feed at least 25-30 people or more, so we got creative!

The first rule of any good event is to make it inviting. Serve warm, yummy food! Your neighbors will also thank you for offering them the chance to eat something other than cold cereal or a breakfast bar, even if they do grab a plate and go!

If you do plan to make this an ongoing neighborhood event, one way to defray costs is to have everyone bring a favorite breakfast item, even if they just pick up doughnuts from down the street. However, for the first time, you will probably want to provide everything yourself, as an act of hospitality and goodwill towards any new folks you might meet. In the next installment, I will provide inexpensive menu ideas that feed 30 people for less than $1/person.

The easiest way to serve breakfast for a large group is buffet style. We use various dishes, crock pots, casseroles, platters, baskets with a cloth napkin to keep breads warm, really almost anything will do.

As for what to serve on? At most Dollar Stores, you can find brightly colored tablecloths and paper napkins and plates if you are looking for cheap options for easy cleanup for a large group. If you plan to do this often and want to use paper products, the cheapest option is to go to a warehouse store and buy the extra-large quantity paper goods they sell to small businesses. I liven up plain forks, knives and plates with festive napkins.

But, if you are hosting the event in your home and have the space (and the dishes), or if you just want to be more environmentally friendly and economical, feel free to set up a buffet on your kitchen counter with real plates--just make sure you recruit some help with washing the dishes!

Once you have gotten to know your neighbors a little better, and you want to keep the Saturday brunch time going, another option is to rotate the location--and the hosts! Perhaps you'll want to spend one Saturday morning together at the park and serve bagels and cream cheese or bring along some biscuits, butter, and jam. Bring along a cooler with bottled juices or a thermos.

If you know your neighbors REALLY well, why not make it even more casual and relaxing by letting the kids come over in their pajamas? Make it reminiscent of a Saturday morning when you were a kid and had all the time in the world. If you are hosting the brunch in your home, you can put in some DVD's of appropriate children's cartoons, perhaps some classics that even the adults might appreciate.

These are some simple tips for a fabulous, yet frugal, Saturday morning breakfast event. If you decide to do something like this for your neighbors, or have in the past, please tell us about it in the comments or e-mail me with pictures!

In my next installment: More Breakfast Menu Ideas!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Baby Shower for Adopted Little Girl

I saw these beautiful photos at Katie Prentiss Photography from a recent baby shower for a little girl adopted from China, and I thought they were simply inspiring!

I'm not sure how much these cute take-out box favors and gorgeous cake cost, but I'm sure you could make something similar with a little ingenuity. I bet your local bakery would attempt a similar cake if you are wary of attempting it yourself. Or, you could just press real flowers onto chocolate icing.

For the favors, you can buy similar boxes at Michael's (or ask your local restaurant for free ones if you dare!) and decorate with computer-printed labels.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cheap, Creative Centerpieces

Well, it's time for spring and that means fresh ideas for brightening up our tables and party buffets with some simple, easy decorating ideas. Easter's over, so this year the bunnies and eggs might have to be put up a bit sooner than usual, but that's okay. There are plenty of other options available!

One way to recycle grocery paper bags: spring "Basket" Boquets from Martha's site via Petit Elephant.

For evening any time of the year, the new Celebrations editor at Real Simple's blog, Jennifer Sbranti, of Hostess with the Mostess, shares ideas for creative candlescapes.

Also, upon searching through the Real Simple archives, I found these great "60-second centerpieces," for all those times when you have someone coming over and you realize that even though the center of your table is clean (at least), it is also bare and devoid of all warmth.

Pillar Candles Classic. And if you're like me, you always have too many candles stored around the house anyway.

Two kinds of fruit Maybe lemons and limes for spring color?

Carnations and a Salad Bowl (Think pink or white for spring!)

Plus, here's 17 more ways to dress up a table. Though meant for more wintry themes, they are easily adaptable. My favorites are using bottles of brightly colored soda, candy in a vase (leftover Easter jelly beans, anyone?), limes, and the ever-simple water and apples.

Hello again!

I'm just realizing this is becoming a collective of all the great frugal party ideas out there on the web. I am trying to fit in as many different types oF categories as I can, so that you can more easily find what you are looking for. I may group one or more ideas together on one post, but I will try to include multiple labels so that you can find it when you need to. Soon, I will also be installing a Google search button so that you can more easily find helpful hints and tips on the blog.

As I get back into planning my own events this summer, I hope to include more of my own advice and experience as the weeks go by. For now, I might be digging through the archives of my little head to try and remember some of my favorites from the past.

Again, if you have questions you would like answered or have suggestions for the site, please e-mail me! Thanks!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Carnation Garland

Although some of the beautiful edibles showcased in this baby shower post at Bluelines may be a bit out of our frugal price ranges (though I'm sure you could make many of the foods at home), there was one idea that caught my eye.

