How to Feed Guests When You’re on a Tight Budget

It was my daughter’s first birthday, and we didn’t have much money.

I honestly don’t remember exactly how much money we had, but I remember feeling anxious about all the ingredients I had to buy for the pumpkin cupcakes and hot chocolate bar. When I think about her birthday party now, years later, I remember that cloud of stress and panic that hovered over me as I pulled everything together.

I know I’m not the only one who has experienced panic at the thought of a looming birthday party or holiday dinner.

Since that birthday party, I’ve learned that one of THE BEST ways to cut down on party costs is to feed your guests cheap food. Cheap, but good food. I promise I’m not one of those people whose house you avoid coming to because the food just smells…weird (not usually anyway). I love making cheap AND tasty food, and people usually like it.

You don’t have to make a charcuterie board with expensive cheese nobody’s ever heard of to help your guests have a good time. There’s lots you can make to satisfy your guest’s palates without breaking the bank.

Dip that Chip!

When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we originally wanted to do fondue for our guests. The food budget was not high, and I quickly learned that all that cheese and chocolate would blow through our budget quickly. 

So instead, we decided on dips! No, I’m not talking about the little Ranch dips you buy at the grocery store (though those definitely have their time and place). 

We served Cowboy Caviar, sausage cream, and spinach dip at our wedding. And they were a HIT! Unless people were just being super nice because they knew we were poor newlyweds…but it seemed like people loved our dips and our family has talked lovingly about our wedding for years.

Here are some dips I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner:

Cowboy Caviar 

Sausage Dip

Spinach Dip

7 Layer Bean Dip

Marshmallow Cream Cheese Fruit Dip

Tacos Aren’t Just for Tuesdays

I once had to prepare a meal for more than twenty-five people. That can get expensive! I decided on a simple tostada bar because I already had most of the ingredients I needed. Yep, just tostadas and everybody loved it!

Here’s what I included (and this is how I layer it and it’s delish):

Tostada shells

Homemade Refried Beans (I used a different and possibly secret family recipe, but this one looks awesome too! You can also totally just buy refried beans.)

Salsa (It turns out tostadas are a party in your mouth if you layer the salsa over the refried beans)

Hamburger flavored with this taco seasoning

Shredded lettuce


Shredded cheese

Sour Cream


You could do tacos and tostadas to make your guests feel like they hit the jackpot. 

The nice thing about a Taco/Tostada Bar is that it really is a full meal and sides aren’t necessary. If you wanted to add a cheap side, you could do Mexican rice, but my guess is that most of your guests will be perfectly happy with a taco or tostada.

Pasta It Up

We decided to keep things easy for my son’s first birthday party and serve spaghetti. I thought it might be a little cheesy, but it was fun and the kids had a blast making a huge mess.

Pasta is one of the cheapest foods you can buy, and it’s tasty! Here are a few of my favorite pasta dishes if you want to go fancy with a pasta bar:

Alfredo Sauce from The Recipe Critic – Pair this heavenly sauce with chicken (I use rotisserie chicken to make it cheaper and easier) and fettuccine or linguine. I would also love mushrooms with it, but I know a lot of people aren’t fans.

Poor Man’s Lasagna from Inspiration Made Simple – This is the EASIEST recipe ever, but it’s delicious! Whenever I serve this, people love it, and it literally only takes me like five minutes to throw together (a little longer to bake, of course).

Chicken Scampi from Happy Money Saver – This dish takes a little longer to cook up, but it is SOOO good. I love it!

Lemon Chicken Scallopini from Cafe Delights – Here’s another dish that makes me salivate just thinking about it. You’ll feel pretty accomplished after you whip this one up. 

Make it Sweet with a Dessert Bar

What people really want at a party is dessert, right? Make just one dessert or put together a budget-friendly dessert bar. 

Here are the budget-friendly desserts that I always make for parties or just for my family, and people LOVE them: 

Salty Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Lauren’s Latest – We are legitimately addicted to these cookies. I’ve been making them for about three years, and I can’t stop. I recently started making them as bars, too, and they’re heavenly. People always ask, “Who made these?” when I take these to a party. I feel kinda guilty taking credit for making them since I just followed the amazing recipe…

Killer Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting – This is the easiest and best cake you’ll ever make (that’s a big claim…honestly, I’m just guessing). 

I received the recipe from a friend, who thinks it’s all over the internet, but I haven’t found this recipe anywhere else. I love making it as a 9×13, cupcakes, and a layered cake. It’s also delicious with vanilla frosting.

I will put up this recipe as its own post, but until then, here’s what you put in and how you do it:

Killer Chocolate Cake

1 box Devil’s Food Cake 

Make according to the recipe on the back of the box. 


1 box instant chocolate fudge pudding (dry) 

1/3 cup sour cream

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Bake according to the directions on the box.

Rice Krispie Treats from Once Upon a Chef – My husband took these to his office, and his boss said they were the best Rice Krispie treats he’d ever had. They’re the only ones I ever make because they’re SO good. Perfect for a party dessert bar. 

Frosted Sugar Cookie Bars from Six Sisters Stuff – These are soft, yet chewy, and so delicious. I once started making these and then realized I was out of SUGAR. Oops. I used powdered sugar instead, and they still turned out pretty good, but I’d definitely recommend using the original recipe. 😉

Peach Cobbler from Life in the Lofthouse – You’ve probably had a lot of mediocre peach cobblers in your life, but I promise that THIS will not be one of them. The crust tastes like a cookie and combined with the peaches, it’s like a miracle in my mouth. This peach cobbler is super easy to make, but it takes like a premium, fancy dessert.

Pumpkin Squares from The Inspired Room – I have no idea how I found this gem of a recipe on a home decor site, but I’m so glad I did. I’ve seen other Pumpkin Square recipes, but they seem to be more complicated. This recipe is easy and delicious, another one of those that will take you minutes to whip up, but will send everything in the room asking for the recipe.

I’d love to hear if you go with any of these themes for your next budget-friendly party. I’d also like to know about any other food that you feed to party guests without going broke. Comment below!