23 Budget-Friendly Summer Party Ideas

The Best Summer Food, Party Themes, and Activities for Guests

Luau Hawaiian summer party theme

The Spruce / Jacob Fox

Planning a summer party means it's time to get your creative juices flowing by coming up with food, recipes, decor, and activities for a variety of festive themes. But throwing a summer party doesn't necessarily mean you have to spend a lot of money. There are thrifty solutions to planning all types of summer gatherings that will guarantee all the fun without breaking the bank. Good planning can also help curb additional financial burdens. 

Here are 23 summer party ideas that are entertaining, practical, and budget-friendly. 

  • 01 of 23

    Hot Dog Bar

    A selection of hotdogs with fillings
    Jill Chen / Stocksy United

    Hot dogs are a relatively inexpensive party food option and great for kids too. You can buy them in bulk, and vegan versions are also available. Paired with a soft bun and various toppings like chopped onions, tomatoes, relish, pickles, yellow mustard, guacamole, and shredded cheese, guests have options to create their version of the perfect hot dog.

  • 02 of 23

    Summer Tapas

    Ladies at a table passing around tapas-style dishes

    Cavan Images / Getty Images

    When the weather heats up, guests often lose their appetite to indulge in heavy foods. Tapas are a great light, Spanish-inspired option delivering smaller hot or cold portions for sharing. For the host, this means you can select dishes that don't require a lot of prep and ingredients that aren't too expensive. For guests, it is a sociable, interesting, and varied option. Pitchers of refreshing sangria are the perfect pairing for a tapas party.

  • 03 of 23

    Beach Party

    Beach-themed summer party

    The Spruce / Jacob Fox

    Take your party to the beach for a change of scene. Pay a small parking fee and pack a cooler with drinks and snacks. You could play beach volleyball during the day and, if allowed, start a bonfire in the evening to make s'mores.


    Before planning a bonfire, check with local authorities to see if you need a permit to do so. You may be able to fill one out online.

  • 04 of 23

    Ice Cream Sundae Party

    bowls of ice cream

    Cameron Whitman / Stocksy 

    Nothing says summer like creamy soft-serve ice cream. Throw a party celebrating this warm weather treat. An ice cream sundae party requires an extensive list of toppings. To help simplify, choose a vanilla or chocolate base and then build from there. Sprinkles, fruit, fudge, and candy are fun topping options to start, while not blowing a modest budget.

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  • 05 of 23

    Backyard Movie Night

    Outdoor movie night party

    The Spruce / Jacob Fox

    A backyard movie night is an excellent alternative to spending money at movie theaters this summer. Skip the pricey popcorn, soft drinks, and candy for your own at-home theater. Enjoy a beautiful summer night and your favorite film in the comfort of your own backyard. Bonus points if there's a pool involved.

  • 06 of 23

    S'mores and Campfire Party

    smores ingredients on table

    happy_lark / Getty Images

    For nighttime fun, consider a s'mores and campfire party. This party theme is super low-cost and perfect for entertaining on a budget. Ultimately, you only need a campfire, s'mores materials, and drinks to wash it all down. If kids are attending, there are lots of games you can play that involve the s'mores, too. If you don't already have a backyard fire pit, consider DIYing one for cheap—it will last you for years to come!

  • 07 of 23

    Water-Park Themed Party

    Waterpark Party
    Jay Reilly / Getty Images

    While water parks are a source of endless summer fun, they are also costly and not always easy to get to. An alternative idea is to bring the park to your home with a water-park-themed party. You would be surprised how many options a hose can provide with the right add-ons and some creativity: Think sprinklers, slip-n-slides, inflatables, and more.

  • 08 of 23

    Hawaiian Luau

    Luau Hawaiian summer party theme

    The Spruce / Jacob Fox

    Pineapples, outdoor torches, and leis are the basic ingredients for a Hawaiian luau. Pretend you are on a tropical getaway when working on a budget, and keep decor and accessories simple to save on costs. Fruity drinks and themed party favors like grass skirts will keep the party going into the night. 

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  • 09 of 23

    Farmer's Market Party

    Farmer's Market
    Mark Edward Atkinson / Getty Images

    A farmer's market party is a sweet way to celebrate the bounty of the season. Cut costs by planning your party in a park near the market. Parks offer ample space for groups to stretch out and enjoy a nice day. Simple, fresh ingredients are key, so you don't have to go overboard with luxurious and expansive recipes. The rustic vibe means that a checkered picnic blanket, tablecloth, or napkins will be enough to convey the party theme.

  • 10 of 23

    Pool Party

    Summer pool party in progress

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

    A pool party can be at your home or a nearby community pool. Both are affordable options for summer entertaining. Pack light snacks or fire up the grill, and splurge on some pool toys for fun photo opportunities.

  • 11 of 23

    Watermelon Party

    People Eating Watermelon
    fotostorm / Getty Images

    Watermelon is a quintessential summer ingredient. Not only is the fruit refreshing and hydrating on the hottest days of the year, but it's also great for party decor. Watermelon-shaped paper plates, blankets, and desserts are a fun and inexpensive way to celebrate the season. There are lots of ways you can prepare and serve the fruit to your guests, too. If you happen to grow your own watermelon, this will keep the costs down even more!

