12 Ways to a Frugal New Year

The end of the year is just around the corner, and with it comes New Year’s Eve celebrations. New Year’s Eve often conjures up visions of big parties, a big ball drop, and an off-tune singing of “Auld Lang Syne.” However, hosting a big party can be really expensive, as can going out to a pricy club.

Sarah and I usually host our own small party with a pretty small guest list. We got into this routine after having children and we kind of became the “default” New Year’s party host for our group of friends who aren’t big social partiers or hard drinkers. Rather, we just have a potluck dinner and a game night, both of which I’ll tell you about in a bit.

Here are twelve fun options for New Year’s Eve that don’t require you to just open up your wallet.

Find free events in your area.

If you want to go out for New Year’s Eve without emptying your wallet at a club or a bar or a restaurant, the first thing to do is to visit some local community websites and find free events in your area. Most cities have some kind of community calendar or upcoming event listing on their website, so that’s a great place to start.

Don’t just look at your own city’s website, either. Look at the websites of nearby cities and also all of the locally published newspapers in your area. Take a look at community Facebook groups for your community and for adjacent communities. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to jump into one of those groups and simply ask what public New Years celebrations are going on in those communities.

Rather than deciding on a single option right away, just make a big list of all of the potential events available to you and make a decision later after giving it a bit of thought. You can run the set of ideas by some friends and decide on an event together to make it much more social.

You will probably find that there are a lot of events hosted by bars and restaurants, so be sure to check for cover charges and other expenses. Many larger communities do have a selection of free events, however, but you may have to dig for them.

Go to a local fireworks show.

A public fireworks show can be a really nice capstone to a New Year’s celebration and it’s often a free one. Even if you decide to mostly stay home for the evening, many communities have a fireworks show at midnight and you can simply go out to see the fireworks. (If you’re lucky, you may even be able to see them from home.)

Just as on July 4, fireworks shows for the new year tend to be completely free to the public, though there may be a donation requested for future shows.

Of course, it can be quite cold to stand out in a public park for an hour or two around midnight in the middle of December, so be sure to bundle up nicely before going out.

Attend someone’s house party.

Rather than going out to a bar or a restaurant, see if anyone you know is hosting a party and simply go to that one instead. Even if you need to bring your own drinks or bring a side dish, it’s still going to be far less expensive than going out to a club or bar or restaurant to celebrate the new year.

Pay attention to your texts, emails and voice messages in the coming days and see if any invites come down the pike. You might also have friends that just publicly invite all of their friends on social media to come, so keep an eye on there, too.

If you get invited to multiple parties, it can be a good idea to put in an appearance at more than just one. Just tell the host that you wanted to stop by and hang out for a while but you received more than one invite and want to make it to all of them for a bit.

If you intend to drink at these parties, make sure that you have a designated driver or are prepared to spend for a ride. The cost of drinking and driving is very high, both for your own risk of a DUI, but also the risk of injuring or killing yourself and others.

Host a potluck dinner party.

If you want to host something yourself, consider hosting a potluck dinner party in which you prepare some type of main course and ask others to bring additional side dishes and beverages.

One really great way of doing this that we often use at our larger dinner parties is to just prepare a couple of slow cookers full of soup. Cook them on low so they’re just barely done when people might start eating but will still be fine for hours afterward. Put a ladle by each pot (on a saucer so you don’t have a mess) and a big stack of bowls, spoons, crackers, and other soup extras (which you might have to refresh occasionally).

This is a very convenient and cost-effective way to serve food for a party. Not only does it put all of the prep work earlier in the day before guests arrive, it allows guests to arrive and eat on their own timetable and allows you to mingle with guests rather than hanging out in the kitchen, which keeps you away from the fun.

A good idea is to make your favorite soup and then make your favorite meatless soup, which will often cover most dietary needs. If you know of other dietary requirements (vegan, gluten-free), make at least one soup that covers most of those conditions at once (you can make a that works for a lot of diets).

If you like this idea but don’t have a slow cooker, check out what’s available at secondhand shops in your area before buying one, or simply ask a friend if you can borrow their slow cooker for a few days.

Alternately, host a party with just snacks and beverages and start a little later.

I’ll be honest: many of our friends have children, so our hosted New Years Eve parties tend to start earlier and have a mass exodus once children start collapsing around 10 p.m. That may not be your style at all and you may want to have a party that starts later and ends later.

In that case, just have a party that starts later than the usual dinnertime — say, 9 p.m. — and simply provide a bunch of snacks and drinks. Set up a side table that’s full of snacks and a cooler nearby to keep drinks cold and you’re good to go.

Encourage guests to bring an appetizer or drink.

If you’re worried about the expense of a bunch of snacks and drinks, you don’t have to provide them all yourself. Simply ask those coming to bring some kind of snack or drink, and just set up a side table to collect all of that stuff.

You might want to get a couple of things just to make sure that you don’t run out and to balance things out in case all of your guests bring drinks and no one brings snacks or vice versa, but you can rely on your guests for a lot of the food and beverages.

Host a game night.

