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How to Organize an Office Party on a Budget

Posted by Chris Fields

office party budget

The holidays are just around the corner, and this is the time of year when human resource professionals become party planners. Most of your employees are looking forward to a little celebration, but from a business perspective, things can get a little pricey. And although parties are great, many employers feel those resources can be better used elsewhere. The thing is, no matter how much you spend on dinner and drinks or how nice your holiday party is, there are always those employees who will say, “They could have just given us a bonus instead of all of this!” We will come back to that later in this article, but what if you are asked to scale it back a little this year? What if the boss says, “Let’s do something different and less costly this year?”

First of all, your budget doesn’t matter. I can tell you from first-hand experience as an HR generalist that I have worked in small companies that had no money and one that had more than a few grand to spend on a holiday party, and in both instances, I learned a lot about trying to please everyone–you can’t do it. Secondly, you want to focus on getting your people to interact with each other, versus trying to impress them with food and drink, money, or gifts. That means you need to focus on fun activities, like playing games like charades, board games, or cards (but no real gambling). Thirdly, you have to think outside the box.

With all of that in mind, we here at eSkill thought we’d share some tips on how to pull off a holiday office party on a budget.

10 Inexpensive Holiday Party Ideas

1. The Potluck. Potlucks are a great way to have everyone participate by bringing a dish, engaging in casual conversation, sharing a meal, and saving some money. It’s not the sexiest thing in the world, and someone is sure to bring a terrible casserole but then there are always those who’ll surprise you with some great food.

2. The Gift Exchange. By having the employees participate in a gift exchange (with minimum and maximum limits), you can save money and everyone can get something. You don’t need a special venue nor a menu, just have a simple gift exchange.

3. The Food Drive. Nearly every company I’ve ever worked for has held a food drive during the holiday season, which is donated to the less fortunate. Maybe you can sell your employees on donating this year versus partying. It’s a great way to cut costs and give back during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

4. Community Outreach. Prepare and serve food at a local church, community center, homeless shelter, or rehabilitation center as a team. It’s an awesome way to spend time together, with the price tag of a party. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Donate pencils, crayons, backpacks, coats, mittens, and gloves to a local school.
  • Dress the boss up like Santa and visit a children’s hospital.

5. Go Fund Yourself. You’ve heard of Go Fund Me, right? This website allows you to create an account to help fund your projects or dreams. Well, if the employees want to party but the company is low on cash, consider setting up a Go Fund Me Holiday Party account where the employees can donate money for their own party. This allows you to save money but keep the party going.

6. Party at the Office. As stated earlier, the venue is the most expensive item on the party budget, so if you party at the office you can save a ton of money. If you hold it during work hours, your employees will be thrilled to get a break, and you can avoid those big liquor bills.

7. No Plus Ones. Well, if we are cutting costs, sometimes the plus one (spouse, partner, friend) is just another mouth to feed, glass to fill, or even gift to give. If you make it for employees only, you can save a good deal of money.

8. Ditch the Party Altogether. Economically speaking, maybe giving out small bonus checks and having no party at all is cheaper than having a party. Or you could maybe hold a holiday raffle?

9. Pay to Play. This is not my favorite option, but it is an option. You could have your employees pay to have a party. And just to clarify, there is a difference between asking for donations versus mandating a charge. Depending on your office culture, you may be better off asking for donations. Alternatively, selling tickets to an event that is partially subsidized by the company gives employees the option of partying with their fellow workers for a minimal charge or opting out altogether if they’d rather not have to pay.

10. DIY (Do It Yourself). Other than the venue, what’s the next most expensive items for any party? Food and drink, are we right? Here are some suggestions to cut the food costs.

  • Have employees bring their own booze. (A bottle of wine or alcohol or a six-pack to be shared).
  • Have the boss cook up some steaks, chicken, and pasta for the employees as opposed to having food catered. Trust us, everyone loves being served by the boss!

If you have any creative and cost-effective ideas for corporate holiday parties, please share them in the comments section.

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About Chris Fields


Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com, and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com, eSkill.com and SmartRecruiters.com.

4 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Izzy Kaplan November, 15, 2016

    Each year, we pick a charity, and everybody brings food, clothes, or even money to donate. A committee then sorts through the stuff and creates presents for kids. At the end, everybody is invited to distribute them. I’ve got to tell you, it’s far more satisfying than any pompous party.

  • Alex Tribec November, 15, 2016

    It’s great to have employees pitch in, but it really depends on the company size. If it’s a small start-up, sure, this is a no brainer, but you cannot expect the same conduct from a larger corporation.

  • Selena M. November, 15, 2016

    It never occurred to me to start a Go Fund Me page for my party. I’ll have to check with my supervisor, but this might work. This way, we also could see if our employees really want the party. Thanks for a cool idea!

  • Chris November, 15, 2016

    Selena M.

    I am so glad you like that suggestion. We try to offer something different and helpful. I think it could really work out.

    Thanks for reading.


Guest November, 15, 2016