  • 12 of 23

    Taco Bar Party

    Shrimp Tacos
    James Baigrie / Getty Images

    Tacos are a cost-effective option for serving large groups of people while entertaining. A taco bar with all the toppings is easy and a lot of fun. Dining alfresco requires simple, delicious fare that's easy to serve and eat—and tacos cover all these bases.

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  • 13 of 23

    Stone Fruit Pie Party

    Fruit pies
    Emily Suzanne McDonald / Getty Images

    Summer has an abundance of delicious stone fruits that make tasty, sweet pies. Peaches and plums are ready to be made into pie along with classic berry favorites such as strawberry and blueberry. If you have fruit trees in your yard, you can have your friends over to pick the fruit before making the pies together.

  • 14 of 23

    Bring Your Own Grill

    Variety of grilled food

    BRETT STEVENS / Getty Images

    Nothing says summer more than a barbecue. So why not set up the grill and ask all your guests to bring along something to add to it? That way, you keep your spending to a minimum, and there will be something for everyone to enjoy.

  • 15 of 23

    Summer Potluck Party

    Smiling friends walking into backyard party with trays of food

    The Good Brigade / Getty Images


    If you are short on time and money and have many guests attending, why not host a summer potluck party? Every guest can bring a dish with them. Ideally, it won't require a lot of prep once they arrive, so cold dishes, platters, and finger food will all work well. It's an excellent way for guests to contribute, and all the different dishes are sure to generate lots of chat.

  • 16 of 23

    Backyard Brunch

    A brunch selection

    juefraphoto / Getty Images


    Opting for a backyard brunch rather than a dinner means you can go for a pared-down menu, less alcohol, and more straightforward recipes. This can all help in terms of minimizing the budget. It's also easy to offer buffet-style food for guests to help themselves. Things like fruit platters, muffins, quiches, and frittatas all work well. Homemade jelly is sure to impress your guests and is inexpensive to make.

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  • 17 of 23

    Pasta Party

    Eating spaghetti for lunch in garden

    Westend61 / Getty Images

    Pasta is inexpensive, and there are lots of simple recipes that can be served cold. Whip up a few large bowls of pasta with different sauces and some fresh bread to accompany it. It's simple, cheap, and easy to bring outdoors for serving.

  • 18 of 23

    BYOB Wine and Cheese Party

    Platter of fresh antipasto food at a party

    Natalie McComas / Getty Images

    A BYOB wine and cheese party may sound like an expensive idea, but if you ask each guest to bring along a bottle of wine, all you have to do is supply the cheese, meats, crackers, and bread. It's the perfect light option for a warm summer evening. If you have enough guests attending, you could even use some of the wine to hold a wine-tasting session with the best bottles.

  • 19 of 23

    Old-Fashioned Picnic


    Dougal Waters / Getty Images

    A timeless picnic can be an easy way to gather family and friends in a relaxed and casual setting. The great thing about a picnic is you can have it in your yard or at a public park or other venue where there are picnic tables, pavilions, and gazebos. Go classic with gingham tablecloths, picnic baskets, and serve watermelon, all kinds of salads, chips, and sandwich fixings.

  • 20 of 23

    Garden Party

    Holidays to celebrate in April

    The Spruce / Jacob Fox

    If you love your garden, celebrate this summer when it's in full bloom with a garden party. There are plenty of ways to have a garden party, from a plant-potting and plant exchange get-together to a more elegant tea party where you serve punch, appetizers, finger sandwiches, and tiny desserts.

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  • 21 of 23

    Summer Games Party

    finished half of a cornhole set

    The Spruce / Lisa Ruschioni

    Looking for a more active, sports-oriented party for your friends? Even if you have a small yard, you can take advantage of outdoor game sets and lawn games that promise hours of fun. There are plenty of glow-in-the-dark options for nighttime parties, too. Set up DIY games, too, with obstacle courses, sack races, water balloon fights, and bean bag tosses. Serve sports drinks and snacks to get the vibe going.

  • 22 of 23

    Cook-off With Guests

    Freshly cooked and prepred pizza being taken out of a portable pizza oven in the garden outside

    SolStock / Getty Images

    You've heard of chili cook-off and bake-off parties, right? How about a summertime version where you have a potato salad, coleslaw, three-bean, or grill cook-off party? Have everyone bring their best recipe or set up a couple of grills so they can show off their grilling skills. Have an outdoor pizza oven? Plan a pizza bake-off! Have guests anonymously rate the recipes and give small themed gifts to winners, such as chef hats, aprons, and culinary tools.

  • 23 of 23

    Fireworks Party

    Friends at a July 4th party
    Hero Images/Getty Images

    Hold a bright and sparkly fireworks party that's "safe and sane" on July 4th or any time during the summer. Opt for fireworks that do not fly or explode or otherwise leave the ground. Or better yet, have a party with solar garden lights that look just like fireworks for the ambiance minus any danger or uncomfortable sounds.

    Take advantage of fireworks displays planned in your community. Host a picnic within view of a July 4th fireworks night or a local event celebrated with an evening of fireworks.


    If you plan a fireworks party, it's always safety first for adults and children.

    • Resist the temptation to use dangerous and illegal fireworks (even many sparklers are considered a danger and often illegal).
    • Be courteous of your neighbors and neighborhood pets who are frightened by the loud, sharp noises fireworks can make.
    • Check if your town bans or allows personal fireworks.
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Office of the State Fire Marshal: 2021 State Approved Safe and Sane Fireworks. California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection.