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I’m all for pinching pennies, but I love to entertain. I can’t imagine totally cutting that kind of fun out of our budget! I’m always looking for ways to host a fun night with friends without breaking the bank. It’s actually kind of a fun challenge for me; it really forces me to be creative! Spring is  a great season to host a budget-friendly dinner party. Don’t worry, I won’t skimp on flavor OR fun! Here’s how you do it:

1. The Menu

  • Serve an appetizer everyone will love, like bruschetta. In the bakery section of your favorite grocery store, they typically will sell day-old bread at a discounted price that makes for great bruschetta. Pick up a loaf the day of your dinner party, along with two tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese. If you don’t have balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic salt or black pepper at home, pick those up too. These are staples in my kitchen, so even if you have to drop a few bucks on those items, you will get your money’s worth, I promise!
  • For a green salad, pick up your favorite lettuce, a cucumber, carrots and a package of baby spinach. Don’t worry about buying salad dressing, though, as long as you have the balsamic vinegar and olive oil, you’re set. Mix them together with some salt and pepper and you have a perfect dressing.
  • Next, plan your main course. Pasta is a great way to fill up your guests without emptying your wallet. Try Emily’s Chicken and Roasted Tomato Ravioli—it’s a crowd pleaser, for sure!
  • Now for dessert! Even though nothing beats a made-from-scratch cake, you’d be hard pressed to find a more cost-effective recipe than brownies from a box. The beauty is, there’s no icing involved, no tricky steps—just some egg cracking, stirring and about 30 minutes of baking. Instead of using oil, though, try substituting applesauce, and using one less egg than your favorite box mix calls for. The applesauce will reduce the caloric value, but will make brownies more cake-like. The one-less-egg trick brings back that fudgey consistency to make those brownies finger-licking good!

2. Now that you’ve planned you menu, it’s time to head to the store. Before you grab your keys, though, find out if any grocery stores in your area have a price-match policy. Some stores will honor deals other grocery stores are running, so if that’s the case, you’ll want to take a quick look at local ads (you can often find weekly ads online) to see if anything on your list is on special. Rather going to one store to get the BOGO cheese and to another to get the great price on tomatoes, just take the ads with you to the price-matching grocery store and take advantage of the one-stop shopping opportunity!

3. Don’t forget to pick up a bargain-priced bouquet of flowers and a couple bottles of red wine while you’re at the grocery store. You can get really good prices on wine and beer at big-box stores like Sam’s or Costco (good deals on flowers, too!) if you are a member of either of these places Create a centerpiece with your flowers and a mason jar and you’ve done. Even better—pick some blooms from your own backyard if you have them.