Monday, October 5, 2015

How to Have the Best Halloween Party—Even on a Tight Budget

By Terrance Zepke

1.     The most important thing is planning. You don’t have to be a domestic diva or Martha Stewart to have a great party, but you have to have a plan and be organized. Invitations should go out 3 – 4 weeks in advance and you need to request RSVPs so that you will have enough food, beverages, etc. Decide what kind of party you want to have. Will it be catered? Will you ask guests to bring a dish? Or do you want to make everything yourself? I don’t recommend this as it is a lot of work unless you’re you really enjoy cooking and baking and are very good at it. I recommend a happy medium whereby you make some recipes and pick up store bought or catered items, such as deli trays and bakery cupcakes. Expect each guest to consume about a dozen appetizers and desserts. Guests typically consume two drinks during the first hour of the party and average one for every hour after that. For kids parties, expect them to eat everything you put out!

2.    Do everything that you can well in advance of the party. This includes finalizing your menu, cleaning, shopping, decorating, and preparing recipes and activities. You can make and freeze some recipes or store in airtight canisters. Be sure to do little shortcuts that will help you during the party, as well. For example, use cupcake liners instead of bowls for serving ice cream at a kids party. Freeze individual scoops of chocolate and orange and/or lime sherbet in liners the night before and your work is done. Remove from freezer and serve.

3.    Stick to simple recipes that won’t cost much money or require too much time or effort, such as Reese’s cupcakes. These are very festive and fun for kids or adults.

Reese’s Cupcakes

Use any brand yellow or white cake mix (I like Pillsbury with pudding in the mix). Make according to directions and then add Reese’s pieces. Optional: Add chocolate or orange frosting, but they are so tasty and pretty that it’s not necessary. So easy and yummy!

For an adult party, one of my favorite appetizers is:

Monster Meatballs

Combine one jar of grape jelly (I like Welch’s), a bottle of chili sauce (I like Heinz), and a package of frozen meatballs. Cook in Crockpot for 6 hours. Simmer on lowest heat during party and stir periodically.
Be sure to serve a good balance of light appetizers, heavy appetizers, and desserts, including healthy options. If hosting a kids party, be sure to ask about any food allergies or kosher restrictions on your RSVP card.

4.     Another critical component to a good party is ambience. This means decorations, which is my favorite part of Halloween! You have to decide if you’re going to have a theme for a kids party or just decorate as you like. Theme ideas include Hocus Pocus, Disney movie/character, Harry Potter, etc. If you’re sticking to a theme, decorating is largely confined to that theme and you can pick up everything you need at a local party shop.

If you’re like me and don’t like to be restricted to a specific theme, then you can decorate as you like. The cheapest and easiest things you can do is go to the dollar store and stock up on the following items and arrange on tables, mantles, etc. You can find loads of ideas, free Halloween clip art, free patterns for bats, ghosts, etc., and pumpkin carving/decorating  ideas online by doing a search using keywords ‘Halloween decorating’ or ‘Halloween pumpkin carving ideas’.

Here are some suggestions:

I have lots of props I have collected over the years, such as a hand that expands when placed in water. So I put this into a large jar and it blows up like 500%. I also have a skull and skeleton  and place them in jars too. These create cool specimen jars. And I have a fake arm that I have coming out of a closet. I lay its hand on the doorknob as if it is trying to get out. I have one-dimensional card board figures (one mummy and one monster) that I place in upper windows to look like creatures are running about. I have lots of colorful signs I use to line the driveway and sidewalk. I place luminaries between signs and this creates very nice effect with minimal effort.

5.     The last thing you need to do to ensure a killer party is plan fun activities. If it is a kids party, you need to have crafts/activities and games. An example of an easy activity is Creepy Luminaries. Save jelly jars, peanut butter jars, mayonnaise jars, etc. Clean thoroughly and dry completely.
What You’ll Need…
Acrylic paint (and glaze, optional)
Black magic marker
Tea candles or glow sticks
Paint jars using acrylic craft paint in all kinds of fun colors, such as green, orange, and purple. One layer is enough. Be sure that paint is completely dry before proceeding. I recommend doing this step before the party so that you don’t have to wait for paint to dry or worry about kids getting paint all over themselves and your house. Optional: Paint the jar rims with black paint. There are several options for making the face. The kids can simply draw the face freehand and then paint over the outline. Or you can use paper or cardboard to create stencil faces that you trace onto the jar. Or you can simply use a black permanent marker to “paint” faces. Optional: Spray with glaze and let dry. Insert a tea candle and light using a long-stemmed match (like the kind used for lighting a gas grill) or you can use a glow stick which is completely safe for children.

The information is from Terrance Zepke’s new book, HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Hundreds of Perfect Party Recipes, Delightful Decorating Ideas & Awesome Activities. Terrance Zepke has a B.A. in Journalism and a Masters degree in Mass Communications from USC and has studied parapsychology at the renowned Rhine Research Center. She is the author of 28 books, such as A Ghost Hunter’s Guide to the Most Haunted Houses in America, Spookiest Lighthouses, and The Encyclopedia of Cheap Travel: Save Up To 90% on Lodging, Flights, Tours, Cruises, and More! She is in demand as a speaker and has appeared on NPR, The Learning Channel, PBS, CNN, History Channel, and Travel Channel. She is also the host of Terrance Talks Travel and co-host of A Writer’s Journey: From Blank Page to Published. For more on this author or her titles, visit      

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