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Sticking to your budget doesn’t mean you can’t throw a big festive party. A little planning and creativity can go a long way.

Holiday | Financial Literacy

Holiday hosting: Tips to stick to your entertaining budget

CPA Canada survey says majority of Canadians expect to spend less than $400 on hosting. It’s possible and the experts show us how.

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A successful holiday party starts with good planning. From the time you start jotting names on your invitation list until dessert is served, there’s one thing that will make it especially jolly: keeping to your budget.

Most Canadians do seem inclined to keep holiday spending in check this year, according to the CPA Canada 2018 Canadian Holiday Spending Survey. The majority of survey respondents said they expect to spend less than $400 on entertaining.

But the holidays make us want to spoil people and be celebratory, says Rona Birenbaum, a certified financial planner in Toronto. “You could easily spend $400 just on food,” she says. “And entertaining could include things like decor, invitations, gifts, refreshments and tableware.”


Sticking to your $400 budget doesn’t mean you can’t throw a big festive party. Here’s how to get the most bang for your hard-earned bucks:


Sit down at the beginning of the season and look at your calendar, says B.C.-based food stylist Lisa Bolton and author of the cookbook, On Boards. Know when and how many times you’re hosting a party, or when you might need to bring something to a potluck.

The simplest way to track your expenses is to take pen to paper, says Birenbaum. When you create a budget, it forces you to think through all the possible costs for holiday entertaining. 

“If $400 is your budget, break it down into the various categories,” she advises. “Then as you shop, keep your receipts—if you go over budget on food, you need to make accommodations on other categories.”


Focus on having one star of the show, says Bolton, who is no stranger to hosting December events. For example, instead of a cheese board with three expensive options, pick one interesting cheese and choose other modest components (such as olives or bread), which don’t compete with the star. 

“Buy inexpensive baguettes and use them as crackers by cutting them thin and putting them into the oven,” she adds. “At the deli, ask for meat to be sliced as thin as possible to give you lots of slices for charcuterie.” Vegetables can also be a great inexpensive filler by cutting and arranging them nicely, she adds.

Starting events later usually means people don’t expect dinner—so you can plan to put out less food. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring something. People don’t like to come empty-handed so, if you can give them a specific dish to bring, it will make the experience better for both of you. 


“Taking the time to make something beautiful doesn’t cost a lot of money and can really up the wow factor of your holiday entertaining,” Bolton says. 

For decor, she suggests looking outside at this time of year. Snipping evergreens and picking up pinecones and placing them around a table of food is an inexpensive way to add holiday flair. You can even roll out a piece of butcher paper on your coffee table and build a cheese board right on top.

If you want a funkier and even less expensive solutions to renting dishes, Birenbaum recommends going to a thrift store. “Pick up a bunch of mismatched wine glasses, martini glasses and plates. If you have everything mismatched, it actually creates a style all by itself—and they could be 25 cents each.”

Birenbaum says having the right mindset is key.

“What’s most valuable when you’re entertaining for holidays is the people who are there—and that they’re gathered together,” she says. “Most guests are just happy to be invited and happy to be spending time with their friends and family. Going over the top doesn’t make it a better party.”


Find some great gift ideas for the accountant in your life, while keeping to your gift budget. And learn how much Canadians are planning to spend on presents this year.