Longer days mean stretched-out evenings filled with backyard barbecues, block parties, and family reunions. And to pull off these parties, you’ve got to bring your A-game. So why not go all out? Colorful tableware, creative service items, and upgraded decor can set the scene and add to the fun.
But here’s the thing: Throwing a bash doesn’t have to clean you out. Dollar stores are an excellent source for summer entertaining and decor swaps—and you can even repurpose a few items from around the house for the cause. To help you get started, we’ve polled the pros for their best ideas for budget entertaining.
“I’ve been inspired by the Amalfi coast this season, including Italian melamine and references to nature, especially citrus,” he says.
Lightweight and virtually indestructible, melamine, a white crystalline compound, is a budget-friendly pick for outdoor entertaining.
“World Market has a great selection of outdoor plates in cheerful, versatile designs, and savvy shoppers will hunt for melamine products during or right after Labor Day for the best end-of-summer pricing,” notes Kristin McGrath, editor and shopping expert at Offers.com.
2. Paper goods
Floating paper lanterns strung over your deck or backyard are both inexpensive and easy to arrange. Continue the paper theme with butcher paper on your table instead of a cloth (no laundry after!).
“These rolls cost very little and offer a rustic look,” says Jeanine Boiko, a home blogger with Okio B Designs and a real estate agent with Exit Realty Gateway in Wantagh, NY.
Kids and adults alike will love doodling during the meal, and you can draw on place mats to indicate each seat. Boiko likes to write the party’s menu right on this paper, too.
3. Wheelbarrow as ice bucket
Guess what? An inexpensive DIY drink holder or planter is lurking in your garage. Give your trusty wheelbarrow a spin over to your back deck and fill it with colorful annuals or ice for beverages at your next gathering.
“Potting sinks, little red wagons, or kiddie pools are other great ways to keep drinks cool during a party,” offers Andrea Correale, CEO of the catering company Elegant Affairs.
Another tip: Place a bottle of wine in a scooped-out watermelon filled with ice. Serve the fruit and compost the rind for a completely waste-free option, says McGrath.
4. Acrylic drinkware
Elevate your alfresco dining with serving platters and drinkware in shades of yellow, orange, and lime, recommends Keffer. This nearly unbreakable material is safe near a pool (and in the kiddies’ hands), yet sophisticated enough for adult beverages.
Acrylic goblets are also less wasteful than paper or Solo cups because they’re reusable, says McGrath. But the key to saving here is to not snap up every adorable design you see.
“You’ll end up wasting money and cabinet storage space because this material isn’t suitable for daily use—acrylic shouldn’t go in the microwave and it sustains damage over time in the dishwasher,” she adds.
Want to DIY? Use those random Mason jars in your cupboard, suggests Boiko: “I like to pick jars in varying sizes and shades so each adds a pop of color to my festivities—and they’re also earth-friendly.”
5. Lazy Susan
Keffer feels a table with a built-in Lazy Susan is a must-have in warmer weather. But if you’re not ready to shell out for a new table, you can simply bring out this spinner from your pantry. Make a simple centerpiece for your Lazy Susan by plucking herbs from the garden and popping them into short juice glasses.
6. Fabulous pool toys
“Another essential entertaining accessory this season is an Instagram-worthy pool float,” says Keffer.
A glitter-filled tube fits the bill, and the price is right (Macy’s, $20). Lawn games are another inexpensive way to update your summer fun stash. A few to try: badminton, croquet, or a unicorn-ring toss set.
7. Twinkle lights
Adding globe lights definitely makes sense if you entertain outdoors a lot, say the pros. Set them up when the weather is warm and then just plug them in—and your deck or patio is ready for last-minute guests.
8. Votive candles
Basic tea lights are a no-brainer for cheap entertaining, but floating them in water makes them seem a bit special. Your can also hit up Michaels for floating candles to slide into a birdbath or galvanized bucket. Or fill Mason jars with some sand and stand up a small taper in each.
9. Natural place settings
Stones from your yard are free—and they make cute place cards when you personalize them with black chalkboard paint and chalk, says Boiko. Or use chalkboard sticker paper with each guest’s name on your tumblers and wine glasses.