Planning a Fabulous Family Reunion on a Shoestring Budget

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
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Don’t let a tight budget stop you from gathering the family. Use these tips to plan an affordable family reunion that all are sure to fondly remember.

If you plan ahead, and make the day about making memories instead of making a fancy meal, you can host a budget-conscious family reunion that everyone is sure to fondly remember.

These tips can get you started:

Make preparation a family affair

If you don’t have the yard space to invite everyone to your home, consider using a public park that has restrooms and a playground nearby. Most are free.

Ask attendees to bring lawn chairs and parts of the meal, such as a dessert, side dish or appetizer. A potluck can also increase the fun if you request that they bring a family favorite with the recipe written out on a note card. Ask the cook to share a special story or memory about the recipe, either orally or on the card.

Supply a basket with pens and blank 3″ x 5″ cards so that the recipes can be copied. Or ask a tech-savvy family member to incorporate all of the recipes into an ebook that can be emailed to every family member.

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A barbeque offers affordable food options

Consider barbecuing; many parks offer grills.

Although hot dogs can be an economical option, consider a menu of chicken, baked beans, corn on the cob, and salad. You can whip up a vat of barbecue sauce quite easily by combining equal portions of honey and catsup. Add finely minced onion, Liquid Smoke, ground cayenne pepper and dried cilantro to taste.

Grilled kebabs can be reasonable, too. Kebabs are nothing more than a casserole on a stick, making the meat go a lot further.

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Choose cheap beverage options

Lemonade, iced tea and/or punch are the least-expensive beverage options beyond water, but provide water as well because some people avoid sweetened beverages.

No one wants to see flies doing the backstroke in the punch bowl. Ask around about borrowing a large, insulated spigot system if you don’t have one. Many churches and civic organizations own them and yours may let you borrow one for the day.

When you compare the cost of homemade to pre-bottled drinks, add up the cost of cups, ingredients, container rental (if applicable) and the hassle. For a crowd, it’s easier to go with bottled. Hit the warehouse club or dollar store for bottled drinks and juice boxes for the little tykes. Mix in some generic or store brands with top brands.

Place a labeled receptacle for empty cans near the regular trash can so that you can recycle the aluminum for cash or, if available, collect the deposit.

Keep desserts simple and inexpensive

Dessert can be as simple as slices of watermelon (many farmer’s markets sell inexpensive watermelon), an assortment of homemade cookies and brownies, or home baked sheet cakes.

If you’re not much of a baker, enlist a family member to provide these goodies.

Keep decorations cheap

Make it a themed bash by using one color and/or motif throughout the decorations and table settings.

Check the dollar store for inexpensive table service. String up lights near the eating area so that you can light up the evening as you party on. Some dollar stores and grocers sell helium-filled balloons at a smidgen of the cost of florists and party-supply stores.

Consider tying the theme and color to your family heritage with icons from the Old Country. A little online research can reveal much information on your roots.

Do you have a family crest? A photo of the old family homestead? Pictures of your great-great-grandparents? Scan and reproduce images onto card stock to make centerpieces. Print out copies of your family tree and include your contact information to encourage them to keep up-to-date.

Plan some frugally fun activities

Especially if no playground is available for the kids, provide something safe for them to do: plastic horseshoes, foam balls, tot-sized golf set, or a badminton/volleyball set.

The fun shouldn’t be limited to the kids. Encourage the grown-ups to bring copies of labeled photos to contribute to a family scrapbook that guests can assemble as they arrive.

If your reunion is particularly large, ask guests to sign in and write down their contact information including e-mail addresses, phone numbers and the social media they use. Issue nametags to help jog the memory and keep conversation going.

Write down story starters on strips of paper such as, “My favorite memory of Grandpa was…” or “My funniest moment was…” Place the strips in a hat and pass it around.

Take plenty of pictures

Encourage everyone to take pictures and video during the day. Then you can assemble everything into a video montage and email the highlights of the day to everyone.

You can also use a memorable photo to grace the invitations to the next reunion you host. As fun and affordable as this year’s party was, why not host another?

Reviewed April 2023

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