Tight Budget? How to Have Fun Company Holiday Party Without Dropping a Ton of Dough

Holiday parties can be tricky for small businesses: You want to thank your employees for their hard work, but you also don’t want to blow your bank account (or seem cheap). Fortunately, there are ways to throw a fun and festive event without breaking out the black tie.

Reconsider the date.

There’s a premium on booking a restaurant or event space between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, so consider saving money by planning your event before or after these higher-price dates. And don’t worry about looking like a penny-pincher — the holidays are the most hectic times for many businesses, so getting together after things have calmed down allows everyone to enjoy themselves more.

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Skip the rentals.

If you want to avoid renting a space altogether, you can throw a tasteful (or delightfully tacky) party in the office. You can go the low-key elegant route by decorating with white lights, greenery, and festive floral arrangements. Or go in the opposite direction by heading out to the dollar store to buy silly, over-the-top decorations and inviting employees to wear ugly holiday sweaters and accessories. Whatever you choose, make an effort to transform your space so that your gathering feels like a special event. If your budget allows, get the event catered and hire a few servers and a bartender.

Plan a volunteer outing.

Does your business already partner with a local charity? If so, get in touch and find out how your employees can spend a few hours helping out. If you don’t already have an existing relationship, reach out to an organization — preferably one whose mission aligns with your business’s mission (like an adult literacy foundation if you own a bookstore, a soup kitchen if you own a restaurant) — and help bring some cheer to others. After you’re done volunteering, treat your staff to lunch or drinks. Helping others not only builds ties with your community, it also helps to put everyone’s seasonal stress into perspective.

Take in the sights.

Every town has holiday decorations that it’s known for, so invite your staff to go on a walking tour of your community’s best light displays or seasonal home tours. Afterwards, warm up at a local cafe or bar with hot beverages (coffee, cocoa, toddies) and snacks.

Party on the early side.

Instead of the typical evening event, how about planning a brunch or lunch outing? Prices for daytime events are significantly more affordable, and you’re also not competing with your staff’s other evening engagements during the holidays. Surprise your staff with awards or raffles for prizes like gift cards or a paid half-day or day off. You could also do a white elephant gift exchange or play Bunco with under-$15 items.

Host a sweet happy hour.

The holidays are all about baked goods, so invite your employees to bring in a dozen of their favorite homemade (or store-bought — no judgment) desserts for an end-of-day cookie exchange in the office. Provide beverages and appetizers plus bags or tins for people to take home some of the sweet stuff.