24 Cheap Outdoor Party Ideas That Look Expensive

fourth of july burger party watermelons spread
Photo: Annie Schlechter

Throw an outdoor party on a budget—without anyone knowing! We have inexpensive ideas for paper decorations, easy snack ideas, and even a fun dip-dye technique that transforms dollar-store napkins into perfect party accessories.

01 of 24

Double Duty

watermelon planter with flowers
Jason Donnelly

To save money on your backyard bash, don't let anything go to waste. This DIY watermelon centerpiece uses your leftover watermelon rind to make a big statement. To make it, hollow out the fruit and add the juicy watermelon to your food spread—then fill the hollow rind with soaked floral foam ($4, Michaels) and fresh flowers.

02 of 24

Decorate with Flowers

poolside table floral arrangement
Adam Albright

Skip the expensive florist and opt for locally-grown blooms instead. Save time and money by shopping at your local farmers market; flower farms typically have gorgeous, uncommon blooms for a fraction of the cost. Plus, these booths usually have pre-made bouquets for sale, so you can take them straight from the market to your party.

03 of 24

Sundae Bar

people making topped cones at an ice cream party

There's nothing like cold ice cream in the summer, and a DIY sundae bar is one of our favorite seasonal party themes. Give each guest a small jar of ice cream and set out an assortment of tasty (and inexpensive!) toppings like sprinkles, chocolate chips, and candy so everyone can make their own sundae. Pre-scoop the ice cream into jars and leave them in the freezer until party time.

04 of 24

Self-Serve Sangria

summer party fruit and drinks on table
Rebekah Photography

Every party needs a drink station, but fancy cocktails can get expensive fast. Instead, put together a self-serve station of homemade sangria—made with inexpensive wine and in-season fruits. With these fresh and fruity sangria recipes, no one will ever know you used the cheap stuff as the base!

05 of 24

Pick a Color Scheme

person standing near party display
Greg Scheidemann

By focusing your party on a few snacks and a simple color scheme executed with patterned paper and pretty, inexpensive napkins, you can throw an outdoor fiesta that looks completely coordinated. Dollar stores typically sell party supplies in solid colors, so pick a shade and supplement with black or white accessories.

06 of 24

Build a Watermelon Bar

fourth of july burger party watermelons spread
Annie Schlechter

When watermelon is in season, it's a relatively inexpensive (and filling!) treat. Build your own summer watermelon bar by serving cut melon with all the toppings you can imagine. Salt is a popular choice, but you can add spices and herbs to the setup for a creative food spread that's easy and delicious.

07 of 24

DIY Burger Bar

july burger party toppings spread
Annie Schlechter

Host a backyard burger bash and put together a spread of hamburgers and toppings that feels elaborate enough for a party, but won't empty your wallet. Invite friends or neighbors and let them know you'll supply the burgers and the grill if they'll bring a side or topping. Plus, this outdoor party is casual enough for paper plates, which is totally a win in our book.

08 of 24

DIY Lawn Games

sw-428386.jpg
Chelsea Foy of Lovely Indeed

Make an adorable DIY ring toss game for just a few dollars using plastic tubing, wood, and paint. It's seriously easy to make, and you can customize it with whatever colors you like.

09 of 24

Paper Pom Decorations

Food and drinks on a table in front of pink wall that has tissue poms hanging over it
Blaine Moats

Make an elaborate party decoration for just a couple of dollars. Make your own DIY tissue paper poms and hang them with clear fishing line ($4, Walmart). Use strands of poms to dress up the buffet area or hang them on a blank wall to create a festive photo backdrop.

10 of 24

Declare a Potluck

fourth of july burger party table spread of food burgers and corn
Annie Schlechter

One of the easiest ways to save money on entertaining is to declare a summer potluck! When you extend the invitation, ask each person to bring a side, dessert, or drinks; by asking each person to bring something specific, you can be sure you'll have enough of everything.

11 of 24

Hanging Medallions

hanging paper decorations
Greg Scheidemann

Hang these large fold-em-up paper medallions over the featured table to create a more intimate atmosphere. Match them to your color scheme and vary the size—they're sure to be a conversation starter! Our easy instructions and free pattern makes it so easy to put these together.

12 of 24

Serve Snow Cones

shaved ice station
Adam Albright

Snow cones are the ultimate summer cold treat, and since they're just made from ice and syrup, they're an affordable treat for a crowd. Make a batch of fruity snow cones, or take a grown-up party up a notch with our boozy snow cones.

13 of 24

Decorate with Garden Flowers

arranging peonies in glass pitcher outdoors
Matt Armendariz

When it comes to party decorations, nothing is better than free! If you grow seasonal summer flowers in your yard, use them to decorate your outdoor gathering. You can even give the freshly-cut blooms as party favors to guests as they leave the party.

14 of 24

Make Nostalgic Treats

whoopie pies made with chocolate chip cookies
Matt Armendariz

Every outdoor summer gathering needs a cold treat! Make DIY nostalgic treats by sandwiching ice cream between a batch of our favorite chocolate chip cookies. Keep the treats in the freezer until you're ready to serve dessert.

15 of 24

Add Wine Labels

wine bottles with custom labels
James Carriere

Sip on the cheap! Disguise an inexpensive bottle of wine with our personalized wine wrap.

16 of 24

DIY Paper Fans

DIY paper fans
Greg Scheidemann

Accordion-folded fans keep you cool and make cool decorations. Stick them in a box filled with sand for a DIY party centerpiece.

17 of 24

Colorful Candleholders

colored glass candle holders
Marty Baldwin

Give jars a bright makeover with a quick coat of transparent paint. Mix and match shades for easy (and inexpensive!) mood lighting.

18 of 24

Decorate with Bandannas

bandanas on table with flowers
David Tsay

Basic bandannas make a beautiful table runner when layered with grocery-store flowers. We love a combo of crisp white and blue.

19 of 24

Watermelon Punch

Watermelon Cooler Punch
Andy Lyons

Watermelon is in season and on sale. Blend with white grape juice, lime, and mint for a refreshingly sweet summer drink.

20 of 24

DIY Party Favors

Sweet Maple Mustard
Andy Lyons

Send guests home with a jar of homemade maple mustard and they'll be thanking you all grilling-season long.

21 of 24

Caramel Popcorn

Caramel Popcorn
Jason Donnelly

Your guests will gobble up this salty-sweet blend. This big-batch recipe can be customized with any nut you like!

22 of 24

Deviled Egg Macaroni Pasta Salad

Deviled Egg Macaroni Pasta Salad
Andy Lyons

Pantry staples like pasta, eggs, and mayo make for one amazing pasta salad. Make it up to six hours before party time and chill until ready to serve.

23 of 24

Peanut Butter Brownies

Peanut Butter Brownies
Blaine Moats

Who says brownies have to be basic? Beat the box with our incredible peanut butter bars.

24 of 24

Dip-Dye Napkins

blue dyed napkins
Greg Scheidemann

Use our easy-peasy dip-dye technique to jazz up basic cloth napkins. The same $10 technique works to create a cotton table runner or place mats.

To make the napkins:

1. Follow the package directions for fabric dye. Add 2 cups warm water to each of 3 deep bowls (stainless steel or glass). Add 1 cup dye solution to the first bowl; ½ cup solution to the second; ¼ cup solution to the third.

2. Dip a folded white cotton napkin into the weakest dye solution, leaving the top section undyed. Leave in solution about 15-30 seconds. Squeeze to drain excess dye. Continue by dipping napkin at a lesser depth in each of the heavier solutions to achieve an ombre effect.

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