In The Moment A Gold-Medal Award Show Viewing Party on a Bronze Budget

by Seth Putnam | March 06, 2023

The holiday haze has worn off, and you're ready to play host again. Good thing — there's no better opportunity to throw a memorable bash (or two) than during award show season.

With a full slate of events honoring the best in music, film and television, it's the perfect time to bring your friends and family together for good food, sparkling drinks and a shared cultural moment. There's just one problem: hosting a party can be expensive — especially one that's inspired by the glitz and glam of Hollywood.

Guides often pressure hosts to spend big on chic objects they "need" to complete their entertaining toolkit, but don't be discouraged. Budget-minded party-planning experts say that there are ways to save and still throw a fun party. Instead, it's all about adjusting your mindset and relying on what you already have on hand.

"When it comes to hosting on a budget, the number-one thing you can affect is your mindset," says Julie Blanner, founder of the entertaining, cooking and interior design site "Hosting can really be simple and effortless if you plan ahead, utilize what you already have, and make the most of what you do purchase."

With that, here are some top tips from the party-planning pros for taking the financial (and emotional) stress of out throwing an award show viewing party that's fit for the red carpet, on a budget.

DIY entertaining

Blanner says a formal invite is a must to build excitement, and wallet-friendly options abound. It should go beyond an impersonal group email, but they don't have to rise to the level of costly stationery and stamps. As long as they're addressed individually, Blanner says digital invitations will suffice. Extra points if they incorporate an award-related design template (available free at most online invitation providers).

After you've spread the word, it's time to think about decor. For visual moments that will add to the ambiance, Blanner offers a few go-to tips:

  1. Go for mood lighting. Fill a vase with water, then sprinkle glitter across the surface. Float a small candle on the water and position the vase strategically so the flickering light casts shadows and sparkles around the room.


  2. Set the scene. A few bucks at the party store buys a boatload of streamers. Drape an elegant floor-to-ceiling backdrop near the entryway that invites guests to turn it into their own DIY photo booth.


  3. Display your bubbly. Sparkling wine is synonymous with award season, and placing glasses and a bottle with a white towel in a metal bucket of ice adds an instant dash of elegance. Invite your guests to bring a bottle of their own and stage a blind tasting of the different varieties.


  4. Add fresh blooms. Blanner's absolute favorite party hack is creating a centerpiece with flowers. "It's easy to do with even a few dollars and grocery-store blooms," she says. "You can create a simple, classy arrangement with just three hydrangeas; cut the stems so the heads lie just above the rim of the vase. It feels really full and only costs about $6."

Then, to set the stage for the party, arrange the flowers in the first room guests see after they arrive. Instead of buying multiple matching vases and an overabundance of flowers, Blanner suggests using a container you already own and turning it into a mobile centerpiece by moving it from entry to main room once everyone has assembled. With the leftover blooms, you can create smaller moments by using them in bud vases in the restroom or on a side table. "Fresh flowers automatically bring a room to life," she says. "Tulips, roses and eucalyptus can be really effortless and accessible."

Lighting is another area where you can look to what you already have. If possible, dim the overhead lights and rely on task lighting (desk and floor lamps). Finally, add another layer with candlelight. Craft stores sell candles in bulk at reasonable prices (so you'll be covered at your next party) and often offer coupons for those willing to plan their buys strategically. Use what you have, and don't be afraid to mix and match, whether it's a pillar or a cluster of votives.

After you've spread the word, it's time to think about decor.
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Party games

Award shows are all about recognizing excellence, but they've been known to feature some surprise flubs in years past, too. Blanner has ideas for both eventualities, each of which can be done at home for the cost of a bit of copy paper and printer ink.

  1. Cast your ballots: Lay out voting cards for guests to fill when they first arrive. Seal the predictions in an envelope (you don't have to hire the fancy accounting firm to safeguard them). Then see who had the most correct guesses at the end of the evening.


  2. Award show bingo: Design a simple bingo card that features a handful of big moments you might see each year. Think: someone "gets played off stage" or asked "who are you wearing?" or the real unicorn "wrong production announced as the winner."


  3. Costume party: Create an elegant vibe at no additional cost by inviting guests to come in black-tie or cocktail attire. Host your own red-carpet interviews, or, for a twist, give guests the option of dressing as a celebrity or character in one of this year's nominees. Consider handing out awards for best dressed, most creative, and more.
woman laughing with friends

Finger food on a budget

The menu can be one of the most daunting costs for any host, but it's also one of the biggest opportunities to save money, according to Beth Moncel, cookbook author and owner of Her guiding principles when it comes to preparing more food for less? Save by buying in bulk, use rich ingredients sparingly, and don't be afraid to let more filling (but less expensive) options like grains and vegetables do the heavy lifting. "Meats and cheeses are my favorite splurge, but they're so flavorful that you don't need a ton," she explains. "Incorporate crackers and vegetables – things you can eat with more expensive ingredients."

Moncel offers four crowd-pleasing snackable recipes that will have you accepting the best-host award in no time:

  1. Pizza Rollups: As a more filling option, it's the star of your show – and it conjures memories of when a certain blonde talk-show host treated an entire theater of celebs to a pizza party.


  2. Sriracha Nooch Popcorn: No film or TV awards show would be complete without popcorn. The addition of sriracha and nooch (a cheesy nutritional yeast that's on trend with the vegan crowd) makes this an instant upgrade over basic theatre fare.


  3. Homemade Candied Almonds: These are the sweet and irresistible complement to your savory popcorn.


  4. Double Spinach Artichoke Dip: It's traditional, dippable, and who doesn't like cheese? Including veggies as vehicles for the dip is an easy way to save.

Okay, maybe cheese isn't edible for everyone, which is why Moncel has another trick up her sleeve: Make your party a potluck and spread the responsibility more equitably. "This is my number-one piece of advice," she says. "It's so much on one person if you've got 10 or 12 people coming over. If you're doing it potluck style, people can make sure they're bringing something that fits their dietary needs, and it enhances the community aspect. When everyone can contribute, we all feel good."

Group of friends watching TV together in backyard

Don't stress!

Not all of the pressure to host a perfect party is financial; it's emotional, too. As an expert at managing the anxiety that can creep in when preparing for large groups, Blanner says it's perfectly fine to put the finishing touches on the party as your guests arrive.

Take them up on their offers to help. It's not insincere small talk — it puts people at ease to have an activity and reduces the pressure to carry the load all by yourself. Avoid the mistake of cleaning up before party goers have left; nothing makes guests feel more like they're being rushed out the door.

Finally, take a moment and return to a calm mindset. "No one feels comfortable if you're running around stressed," she says. "Just relax and enjoy your company!"

Seth Putnam

is a journalist and editor based in Chicago. He publishes Shelter, a weekly newsletter about home design and travel.