7 Ways to Save Money on an Outdoor Party (and Fun Game Ideas)

Budgeting Tips, Entertain

You don't have to break the bank in order to have a fun outdoor party! Whether you're inviting the whole neighborhood for a shindig or you're ready for some great game ideas with your family, you'll love these money-saving tips. Have a blast on a budget with these great tips and fun game ideas!

men grilling at an outdoor party, from FunCheaporFree.com!

Do you love to throw a good outdoor party? You're in luck, because today I'm sharing how you can easily save money while having your own! As you guys know, hosting a party for family and friends is something Bubba and I love to do, but it's also something that can seriously break the budget if you aren't careful.  

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In the past, Bubba and I have not only hosted a BBQ for 61 friends, but we also threw an outdoor party for our entire neighborhood (about 150 people)! How did we do this on a tight budget? Let's just say we've got a few tips and tricks up our sleeves. I'll teach you some of our secret sauce to hosting an outdoor party or gathering, big or small, by finding the best deals on food, and knowing what to serve (and how much!). We'll even share some of our top-secret hacks for keeping it simple. Better yet, we've got some killer outdoor party games that you definitely don't want to miss out on!

Let’s get down to bizzznass!


Use these tips and surprise tricks and you won't hesitate ever having an outdoor party with your family or friends. We have a ton of ways to save money and feed a crowd on the cheap, so you definitely don't want to miss out on those!


shopping for an outdoor party at Costco, from Fun Cheap or Free

It's no secret that I love me some Costco! (After all, I've been doing blog posts and TV segments on it for years…). We love Costco because they have bulk sizes of all the things we use most. But whether you shop Costco or not, BULK is the name of the game. By buying food, paper goods, and condiments in bulk, it gets us a better price per unit, which saves a ton of money in the long run. If it's more than we need for the particular gathering, we put extras in the freezer or pantry to use later. (I'm not afraid of using up leftover party food!) 

We also buy extra when things like paper goods and condiments go on sale and store them in our pantry to use later in the year when the products go back up to full price. If you don't live by a Costco, that's totally ok! There are lots of local grocery stores with annual bulk sales. Keep an eye out for those and stock up on as much as you can then.

For a huge gathering, it's hard to know how much food to buy. Our tips for LARGE gatherings and planning for food are to gather as many RSVPs as you can. Then, have your outdoor party early in the summer so you can store the leftover food in your freezer and pull it out throughout the summer.


Like I mentioned in my feeding a crowd on the cheap post, it's important to plan out your menu according to WHO is coming over for your outdoor party. If we are only having one family over for Sunday dinner, sure, we might serve salmon, steak, roast, pork chops, or a “finer” food. For a big get together, though? We are all about store-bought burgers and dogs. It’s more about the company than the food! Besides, there are simple ways to spice up plain burgers (Hint: my recipe Pinterest board is an AH-MAZING resource)! 

For instance, one of my favorite ways to spice up burgers is by incorporating fun toppings like grilled pineapple, avocados, and even bleu cheese. One of my favorite burgers to make is one that's topped off with guacamole, Monterey Jack cheese, and spicy mayo. As for hot dogs, you could spice things up by wrapping your hot dogs in bacon before grilling them up and offering different hot dog bun options for your guests to try.


party food on a table, from Fun Cheap or Free

I know this sounds random, but hear me out on this one! It's one of my key ways to entertain on a budget. Serving food in a home container, like a bowl, makes life so much cheaper! Take chips, for example. When having an outdoor party, serve already-opened, still-fresh chips in a large bowl instead of opening a brand new bag.

This allows you to serve opened bags of chips that still taste great and need to be used up… and your guests will never know! No chips? No problem! You can also do this with any other bagged items that you like to serve, like grapes, pretzels, and even candy. This also works great for salsa, dips, shredded cheese, and anything else like this.


For an outdoor party, we always use paper plates. They make for easy clean-up, but paper goods can get pricey if you aren't careful. One of our best kept secrets for saving money when hosting is that we DON’T use the largest size of dinner plates! Here's why: The bigger the plate, the more food is wasted because people feel the need to fill their plates (even when it's more than their stomachs can handle.

For the adults, 10″ dinner plates are common but are pretty darned big. So instead of 10″ we opt for an 8.5″ plate or the 8 7/8″ plates they sell at Costco. It's still plenty big, but that 2-inch difference is substantial when it comes to wasting food. For kids, we will leave out a stack of 8″ or 8.5″ lunch plates, or even 6 7/8″ dessert plates. It’s a subtle difference that makes such an impact on the wallet by keeping people from wasting food. After all, if your guests are still hungry after their first round, they can always go back for seconds!


