Party food and snack ideas on a budget

August 16, 2019

The best strategy for keeping party food and snack costs low is to host a potluck. Request that your guests bring some item that will contribute to the meal. (Getty Images)

Few activities are more fun than hosting a backyard party or dinner party for a bunch of friends and family, but a big element that holds people back from this is cost. Hosts wonder: How will I provide cheap party food and snacks for the guests, especially on a budget?

The best strategy for keeping party food and snack costs low is to host a potluck. Request that your guests bring some item that will contribute to the meal. Ideally, this is a simple and convenient item that doesn’t burden the guest much but takes some expense off your shoulders. The best case is when it’s a food that the meal doesn’t rely on in case they don’t show, but contributes nicely to the meal if it is there.

Here are some simple party food ideas on a budget:

— Soup.

— Loose meat sandwiches.

— Baked potatoes.

— Pasta.

— Tacos.

— Make-your-own-pizzas.

— Cheese and crackers.

— Vegetables and dip.

— Bruschetta.

— Deviled eggs.

— Pickle roll-ups.

— Slow-cooked mini sausages.

— Fried pickles.

Read on for more information about each cheap food to prepare for your guests.

[See: 20 Tips for Saving Money at the Grocery Store.]


A soup is incredibly inexpensive to cook. It can be made in advance in a slow cooker and is easy to serve. All you need is to set out the soup pot, ladle, bowls, spoons and a few toppings. Try making crowd-pleasing soups such as chili, cheddar potato, or ham and bean soup.

[See: 50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2019.]

Loose Meat Sandwiches

These tend to be big crowd-pleasers and are surprisingly inexpensive to make. You cook chicken or pork in a slow cooker, or cook up some ground beef, put out buns and a few sandwich toppings and serve. Have guests bring interesting condiments, appropriate sandwich toppings, small containers of salad or side dishes.

Baked Potatoes

This idea involves making plenty of baked potatoes and setting out an assortment of interesting toppings. Ask guests to bring one of the toppings — sour cream, shredded cheese, diced onions, chili or whatever else comes to mind. Whole baking potatoes are cheap and easy to cook.


A pasta bar follows the same idea as the baked potato bar, except you’ll serve a large pot of pasta, a few sauces and toppings. Again, have guests bring something — their favorite pasta sauce or a dish that works well as a pasta topping such as diced chicken breasts. Your cost is the pasta and maybe a few key toppings.


A taco bar follows the same game plan. Set out tortillas and a few central ingredients and ask guests to bring items such as their favorite salsa or favorite taco topping.

Make-Your-Own Pizzas

This is another great make-your-own-meal idea, where all you have to do is make a bunch of small pizza crusts and partially bake them in advance, which means your cost is some flour and a bit of yeast. You can have a few basic pizza toppings such as cheese and sauce and encourage others to bring their favorites. This works great if you have people showing up over time, so you can always have a few pizzas going in the oven. Alternately, make a few big pizzas with from-scratch dough, which is easy, and the cost remains low, even for a crowd.

[See: 10 Ways to Save More in 2019.]

Cheese and Crackers

This snack idea is a hit with most crowds and incredibly easy to serve. Arrange some crackers in a bowl or tray and add some sliced or spreadable cheeses. These are easy to get inexpensively at a warehouse club, particularly if you buy blocks of cheese and slice them yourself at home before the event.

Vegetables and Dip

This can be an inexpensive snack if you have access to a warehouse club or are willing to do a lot of cutting yourself. Wash and slice carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, cauliflower and mushrooms and accompany them with a pre-made or simple homemade dip. This is not only a tasty combination almost everyone will go for, but it’s pretty cheap.


A good bruschetta can be very cheap if you can pick up a couple discounted loaves of day-old Italian or French bread from a bakery. Slice the loaves, toast them, top them with a few ingredients (diced tomato, a few spices and a pinch of shredded cheese), bake them in the oven, and you’ll have a finger food that’s a huge hit at a surprisingly cheap price.

Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are incredibly inexpensive if you have a low-cost source for eggs, and they’re very easy to assemble. You simply hard-boil eggs, slice them in half, remove the yolks, use the yolks to make a tasty mixture with a few other ingredients in a blender, then put the yolk mixture back into the sliced eggs. Making 24 deviled eggs for just a couple of bucks is doable.

Pickle Roll-ups

These snacks can be very frugal if you can find a good price on a pound or two of sliced ham. Take a deli slice of ham, pat it dry, cover one side with a thin layer of cream cheese, then put a pickle spear in the middle and wrap the ham around the pickle spear. Slice the long cigar-shaped rolls into smaller rolls or discs to make them easier to eat as finger foods and let people choose their own portion size.

Slow-Cooked Mini Sausages

Often known as “little smokies,” these can be a great cheap treat if you can find an inexpensive source for the sausages, such as a local warehouse club. You make a barbecue-based sauce (or just buy some, but it’s cheaper and surprisingly easy to make your own), coat the sausages thoroughly, add the sausages and extra sauce to a slow cooker, and cook them on low for a few hours until well heated.

Fried Pickles

These are incredibly easy and inexpensive to make if you have access to a deep fat fryer or air fryer. Buy a large jar of pickles from a warehouse club or discount grocer, slice them into discs, bread them with some flour and a few spices to amp up the flavor and fry them. A simple mayonnaise-based dip is a great accompaniment (and something a good friend could bring).

It’s not hard to make cheap snack foods or full meals for parties on a budget. With a bit of creativity, a few kitchen items and access to a warehouse club, you can create tasty dishes with surprisingly little money.

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