After New Year’s Day, the first big event of the year is the Super Bowl. But with the COVID-19 pandemic at its peak, large indoor parties are officially off-limits in many parts of the United States, and they’re risky pretty much everywhere. According to the National Retail Federation, only 3% of 2021 Super Bowl Spending Survey respondents planned to watch at a restaurant or bar this year.
But the game is still going on, and for many Americans, it’s an excellent reason to spend time with their household members and pandemic pods. And they still planned to spend around $75 on parties this year, including almost $58 on food and beverages. But given what we know about the best-laid plans, it’s easy to go overboard, racking up expenses in the $200 range before you know it, especially if alcohol is involved.
If you’re looking forward to this all-American occasion as a welcome break from the gloom of the past year, you don’t need a couple of hundred dollars to celebrate it. 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 football game, so your primary job as a host is to give your guests a comfortable place to watch it. Fortunately, that 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 too. 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.
Once you have the room clean, you can arrange it for the main event: watching the game. It’s 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 various social activities, such as conversation or board games. However, you need an arrangement that gives everyone a satisfactory view of the TV for this event. Shift the furniture around as necessary so every seat in the house is a good seat.
If you don’t have enough seating for all your guests, bring in some chairs from other rooms or ask some of your guests to bring folding chairs for the event.
If you’re planning to invite people to your party who aren’t in your pandemic pod, take some extra precautions to provide seating for everyone while maintaining social distance. Get the tape measure and space out rows or blocks of seats at least 6 feet apart. That way, members of the same family can sit together while staying at a safe distance from other guests.
If you live in an area with mild weather, you can even use an extension cord to move the TV outdoors. Outdoor gatherings are safer during the pandemic because they allow germs to dissipate. If you have to hold your party indoors, open windows and doors — weather permitting — to improve ventilation in the room.
The other primary activity at a Super Bowl party is eating, so set up tables to give all your guests easy access to the food. This year, it’s vital you arrange tables so people don’t have to crowd together as they fill their plates.
Rather than placing a single buffet table in the back of the TV room, set up several small tables with different snacks and drinks. That allows your guests to walk around at a safe distance as they help themselves to one refreshment at a time.
For example, you can set up one small table near the eating area with all the dishes and silverware your guests will need. Then you can have a series of small tables with various party treats, such as nachos, hot dogs, and cupcakes, and a cooler filled with ice and drinks. Don’t forget to provide a trash can nearby for waste.
3. Decorate on the Cheap
Technically, there’s no need to buy any decorations for your party. Of course, party retailers and Amazon vendors 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 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 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 various colors and only cost a few bucks.
Plates and utensils are also available from the dollar store, though not necessarily in team colors. In a normal year, you could avoid spending money on these disposable goods entirely by just using whatever dishes and silverware you already have at home. And if you’re sticking to your household members or pandemic pod, that’s still prudent advice.
However, during the pandemic, disposable plates and utensils are a safer way to go. It’s much easier to take out one bag of trash after your party than to worry about scrubbing your hands each time you handle your guests’ used dishes.
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 6:30pm, 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. If you’re having a smaller gathering or want to make things easy, consider ordering pizza or a spread of appetizers through DoorDash.
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.
And clustering people together is also a recipe for spreading germs — always a problem in the winter and an even bigger one in the middle of a pandemic.
You can enjoy the game more with just a few carefully chosen friends who all get along well or even just your pandemic pod or immediate household. You’ll all have plenty of room to spread out without making anyone uncomfortable. 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 finger foods don’t come cheap. You can save a lot of money by preparing your game day food at home. And cooking for a crowd doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Many suitable Super Bowl foods are easy to make yourself, including:
- Fruit or Vegetable Trays. Why shell out money for a tray of veggies 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. Or make the ultimate cream cheese nacho dip using Mexican blend and pepper jack and spiking it with smoky spices, tomatoes, jalapenos, green onions, black olives, and cilantro. If you’re not a fan of cream cheese, go with a simple five-minute nacho dip that uses a roux to maintain the cheesy consistency.
- Hot Wings. It’s easier than you think to cook up spicy chicken wings at home. Just toss the wings in vegetable oil, coat them in a spice rub, and bake them at high heat until they’re crispy and golden brown. Traditional hot sauce-based Buffalo wings and lemon pepper wings are two popular choices.
- 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 beef stew, 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.
To keep your DIY food pandemic-safe, wash your hands well both before preparing it and before serving it. When you arrange food on trays, spread them far enough apart that your guests can easily pick up one carrot or cluster of grapes without touching the others. Include a bottle of hand sanitizer on each of the food tables for people to use before handling any shared utensils.
6. Use Frozen Foods
Cooking from scratch doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Many kinds of party fare, including pizzas, meatballs, potato skins, and mini-quiches, are available in the supermarket’s frozen food aisle. 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. So were three of the top 11 choices in a 2019 test by Consumer Reports.
Alternatively, buy online and elevate your game. Beef jerky flower bouquets from the Manly Man Company are sure to get your guests buzzing (and snacking).
7. Choose Store Brands
When it comes to snacks like cookies, chips, and pretzels, 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 and the halftime festivities, not read the label on a bag of chips.
8. Go Potluck
If you don’t have the time or 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 the 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 — and you end up with five bowls of guacamole or five trays of brownies. 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 Vox article 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, but it also 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 that 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 standard 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. 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. Kids attending the party don’t feel like they’re being left out of the fun. And you don’t have to worry about keeping an eye on your guests’ consumption to make sure they can drive home safely.
And this year, it may mean increased pandemic safety, according to the World Health Organization. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, making you more likely to take risks like removing your mask or invading other people’s social distance sphere.
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 has to cook dinner for the winner — while wearing the winning team’s jersey.
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 the rest to serve as dinners and lunches during the following week.