Trust me, I LOVE me some soda, especially that good ol’ DDP (that's Diet Dr. Pepper for you new readers)! And I actually love setting up a soda bar with sodas and fun mix-ins and syrups when serving a small group or hosting a Girls' Night Out. But at an outdoor party or large gathering, rather than serving sodas, juice, or fancy drinks, we serve plain old water! Hey, it’s H-O-T, so people don’t mind!

Just make sure to serve the water in large drink dispensers so you don’t have to refill often (I got mine from Costco, but really like THIS ONE from Amazon!), and make sure your water is ICE COLD!


ice bucket with scoop, from Fun Cheap or Free

I like to keep my ice separate from the water, since it melts so fast inside the dispenser. I found an ice bucket online that keeps ice from melting so quickly, and we keep it out next to the cups so people can add as much ice as they’d like.

ICE TIP: Gas station ice is the most expensive! Avoid buying bags of ice at gas stations when at all possible. Costco ice is the most affordable, so stock up while you are there grabbing bulk items. However, if you can’t make it to Costco and need something quick and convenient, as I shared in this IG post, many McDonald's restaurants sell 8-pound bags of ice for just $1! Even better, you can pick it up in the drive-through! Can’t beat not having to get out of your car.

To take it one step further, here is a REEEEEEEEALLY old post and TV segment I did with creative ways to make homemade ice (and how to make it extra fancy) using things you already have lying around your house! Boy, can you tell I’m an ice addict? Someone call ice anonymous for me…


When we invite people over, they (luckily) almost always ask what they can bring. But even if they don’t offer, we ask. Guests are happy to bring their favorite dishes and drinks. I'll say, “Outdoor party at our house Saturday night! Do you guys mind bringing a side or dessert to share?” (The only exception to this is a birthday party.) But even still, if someone asks if/what they can bring, we always let them! And trust me, it doesn't have to be complicated. Not only does it help you save money, but it's also fun to see what types of foods our friends like to make and bring to gatherings. 

So, to keep things simple on your end, simply ask your guests to bring their favorite side dish or their favorite dessert to share. Heck, you could even add a little fun to this by telling your guests you will have a cooking contest, and one person will win a prize for the best side dish and/or dessert. You'd be amazed at how much your guests would get into this –  especially if there's some sort of small prize or trophy involved.


Sounds funny, I know, but it’s true! I’ve been to parties where food is placed wherever, and there’s no flow, no organization, and a feeling of chaos that leads people to eat more and only grab the most expensive and desirable food. So, to keep this from happening while having an outdoor party of your own, here’s the flow I keep at my food tables:

  • Plates and utensils first
  • Buns
  • Meat
  • Condiments
  • Salads
  • Sides
  • Chips 
  • Meats other than hot dogs or hamburgers
  • Desserts
  • Drinks (I usually put these on their own table)

A tidy, organized table keeps a tidy, organized flow. Now, guests can easily see all the options and don’t take more than their fair share of food. Again, funny, but it makes a HUGE difference!


budget envelopes for an outdoor party, from Fun Cheap or Free

I use my grocery shopping/envelope method and plan ahead the week or two before. Then I use part of that budget to buy the food I need! I can even tap into my “other” budget for big gatherings like the neighborhood outdoor party. If I need more than my grocery + “other” allotment for the week (which has never really happened, by following my tips above, but still…), then I just follow my simple budgeting method and make sure it fits within my 70%!

Budget Boot Camp is another great way to help you work fun things into your budget! This course was designed to be as simple as possible and filled with all the money-saving tips and tricks Bubba and I learned to successfully get ourselves out of debt AND still enjoy gatherings like this! 

