Serve bubbly cocktails. You already know that opting for Prosecco or Cava instead of Champagne can save you about $20 to $30 a bottle. So why not stretch your dollar even further by mixing your bargain bubbles with fruit juice? Add cranberry juice to make a "poinsettia," or pomegranate juice for a "pomegranate fizz."
Explore non-European wines. "South African wines are inexpensive but have a high deliciousness factor," says Alexander Joerger, the wine manager for Best Cellars wine stores and A&P supermarkets. And be sure to check out Sauvignon Blancs from Chile ($7 to $15).
Two words: bread and cheese. Avoid fancy crackers. Instead, dress up the tray with baguette slices (who doesn’t love crispy bread?) for around $2.50. And stick with affordable domestic varieties of Parmesan, Gouda, and Cheddar (Cabot is a good brand)―all of which can run under $10 a pound, says cheesemonger Nora Singley, who leads classes for Murray’s Cheese, in New York City. Finally, don’t plate boulder-size hunks. "If you’re serving other appetizers, three-quarters of an ounce per person is sufficient," she says.
Host a brunch. Eggs are cheaper than steak any day. Make an egg casserole or a frittata that can feed a crowd.
Pork tenderloin? Try pork shoulder. This hunk of meat can cost less than $2 a pound, as opposed to pork tenderloin, which is about $7 a pound. Slow-roast it in the oven, then pull it or slice it into chunks.
Keep your sweets simple. Scatter orange segments and chopped-up dark chocolate bars on a plate or a platter and let everyone dig in.
Bring out your collection. Use seashells from your beach vacation as place settings. "Martha, you’ve got the conch. Tim, sit at the starfish."
Skip costly serving pieces. Serve cheese wedges on a rustic wooden cutting board. Bring braised meat or a hearty pasta dish to the table in a Dutch oven. With the family-style food, the look will be bountiful and homey.