7 Budget-Saving Ideas for Outdoor Entertaining

backyard party with string lights

Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Your desire to entertain is there, but not the money. Welcome to life. That doesn't mean you have to close your doors and be antisocial until you inherit a windfall from a long-lost uncle or land that dream job. 

With some planning and creative smarts, you can host an outdoor party any time of year (weather permitting) without making common mistakes. Follow our tips for budget-conscious themes, furnishings, and decorations.

  • 01 of 07

    Themes for Cheap Outdoor Parties

    outdoor movie party
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    Just being outside lifts moods and gives everyone a reason to celebrate, especially when you're with people you enjoy. While you don't always need a theme, creating one is fun and can be an ice breaker. Holidays and special occasions like the Fourth of July, Halloween, and birthdays are natural themes that more or less dictate decor and activities. Other possibilities you might want to try:

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  • 02 of 07

    Where to Shop for Party Supplies

    Woman buying food in supermarket.
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    Keep prices down by shopping for party supplies at discount stores and online retailers. Think about buying outdoor plastic dishes, glasses, and serve ware that can be washed and used again rather than paper. In addition to your local budget party store, consider shopping at:

    • Online retailers, like Amazon.com
    • Target
    • Wal-Mart
    • Department stores at the end of the season, when patio furnishings and accessories are often heavily discounted to make room for Halloween and Christmas items
    • Dollar stores
    • Thrift stores
    • Flea markets or bazaars
    • Yard and estate sales 
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  • 03 of 07

    Inexpensive Party Decorations

    backyard party
    A backyard party with balloons. Getty Images

    A theme will dictate your decorations, like a graduation party or luau. If you plan ahead by several months you can buy cheaper themed party decorations during the offseason, such as buying graduation items in the winter. Also, search online for sales and do some comparison shopping to get an idea of how much things cost and whether something is a good deal.

    Borrow decorations from a friend or family member. Remember who loaned you which items and return them in good condition soon after the party is over. Replace anything that gets damaged.

    You don't have to get super-fancy or be the best designer to add some dazzle to your party. Consider:

    • Balloons
    • Paper lanterns
    • Mason jars or assorted glass bottles filled with candles, tea lights, or fairy lights
    • Paper streamers
    • Freshly cut flowers and foliage from the garden
    • Outdoor holiday decor you already have for Halloween or Fourth of July
    • Pool inflatables
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  • 04 of 07

    Grilling and Barbecues

    backyard bbq
    Maskot/Getty Images

    The party is outdoors, which already sets the tone for a casual atmosphere. Keep the menu simple: burgers, hot dogs, chicken—something grilled and easy to cook for a crowd. If you're hosting vegan or vegetarian guests, fill the menu with veggie burgers and lots of grilled veggies for kabobs and focaccia sandwiches. Plan your menu with make-ahead dishes, and if there is a large crowd, make it a potluck where everyone brings a dish. Just keep track of who's bringing what, so you don't end up with multiple three bean or strawberry Jell-O pretzel salads.

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  • 05 of 07

    Furnishings for an Outdoor Party

    decorating for party
    Carrying a chair for an outdoor party. Cultura/Grant Squibb/Getty Images

    Outdoor furnishings can tie together a theme or colors. That doesn't mean you have to go out and buy a coordinating patio set. Fix up what you already have, borrow from a friend or neighbor, or hunt down used or cheap outdoor furnishings online or at flea markets.

    Bring lightweight, durable indoor furniture outdoors for the occasion. Consider using ottomans and poufs alongside garden stools for extra outdoor seating. Arrange assorted chairs at an outdoor table for a charming eclectic, rustic, or cottage vibe.

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  • 06 of 07

    Mood Music

    Friends at backyard party
    Friends dancing at backyard party. Getty Images

    What's a party without music? All you need is time to prepare a playlist of tunes that will reflect the tone and timing of your party activities, culminating with dance music! Keep the music playing by queuing up your selections and shared playlists on Spotify played through your Bluetooth speaker. You can also choose to play a long-form YouTube channel with the type of music you prefer—many channels are ad-free and will play straight for 10 hours or more.

    Or, if you or your friends play instruments, encourage them to bring them to the party for an impromptu concert.

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  • 07 of 07

    Add Accessories

    outdoor string lights
    Paul Carter/EyeEm/Getty Images

    Bright, colorful outdoor party accessories will add to a celebratory mood. Use or buy lighting and fabric accessories that can be re-used, such as round boho blankets that can be tossed over seating and tables outdoors, and then can be used at the beach or to decorate your walls after your party is over.

    Consider these accessory ideas:

    • Mandala tapestries
    • Colorful throw pillows
    • String outdoor lights
    • Candles (even flameless)
    • Assorted lanterns to hang in trees or from a wire