Cindy DiPrima, a stylist, crafted this beautiful flower garland from some cheap carnations. You could also use silk flowers or homemade paper flowers and achieve the same effect, I think. What a beautiful way to honor the soon-to-be mom (or a birthday girl, or a grandmother, or a bride-to-be!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Q&A: Debt-Free Party

Amy at The Motherload asks her readers for help:

In honor of our final payment to the company, I am going to have a wild and crazy party (within our means, of course). I was wondering if anyone had any fun ways to celebrate ridding yourself of credit card debt? I am looking for fun party ideas- cheesy ideas, wild ideas, symbolic ideas for celebrating.

Remember, this is a party that has been four years in the making! I am ready to party like it's 1999...or um, something like that but a little bit hipper.

I can't wait to get your feedback and ideas!

Now this is a party idea that perfectly fits the theme of this blog: a frugal celebration of ending debt!

Here are my suggestions:

Throw a "thank-you" party for everyone along the way who helped you out of debt. Perhaps these were encouraging friends and family, a financial advisor, or even your sister-in-law who loaned you money once or the friend who suggested the book or website that led you along the road to financial freedom.

Theme Idea: Man Doesn't Live on "Bread" Alone
Dinner suggestions: pita bread and dips, sandwiches (maybe some soup, depending), bread pudding for dessert
This doesn't have to cost much at all, especially if you buy bread on sale or make your own, but it would be a great way to thank all of those who have helped you meet your goals.

Raid thrift/Goodwill stores for old games with play money, or just print your own. It might be spring-like weather then, so if you are throwing the party outside, tie/staple/tape the play money to strings and hang them over the branches. Or, make a banner with the play money.

Activities could include, what else but money-themed board games?! (Monopoly, Life, Settlers of Catan, etc.) If you don't have any, check around on your local Freecycle or at thrift stores. Some people have way too many games and would be glad to get rid of theirs!

Also, at the end of the night, especially if the party is outside, you could ceremoniously BURN your old credit card that you finally paid off. Doesn't that feel good?

If you have any others you'd like to share with Amy, please post them at her blog!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Mad Hatter Would Be Proud

Elizabeth over at A Purposed Life wrote in to share with us her latest celebration of her daughter's 6th birthday: a tea party for under $35!

I love the idea that the little girls can take home their own teacups, which means the next time they get together, they can have a tea party of their own!

She also made individual cupcake holders out of glasses and decorated them with cute blue and brown polka dot ribbon. In fact, she used grosgrain ribbon throughout the decor! She even snazzed up a plain bowl with ribbon!

(If you are looking for an inexpensive ribbon resource, I buy mine at Garden Ridge when it goes on sale for $.25/roll and dig through the bins until I find ones I like. My husband wonders why I have so much ribbon stockpiled, but this is one of the reasons!)

Be sure to visit Elizabeth's blog to see more of her tea party ideas, including pretty pictures!

More ABC Block party ideas

From the small object, this wonderful alphabet ribbon. She uses it to label cloth napkins, but it might also be nice on a shirt...just spell out the child's name letter by letter! You could use iron-on transfer paper or just good old hot glue. Very cute! As seen on sk*rt.

Something else I thought about for the block birthday party, but didn't execute (because I left the blocks at home!) was using wooden alphabet blocks in cylyndrical vases on the table. You probably have both (or at least a large glass bowl) available already, and it would make a quick and easy (and cheap) centerpiece for almost any kid's party.

(Photo from jek at flickr. Love her photos! Go check them out)

Birthday Decorations: ABC Block Theme

Here are some more photos from our son's first birthday party.

Inspiration: Homemade Caramel Cake from Great-Grandmother

I have no idea of the recipe, but I imagine you could use these ABC block cake instructions.

Napkins, from Target

I chose brightly colored squares to imitate the "block" theme and incorporated the same colors throughout the party with brightly colored plates, forks, spoons, and streamers from Party City/Hobby Lobby. I also used a rainbow blanket (thanks, Jen!) as a table runner to add color.

ABC Block Decorations

Aunt E made these cute oversized blocks using free boxes from target, lots of packing tape, the back side of some wrapping paper, brightly colored foam, and hot glue. She used our little guy's initials and varied the size of the blocks. A very inexpensive, fun idea for block party decorations!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Twice the Fun

Whitney from I Know a Mom recently hosted a baby shower for a friend who is expecting twins.

She shares her inexpensive and elegant ideas for a tablescape decoration using peas! ($3 for 3 bags)

The theme? "Two Peas, One Pod" Brilliant! Be sure to check out her beautiful photos.

Pretty Parties

Design Mom recently threw a Pretty Blue Party for her daughter.

I especially liked the mini strawberry shortcakes.

She also includes this photo of these water bottles from a recent family baby shower. These labels could be adapted for almost any party and made on the computer! Brilliant idea!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

DIY Birthday Shirt and Bib

Just a few weeks ago, our son celebrated his first birthday. In honor of the occasion, my sisters-in-law and I came up with some crafty projects. Here are the first two, with basic intructions that you can adapt for your own use.

