After New Year’s Day, the first big event of the year is the Super Bowl. According to the National Retail Federation, in 2019, Americans spent close to $15 billion on parties and events surrounding the game. More than 70% of all American adults watched it, about 25% attended a Super Bowl party, and about 17% hosted one.
Throwing these parties can be costly. A 2018 LendEdu survey found the average Super Bowl party host spent $207 on the event. That included about $72 for food and nonalcoholic drinks, $58 for alcohol, and $48 for decorations and fan gear.
However, if you don’t have a couple hundred dollars to spare, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the game with your friends. In fact, hosting a Super Bowl bash is one of the easiest ways to throw a party on a budget because the entertainment for the event is already covered. All you have to provide are a suitable space, food, and drinks – and there are plenty of tricks for saving money on all three.
Getting the House Ready
The centerpiece of any Super Bowl party is the game, so your primary job as a host is to give your guests a comfortable place to watch it. Fortunately, this doesn’t cost much. It’s merely a matter of cleaning, arranging the space, and possibly putting up some decorations. The last step is the only one that costs any money, and it’s not even required.
1. Clean Up
Imagine going to a party and being greeted by a pile of unwashed laundry or empty beer cans. Chances are you wouldn’t feel very welcome. So, if you want your guests to enjoy your Super Bowl party, your first job is to get your place cleaned up. Fortunately, it costs almost nothing, especially if you use homemade cleaning products.
The room your guests will spend the most time in is the one where you keep the TV, so start your cleaning efforts there. Clear away all clutter, vacuum or sweep the floors, and run a rag over all the surfaces to remove stray dirt. Do the same in any other rooms your guests will need to use, such as the kitchen and bathroom. If there are any other spaces you don’t expect your guests to wander into, such as your bedroom, you can skip them as long as you keep their doors securely closed.
If you live in an area where the weather can get nasty in the winter, spend some time tidying up the outside of your home, as well. Clear away all snow and ice from the sidewalks, driveway, and paths so your guests don’t slip. And make sure to clear a space indoors near the entrance for guests to stow their outdoor gear, such as coats and boots.
2. Set Up
Once you have the room clean, you can arrange it for the main event: watching the game. This is a crucial step in making your party a success, and it costs nothing except a little muscle power.
Most of the time, you probably have your furniture set up for a variety of social activities, such as conversation or board games. However, for this event, you need an arrangement that gives everyone a satisfactory view of the TV. Shift the furniture around as necessary so every seat in the house is a good seat.
If your TV room doesn’t have enough seating for all your guests, bring in some chairs from other rooms. If you still don’t have enough, ask some of your guests to bring folding chairs for the event. As a last resort, set up some seating on the floor in front of all the chairs. Provide low stools or cushions to make these seats as comfortable as possible.
The other main activity at a Super Bowl party is eating, so set up tables to give all your guests easy access to the food. If there’s room for a buffet table in the TV room, set it up toward the back where it won’t block anyone’s view of the game. If there isn’t, set up one or more tables in an adjoining room. Make sure there’s room on the table for any dishes and silverware your guests will need and provide a trash can nearby for waste.
Next to the food table, set up a cooler filled with ice and drinks. That way, people don’t have to go into the kitchen to grab a soda or a beer. If you have a sturdy bar cart or a small mobile island, you can put the cooler on that so your guests don’t need to bend down to reach it.
3. Decorate on the Cheap
Technically, there’s no need to buy any decorations for your party. Of course, party stores would like you to think otherwise. As the big game draws near, they all start prominently displaying Super-Bowl-themed decorations with the appropriate team colors and logos. From tableware to banners to football-shaped balloons, you can easily outfit your entire party with these goodies.
Unfortunately, you’d only get to use them once since anything with the current Super Bowl number is useless for any other event. Even if you choose team-themed decorations, it could be years before you get to use them again.
However, if you really want to decorate, there’s a cheaper way to do it. Just head out to your local dollar store and pick up supplies in the appropriate team colors. Paper tablecloths, napkins, cups, balloons, and streamers are all available in a variety of colors, and they’ll only set you back a few bucks.
As for plates and utensils, there’s no need to spend money on them at all. Just use whatever dishes and silverware you already have at home. You won’t have to shell out money for disposable goods, and you’ll create less waste too.
