1. NIX BOTTLED WATER Instead of splurging on packaged drinks, slice lemons, oranges, limes and cucumbers, then toss a few of each into ice-water pitchers.
2. STRETCH BIG CUTS OF MEAT Pork shoulder is bang-for-your-buck party food: It costs less than $2 per pound and the fat marbling ensures moist meat no matter how much reheating it endures. Season, sear and toss into your slow cooker with a sauce (we like EVOO, canned tomatoes and vinegar); cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Serve straight out of the crock with fixings for a taco or slider bar.
3. TRY DIY TRAIL MIX Create snacking stations around the room with a mix of basics from the bulk bin (60% cheaper than packaged!) like nuts, dried fruits and cereal.
4. SAVE ON BOOZE Sticking to beer and wine can help keep your bar tab low. Many beer brands now offer sampler packs, which means more variety for less money. For vino, consider a high-quality boxed variety -- typically a better value than bottled -- like new Black Box Tetra Paks ($5 for 500ml) or Bota Box ($20 for 3 liters, equivalent to 4 bottles).
5. PICK HARDER-WORKING VEGGIES Cabbage is healthy, wilt-proof and cheap. You can get around 10 portions out of one large head. Shred for a quick, crunchy slaw (toss with a homemade vinaigrette and chopped scallions) that can be made ahead and used as a sandwich topping or a side.
6. SERVE A DOUBLE-DUTY DESSERT In a recent staff tasting, we fell hard for Blue Bunny's new ice creams in Carrot Cake and Coffee Cake ($3.50 for 1 pt.). Laced with chunks of actual cake, icing-flavored ice cream and spices, they're a delicious, time-saving option. To avoid mid-party serving chores, scoop into lined muffin-tin cups beforehand and freeze until ready to serve.
7. CHOOSE SMART SHORTCUTS Go ahead and cheat a bit with store-bought appetizers. Maximize value by choosing items that would be difficult or time-consuming to make from scratch, like Whole Foods Market's 365 Trio of Mini Quiche ($7 for 15). They bake in 15 minutes and taste good warm or at room temperature.
A big thanks to this month's expert, Sandy Coughlin, author of The Reluctant Entertainer.