For some, the idea of a generic “party” with loud music and small talk doesn’t sound particularly appealing, so you may want to center your party around something to do that, at the very least, facilitates people getting to know each other. My personal favorite method of doing this is to host a game night, something we’ve done traditionally for almost 20 years now. Yep, our hosted New Years event is a game night.

For our game nights, we usually pre-select a handful of games and put them out on a side table so that people can arrive and choose games that they want to play right then and there. We usually set up enough tables so the group can break into sub-groups of four or five for smaller group games, with one bigger table that can seat a lot of the guests at once.

Our group tends to thrive with a mix of party games and strategy games. Some good lighter choices that are hits with our group include Codenames, Monikers, and Dixit. Honestly, however, the games you have in your closet along with a few decks of ordinary playing cards can provide all of the gaming entertainment you need.

Depending on your guests, video games might also be popular, so if you have a gaming console, have the controllers charged up and ready to go.

Another good strategy is to ask your friends to each bring a game they like and can quickly teach. This multiplies the options and gives everyone the chance to share a game that they really enjoy without costing you a dime.

Binge-watch some movies with your partner and/or some close friends.

Another option is to have a movie night or a “binge watch” night where people get together to simply watch a movie or two or to binge watch a season of a series. For example, I know of a group that’s getting together on New Year’s Eve starting in the afternoon to binge watch the latest season of The Expanse together with a meal in the middle, snacks throughout, and a break at midnight for the ball drop.

This one’s a great option if you just want to stay home by yourself or with a partner. New Year’s Eve is a great time to stay up late and watch a movie series or binge-watch an entire season of a show on your preferred streaming service.

This can pair well with a potluck dinner party, too, as you can cook some soups in the slow cooker, have friends bring snacks and drinks, and just stop and eat when everyone’s hungry. This allows you to be in with the binge-watching or movie marathon yourself. You can keep it simple, too, and just watch one movie starting at 9 or 9:30, which should end before the ball drops.

Buy drinks at a discount and bring them home.

Many people like to drink alcohol on New Year’s Eve to toast the end of the old year and the start of the new. However, going out to bars for New Year’s Eve can be a really expensive proposition.

It is far less expensive to visit a liquor store or, even better, a warehouse club and pick out your preferred drinks and bring them home with you. You will save a large percentage of the cost of drinks by doing it this way. For you, it’s also safer because you’re already at home and there’s no driving involved.

If you do have guests, make sure that they have a safe way to get home, whether it’s a designated driver or that they’re prepared to call for a cab, Uber, Lyft, or other service. A responsible host doesn’t send an intoxicated guest out to drive.

Repurpose your holiday lights for decoration (or get cheap ones right after Christmas).

What if you want to decorate your place to give it a bit of a New Year’s vibe? The truth is that if you have some holiday decorations and accouterments already on hand, you probably have most of what you need.

Strands of white holiday lights work perfectly as an illuminated decoration for New Year’s. You can easily hang them or place them around your home to give the area a festive glow.

If you have extra ribbon, particularly ribbon with a metallic or silvery sheen, simply curl it with a pair of scissors and you have nice decorations for various spots.

If you have any glittery or metallic ornaments from the holidays, those can also be repurposed. I tend to practically think of metal and glittery balls as New Year’s decorations anyway.

Another nice step is to pull out a bunch of candles and light them, particularly as midnight approaches. You likely have many candles already on hand from the holiday season.

Stick with a subtle decorating approach using the items you already have on hand and you can make your place look pretty festive without dropping a dime.

Make confetti by shredding magazines and catalogs.

For many years, we would throw confetti in the air at midnight because it was so fun to watch it drift down all over the place and made for some great photos (even though it made a mess). However, it seemed incredibly silly to buy confetti.

A much better approach is to simply take some of the abundant holiday catalogs and other recent magazines you’ve received and cut them into strips or squares, depending on the kind of confetti you want. I find that large-ish (maybe 3/4-inch) squares look great fluttering in the air, plus they’re relatively easy to clean up as a broom and a dustpan can get rid of them in short order. Put them out in bowls so people can grab handfuls.

Not only does this give your party a fun “confetti” moment at midnight, but it’s also free and gives the catalogs you received in the mail a second use when they would otherwise be trashed.

Buy noisemakers at the dollar store.

If you want to have some noisemakers on hand, the first place to check is the dollar store in the days leading up to the new year. They often have a bunch of low-cost noisemakers on hand – you can usually get a bundle of them for a dollar, which should more than cover your party needs.

Just put the noisemakers in a bowl somewhere, set it off to the side, and pull it out as midnight approaches so your guests can grab one and have some silly fun blowing on the noisemaker as the clock strikes midnight.

The dollar store is almost perfect for other little items you might want if you’re hosting a New Year’s party, like simple decorations that can complement the holiday decorations you’re repurposing for the event.

Whatever you do, don’t overthink it and don’t overspend.

Is there food? Are there drinks? Is it reasonably clean when people start showing up? If you have those bases covered, people will have fun. Don’t worry too much about every little detail of the new year.

If you don’t feel like hosting anything big, just look for free things to do out and about or, if you’d rather stay at home, queue up some movies to watch, pop some popcorn, and curl up under a blanket.

And as midnight rolls around, enjoy the new year as it dawns.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.