Feeding the Crowd
From the kickoff to the final celebration, a typical Super Bowl broadcast lasts close to four hours. You can get pretty hungry in that time, even if you’re just watching TV. So any good Super Bowl party needs food – and plenty of it.
Since the game typically starts at 6:30, your guests probably won’t have time for dinner before the party begins. Most guests expect to eat their meal with you, plus snacks and drinks throughout the evening. That’s a lot of food, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. A little planning is all it takes to keep the costs reasonable.
4. Limit the Guest List
The more people you have at your party, the more food you must provide. Thus, the easiest way to keep your food cost down is to limit the number of guests you invite.
Don’t worry that a small party will be a dull party. Filling your home with all the people it can hold might sound like a recipe for fun, but it can actually be just the opposite. Too much crowding makes it harder for everyone to see the TV, and too much noise makes it harder to hear it. You can enjoy the game more with just a few carefully chosen friends who all get along well. Plus, you’ll have a lot less to clean up afterward.
Don’t be afraid of hurting your friends’ feelings by leaving them off the guest list, either. The Super Bowl isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event like a wedding. It happens every year, so you can always invite a different group of friends for next year’s game.
5. Cook It Yourself
Ordering takeout or delivery from DoorDash is the easiest way to feed all your Super Bowl guests. You can order a stack of pizzas or a tray of deli sandwiches, and your local supermarket can supply fruit and vegetable trays with dip. But these ready-made foods don’t come cheap. You can save a lot of money by preparing your game day food at home.
Cooking for a crowd doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Many party dishes are easy to make yourself, including:
- Fruit or Vegetable Trays. Why shell out money for a vegetable tray from the store when it’s easy to make one from scratch? Just cut up some celery sticks and broccoli florets, add a bag of baby carrots and some cherry tomatoes to the plate, and serve it with a bowl of store-bought or homemade dressing on the side. Similarly, it’s easy to arrange cut-up melon, berries, and grapes on a platter instead of paying the store to do it for you.
- Nacho Dip. For a hot appetizer option, try homemade nacho dip. Simply combine equal amounts of softened cream cheese and salsa, heat the mixture in the microwave, top it with shredded cheese, and serve it with tortilla chips. It tastes great and couldn’t be easier.
- Slow Cooker Meals. If you have a slow cooker, you have an easy way to prepare a main dish for a crowd. Simple and inexpensive options include stews, homemade chili, and pulled pork. You can set any of these dishes up early in the day, so there’s no extra work to do in the kitchen after your guests arrive.
Pro tip: Before you head to the grocery store, download the Ibotta app. You might be able to save money on some of the items needed to cook your Super Bowl snacks.
6. Use Frozen Foods
Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Many kinds of party fare, including pizzas, fries, and mini quiches, are available in the frozen food aisle at the supermarket. Heating up and serving a frozen pizza is much cheaper than having one delivered and much easier than making your own.
You can often find good deals on frozen foods at warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. However, buying in bulk is only a good deal if you’re hosting enough people to use up one of those jumbo-size packages. If you’re not, or if you don’t have a warehouse club membership, try Trader Joe’s for your party snacks. In a 2017 HuffPost roundup of the best Super Bowl appetizers, eight of the 26 picks are from Trader Joe’s.
7. Choose Store Brands
When it comes to snacks like cookies, chips, and crackers, store brands are often just as good as big-name brands. For instance, in a blind taste test by Consumer Reports, testers liked the store-brand cheese crackers from Dollar General just as much as Cheez-It. Similarly, testers at Serious Eats found Walmart’s sandwich cookies nearly indistinguishable from real Oreos. And in a taste test at Epicurious, potato chips from Trader Joe’s beat out 11 name brands.
Of course, not all store brands are equally good. If you’ve never tried a generic snack before, it’s worth doing your own quick taste test at home before feeding it to your guests. But if it’s good enough to satisfy your taste buds, you can be pretty confident your guests won’t complain about it. After all, people are there to watch the game, not read the label on a bag of chips.
8. Go Potluck
If you don’t have the time or the money to prepare all the food yourself, make your party a potluck dinner. As the old saying goes, many hands make work light, and that’s especially true when it comes to cooking. If each guest brings one dish, no one has to do that much work, and everyone gets plenty to eat.