First Birthday Shirt
Long-sleeve 12 month tee, $1.99 from Target clearance rack
Fabric from old shirt, free from Aunt Amy's closet
Needle and thread, free from Grandpa

Draw the number or shape you wish to use on a piece of paper. Trace onto fabric with pencil. Cut fabric 1/4" larger than design all the way around. Iron the edge so there is a crease all the way around. Sew on using embroidery stich of your choice, beginning from underside of fabric. Even for a novice seamstress like myself, it will at least last through one wearing and possibly at least one washing!

Cupcake Bib
Designed by Amy Redd

Plain bib, $1 from Hobby Lobby
Colored felt, from Hobby Lobby
Needle and thread, again, free
Hot glue and glue gun

Trace out the design you would like to create on construction paper as a guide. Then, cut out the shapes and trace onto felt. Cut out all the assorted felt pieces you will be using and include a backing piece that it about 1/4" larger than the total design. Stitch the pieces to the background piece, and use hot glue to attach the design to the bib.

Amy created a simple cupcake design by putting a white icing shape and yellow cupcake paper shape on a bright blue background. By adding a candle, colored "sprinkles" and decorative stitching, she really made it festive.

Don't Worry, Be Happy (And Hospitable!)

The author of Frugalhacks asks a question with which many can relate: "Does your Thriftiness Impact Your Entertaining?"

Do you often think to yourself:

“I can’t host a Super Bowl Party because my television is too small. No one would want to come to my house and watch a game on my television.”

“I would love to have a big group over, but I can’t afford to buy the extra food needed to host a really good party. After all, don’t good parties have great beverage choices and fancy eats? My grocery budget is just too tight!”

” I don’t have enough matching glasses to entertain with.”

“My house is too small to entertain a group of people in. Where would we put everyone? Won’t people be turned off by my home?”

I'll admit that it is often my lack of housekeeping, rather than thriftiness, that usually makes me reluctant to invite guests over. But I also have a problem with wanting to impress others (ha!), and I have been known to go over budget when planning for dinner guests.

But I've found that it really is all in the presentation. You don't have to have matching glasses or fine china or expensive ingredients. Sometimes a bowl of warm chowder (presented in four different bowls!) or a one-dish crock pot concoction and freshly baked bread in any old basket with a clean cloth napkin really can be quite pleasing. In the case of entertaining, simpler really is better. The hostess can be more relaxed if she doesn't have to worry about multiple dishes or timing everything just right, and instead can enjoy the company. Edith Schaeffer's book The Hidden Art of Homemaking has some great tips in this area that I plan to share soon.

Do your efforts to save money impact how often you entertain? Join in on the discussion over at Frugalhacks!

Celebrating Easter on a Budget

Here are some simple yet beautiful ideas for making Easter special.

Motherload has an entire article full of frugal Easter ideas as well as a video on how to make Easter special on a budget.

Design Mom offers suggestions for practical, pretty, and reusable Easter Baskets.

Angry Chicken demonstrates simple, low-cost, kid-friendly chocolate birds' nests that would look pretty on the good china, even.

Nancy at Femina comments on memories of Easter celebrations past and includes this anecdotal history of the Easter egg:

And as far as the eggs go, my daughter learned while she’s been in England that this tradition has a very practical beginning after all. Since the people didn’t eat eggs during Lent, and because the hens kept right on laying anyway, they had a big surplus of eggs by Easter. So, being keen on finding a good use for so many extra eggs, they turned it into a party and colored the eggs and hid them to delight the children. Children are still delighted by such things, and I say, let them be! What could our good God possibly object to if we want to boil, color, and hide eggs for our children? I never met a child who didn’t adore it!

On that note, here's some inexpensive, natural ways to dye your eggs (you probably already have most of these ingredients in your kitchen). Here's a video on the same topic I found thanks to Keely. Enjoy!

If you have other ideas or links to frugal Easter ideas, please leave a comment below!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Welcome to Very Merry Events!

The idea behind this blog is the need for a resource for frugal party planning ideas. With a little ingenuity and a simple theme, you can make any event special, whether it is a family birthday celebration, a summer picnic, or an Easter feast.

The idea behind the name "Very Merry Events" comes from both the song "A Very Merry Unbirthday" from Alice in Wonderland, as well as the idea of merrymaking, which just means "a festive activity."

I have found a new joy in planning events and parties, and want to share that enthusiasm with others. As a Christian wife and mother, I seek to glorify God by showing hospitality to family, friends, and neighbors. By opening our homes and our kitchens to others, we can share the love of Christ through word and deed.

I hope this blog will be a resource for you as you plan your next event! If you have a specific question about a party you are planning or have an idea you would like to share, please write to me at verymerryevents(at)gmail(dot)com or click here. Thank you for stopping by!