It's so fun, if I do say so myself! I'm so sure you'll love it, we even have a 100% money-back guarantee. Plus, you can use the code FCFBLOG for 10% off, just because I love ya!


water balloon for outdoor party game on a warm summer day, from Fun Cheap or Free

Is it really a party if there aren't any games? We definitely don't think so, so let's get to the fun! Here are some of our favorite outdoor party games that really take the fun up a notch, no matter your age:

  • Water Balloon Fight – Who doesn't love a water balloon fight?!
  • The Bowl Game – Set up your lawn chairs in a circle (preferably around a fire pit!) and play this super fun game that your guests will love!
  • Washers – This is a classic game!
  • Horseshoes – Set this horseshoes game up in your yard and see who can get the most horseshoes around the pole.
  • Cornhole – Such a fun game using bean bags!
  • Croquet – We love this game! You can make it easier or harder, depending on who is playing it.
  • Giant Jenga – Take your Jenga skills up a notch, literally! This oversized game makes it that much more fun.
  • Outdoor Twister – Use contractor marking spray paint to make a huge twister board in your grass!
  • Water Relay – Add a bucket filled with water at one end of the yard and an empty one at the other. Then think up a funny way to get water from one bucket to the other. Sponges, measuring cups, ladles, whatever you've got!
  • Sack Race – This is a classic outdoor party game that's fun for kids and adults alike!
  • Obstacle Course – Make your own obstacle course!
  • Minute To Win It – We love playing this game! We've got some great ideas that you don't want to miss out on.
  • Frisbee Tic Tac Toe – Make a giant tic tac toe board on the ground using boards or spray paint. Then toss frisbees to play when it's your turn.
  • Slip n Slide – Grab your favorite slip n slide or make your own using a tarp and have a blast!
  • Ring Toss – Save your 2-liter soda bottles and make your own ring toss! Fill them up with water and throw pool rings around them.

The games really make the party, so don't hold back! They're such a great way to bond and make memories with your friends and family.

So there you have it, Freebs! Seven ways to save money when having an outdoor party. Now, you definitely don’t have an excuse to not host one of your own! I'm curious, what are your favorite outdoor party games to play? Let me know in the comments!

Image that reads "7 ways to save on an outdoor party", from Fun Cheap or Free

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Party on!


  1. Heather Stephenson

    My biggest tip for a smoother serving experience at parties is utensils and napkins at the end! Or even on the drink table. I hate having to juggle utensils when I’m trying to get my food. Sometimes I forget something or don’t even grab them, and I also hate having to squeeze in between people in line to grab my utensils. Keeping them at the end is an easy change but makes a big difference, in my experience!

    • Megan Bowlin

      I completely agree with your tip. And I dint like cutting the line to grab my stuff when I forgot. I’d rather jump in at the end of the line. I usually put my napkins and forks ect. On the drink table. It’s not so crowded and you can grab your utensils and drink at the same time.

  2. Patricia

    For the type of party you have described where you and bubba hosted all your neighbours and provide the burgers, dogs,meat, buns and condiments. How much food per person do you work off and what type of budget or how much would something like this cost, also what part of your budget would this come out of. I really love the idea and although it currently is still winter here in Australia I would like to do one this year come summer

    • Michelle


      When hot dogs and burgers go on sale here (I mean, dirt cheap around the big summer holidays) I stock up. It helps that I have a chest freezer but you can’t beat .99 Angus hot dogs! I usually think 2 per person (including children). It has always worked out for me, as a lot of kids will only have 1 burger or hot dog and *some* adults may have more than 2; so it evens out in the end.
      When I stock up, I just add it into my grocery budget that month. Just try to save in other places (do more meatless meals, buy clearanced items, etc). I hope this helps!

      • Patricia

        Thanks for that I already do all of the above, but unfortunately in Australia you don’t find things that cheap

  3. Lexie

    We just did my daughter’s birthday party at the park. It was awesome not to be stressing about cleaning the house before and after. I also did hot dogs in the crock pot and it was the best!

  4. Karina

    Thank you so much for this blog post really needed it. Love the idea of water and using chips and stuff before opening a new bag. Just to make sure. When you host this even if it’s your first time hosting one of these in a new neighborhood where you don’t know anyone yet, is it still okay to ask for them to bring something?

  5. Madelyn Sonntag

    This is super helpful! Your creativity on the barbecue inspires me to take advantage of being able to party even though I am on a budget. I also look forward to starting my own family and being able to do it frugally but also by taking advantage of everything that there is for free or cheap! Thank you!!

    • FunCheapOrFree

      Awww thank you so much!

  6. Shayla

    I grew up around big families and every gathering was potluck style, and if it was a bbq then it was potluck + byom

  7. Janelle W

    The trick about serving chips in bowls is genious. It saves money and if you had left overs from the couple days before the party that really can help.

  8. Cindy

    We like to do individual chip bags. They probably cost more per ounce, but people will eat less.

    • Fun Cheap or Free

      That’s a great point!


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