The new year is nearly upon us. As always, we have become inundated with television specials that reminisce about the year that was, as well as text messages and emails from friends inquiring about our plans for New Year’s Eve. 

Of all the December holidays, New Year’s Eve is the most surreptitiously expensive, inclined to set you back financially and leave you starting the year broke, hungover, and unhappy. Unexpected cab costs, pricey drinks, and cover charges can add up, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are ten cheap New Year’s Eve party ideas to help keep your celebrations affordable and fun, whether you’re staying in or heading out for the night.

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New Year’s Eve Party Ideas: If You’re Going Out

It's easy to save money if you're hitting the town in celebration of the new year. Here's how.

1. Shop Your Closet

The issue of what to wear has driven many a fashionista crazy. Don’t go broke looking fierce for just one night. Instead, shop your closet.

See what you already have and repurpose the different components. If you don’t usually wear statement jewelry, borrow a necklace from a friend to make your outfit pop. Don’t be afraid to add color; alternatively, consider a simple, chic black outfit.

If you’re a gal, wear your hair differently and rock your makeup. If you’re a guy, pull out one of your jackets, wear some nice cologne, and trim your beard or shave. Pull together a look that your friends and family wouldn’t expect. Make sure your shoes are nicely polished, and you’ll be ready to roll out in style.

2. Find Free Events

Where to go becomes the next problem. If you’re looking to keep expenses low, consider finding free events in town using MeetUp, Eventbrite, or Facebook to avoid going to a random bar or other suboptimal spot to ring in the new year. If you feel like spending some cash, check out events that have a prepaid entrance fee and an open bar — pay once, and you’ll be set for the night.

3. Plan How to Get Home

Perhaps the most daunting task is managing transportation when everyone and their mother is out having a good time.

How in the world are you supposed to get to where you’re going and return safely without paying an arm and a leg?

Taxis and ride-hailing services usually cost more due to demand. You can manage transportation costs a couple of ways:

  • Agree on a designated driver and make sure to give that person money for gas and for their trouble.
  • Use public transportation. In many U.S. cities, especially in New York City or California, public transit can be incredibly cheap.
  • See if you or one of your friends can host everyone for the night — that way, you can all split the cost of a car back to the same location, saving some cash in the process.  

Make sure to triple-check how late your train or bus runs, travel in groups for safety, and park your car somewhere that is safe and easy to reach after you get off the bus or train.

New Year’s Eve Party Ideas: If You’re Staying In

Of course, going out isn’t your only option. You can still have a great New Year’s Eve at home if you invite the right people and make the necessary preparations. Here’s how to fill your home with savory food and sparkling conversation, affordably. 

1. Set a Budget

This seems like an obvious first step, but many people forget to sit down and be honest with themselves about how much they can afford to spend on a holiday party. Set your budget and withdraw cash so that you can spend only the cash you’ve set aside for the party.

Avoid impulse buying at the grocery store by writing a detailed, well-thought-out shopping list and sticking to it. There are many temptations at the store, but once you have a list to reference, it can help you rein yourself in and stay on budget. All the extra dollars and cents add up, no matter how much of a good deal they seem.

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2. Keep It Small

Sometimes hosts tend to go a little overboard and invite the whole town to the party. Keep your guest list small and manageable. This will keep the costs down — and make the party more comfortable for your guests, as well. 

3. Shop Your Freezer and Raid Your Pantry

Holiday parties are pretty straightforward: good food, decent booze, and great people. As such, take a look around your freezer to see what additional hors d’oeuvres might be hiding there. 

Do you have puff pastry dough and frozen fruit? That’s the perfect base for a delicious dessert. Frozen vegetables and packages of frozen brats from your last Costco run? That’s a base for a nice entrée.

I don’t think anybody would mind a substitution that would save money and stress for the host. For instance, if you normally have corn each year, but end up finding a few cans of green beans or garbanzo beans in the pantry, it’s doubtful your family would object to a substitution.

Do you have a frozen roast, potatoes, and other root vegetables? That’s the base of a delicious slow cooker meal that you can simmer to delicious perfection.

After you shop your freezer or look through your pantry, look online for recipes that you can make with the stuff that you already have. You may be surprised by the great food ideas you find for your New Year's Eve party.

4. Search for Deals

If you still have shopping to do, download a grocery app like Ibotta or Grocery 51. Those apps can be used for purchases at Sam’s Club, Costco, and grocery stores. They are also great for saving on any alcohol that you plan to buy. If you have a store like Trader Joe’s in your town, pick up some bottles of Two Buck Chuck so that you have a couple of starters wines on the table when guests arrive.

Additionally, employ some strategy when buying groceries. If you’re like my family, you already know what you’ll be cooking for a holiday meal ahead of time. 

Make a list of essential ingredients weeks in advance. Then, whenever you see a particular ingredient on sale (that won’t expire before your meal), go ahead and buy it. The savings each week won’t seem like much, but over the course of a few weeks, this can be a serious savings strategy.

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5. Have a Potluck Instead

If you’re still coming up short, there’s nothing wrong with opting for the crowdsourcing method. Assign each person to cook a dish or two. Give multiple dishes to those people making less expensive items and just a single dish to those providing more expensive parts of the meal.

6. Have a More Intimate Gathering

If these New Year's Eve party tips and ideas aren’t enough, you may want to consider having a smaller group this year. There’s no shame in telling your family that you can’t host the usual 20-plus-person get-together.

Just make sure you let everyone on the “uninvited” list know in advance so that they can make other plans for the holiday. Better yet, plan to see them at a different time so there are no hard feelings.

7. Decorate for Cheap

Now that you have the food, drinks, and a guest list ready, it’s time to create some ambience. Stream your favorite music via Bluetooth speakers. Bring out old decorations and lights, but avoid using candles unless they float in water. You don’t want anything catching fire while you’re standing in the kitchen.

The Bottom Line on Cheap New Year’s Eve Party Ideas

Your New Year's Eve plans don’t have to be perfect. You’d be surprised at what you can do with some creativity, a plan, and a focus on what really matters: spending time (not money) with the people you love.