Alternatively, you can provide a main course, such as chili or stew, and ask your guests to supply appetizers and desserts. Having only one dish to prepare cuts down on both shopping and cooking time as well as cost. It also ensures all your guests can have whatever they like to eat.
One problem with a potluck-style party is the risk everyone decides to bring the same thing. With a small group, you can eliminate this risk through an email or text thread in which all guests share what they intend to cook. For a bigger group, try using a Google Doc to coordinate the food offerings.
Don’t feel awkward about asking your guests to help with the food. In most cases, people are happy to contribute. Indeed, a 2018 story by Vox says this type of entertaining is already the standard for many millennials, so your younger guests probably won’t even bat an eyelash.
Serving Up Drinks
Along with food, you must provide your guests with something to drink while they watch the game. And if they’re like many football fans, they’d like that something to be beer or another adult beverage. That’s bad news for you since booze costs a lot more than soft drinks. The good news is, there are several different strategies to keep the cost under control.
9. Make It a BYOB
Like food, drinks cost much less if everyone chips in. Asking your guests to bring the beverage of their choice not only spreads out the cost, it ensures everyone gets what they like. If you’ve got one friend who only drinks Budweiser, another who only likes trendy microbrews, and a third who prefers a good bottle of wine, this is by far the easiest way to keep them all happy.
However, asking guests to BYOB (bring your own bottle) can be a bit awkward if they’re also contributing food for a potluck. If this makes you uncomfortable, make it an either-or proposition and ask guests to bring either a snack or a drink for the party. Chances are some will choose to bring both anyway, and you’ll have plenty of everything to go around.
10. Get a Keg
If you’re serving beer to a large group, getting a keg is often a cheaper option than buying individual bottles or cans. According to BuyKegBeer, the average price of a half-barrel keg ranges from about $70 to $200, depending on the brand. You must also put down a keg and tap rental deposit, but it’s refundable.
A half-barrel keg holds the same volume as 165 12-ounce beers, so it’s like getting the beer for $0.42 to $1.21 per bottle. That’s probably cheaper than cans or bottles, but not necessarily. If you can find a good sale on beer by the case, it might cost less to buy it that way. Check prices for both types of beer in your area before you spring for a keg.
11. Make a Punch
Another way to stretch your alcohol budget is to stretch the alcohol itself. An alcoholic punch, which combines one bottle of liquor with mixers like fruit juice or soda, can serve a large crowd on a relatively small budget.
An alcoholic punch doesn’t have to be complicated. For instance, you can simply buy a bottled fruit punch and spike it with vodka, rum, bourbon, or fruit schnapps. Sangria – red wine mixed with fruit juice and soda water – is also a simple and inexpensive option.
You can find more delicious punch recipes on sites like AllRecipes and Taste of Home. For an extra-festive touch, you can mix up two batches of punch, one in the appropriate color for each of the two opposing teams.
12. Go Alcohol-Free
The most radical approach to saving on alcohol at your Super Bowl party is also the simplest: Don’t serve it. Your guests don’t need alcohol to have a good time. You can fulfill all your duties as a host by serving soft drinks, which are quite inexpensive in 2-liter bottles, or even tap water, which is practically free.
An alcohol-free party has other benefits too. People who have quit drinking or who never started because of religious or moral objections are likely to feel more comfortable in a setting without alcohol. And you don’t have to worry about keeping an eye on your guests’ consumption to make sure they can drive home safely.
There’s one final part of the Super Bowl experience that can get expensive if you’re not careful: betting on the game. In your eagerness to support your team, it’s easy to get carried away and hazard more than you can afford to lose. If you want to place a friendly wager, bet some token instead of money. For instance, you could agree that the loser of the bet has to cook dinner for the winner – while wearing the jersey of the winning team.
Once the game is over, there’s still one more thing you can do to save money. As you clean up, sort out all the leftover food and make a plan to use it up. If your guests brought any food you know you won’t eat, ask them to take the leftovers home so they won’t go to waste. Then store away the rest to serve as dinners and lunches during the following week.
Can you remember the best Super Bowl party you’ve ever been to? What did you enjoy most about it?