Here, how to entertain family and friends, while keeping your budget in tact.

1. Switch up the meals

It’s no secret that dinner is the most expensive meal. Not only does it have more courses (think appetizers, soup, salad and dessert), the meal tends to centre on expensive ingredients like meat and seafood — not to mention the alcohol. So why not offer your guests a lighter breakfast, brunch or lunch instead? Let less-expensive (and healthier) options like fruits and vegetables, homemade baked goods and eggs grace the table instead of rich foods. Many brunch dishes use meat as an accent, like some chopped ham in a quiche or omelet. For beverages, try gourmet coffee, herbal teas blended with juice or hot chocolate with a hint of cinnamon.

2. Pick a theme

Of course, you don’t have to serve a traditional meal at all. Make it a tapas party and focus on appetizers and canapés. Or offer a dessert buffet with a focus on a particular ingredient — like chocolate.

You don’t have to wait until evening for a get-together. Host an afternoon high tea, complete with little sandwiches and mini desserts, or go with the classic coffee and coffee cake team.

3. Go potluck

Combine your efforts with friends and neighbours for a barbeque and let everyone bring a dish. If you want to go beyond the usual, here’s another opportunity to use a theme. Try an international food night or choose a particular cuisine or tradition to take the spotlight.

4. Go progressive

For neighbours and friends who live close together, keep the evening moving with a Progressive Dinner Party. No, politics aren’t involved — the principle is that everyone has a chance to host without having to go to the expense and work of a complete dinner party. Most parties involve three to four courses, and each course is served at a different participants’ home. (For instance, the first stop is appetizers, then it’s off to the next home for soup or salad, etc.) Summer’s long hours of sunshine and warm nights are an ideal time.

It may take more coordination and impeccable timing, but the on-the-move nature of the evening allows for some activity and time to digest. If possible, try to walk to each destination for a little exercise and to avoid the need for a designated driver.

5. Host a tasting party

Sampling parties continue to grow in popularity, and there’s a wealth of tasty foods and beverages on the market this time of year. If wine tasting isn’t your thing, try beer, coffee, tea, chocolate, cheese or another favourite food instead. You can even take it to the next level with food and beverage pairings.

To help keep costs down for the hosts, get everyone involved in selecting samples. Depending on the number of guests, have each couple or person bring one favourite choice and one selection they have never tried before. Have some score cards handy so everyone can rate the samples. (See Host a beer tasting party for ideas.)

6. Swap

They’re not just for the Christmas season. If you’ve never been to a cookie swap, the principle is simple: it’s all about getting variety without all the work and buying lots of ingredients. Each guest bakes a couple of batches of their favourite cookie recipe and packages them up by the dozen. At the get-together, everyone trades a dozen cookies with everyone else. In other words, if the party involves eight people, each person gets to take home eight different cookie recipes. Use these cookies on a dessert platter for your other events, or plate them up as hostess gifts.

It’s the perfect excuse to gather with friends and chat over coffee and tea. Have everyone bring a little extra for snacking and the food is all taken care of.

7. Bring the spa home

We all know who does the lion’s share of the planning and prep work in many households. Why not indulge in some pampering for a girls’ get together?

Skip the pricey spa trips and whip up some spa treatments at home using inexpensive ingredients from your pantry like oatmeal, honey and sugar. Enjoy a glass of wine, a slice of a rich dessert and some good conversation while enjoying a facial or foot soak.

8. Make it a games night

Laughter is good for you, and a much-needed stress-buster any time of year. Haul out the board games or a few decks of cards and let everyone unwind. It’s also a chance for people to get to know each other without the pressures of making small talk.

The prep work doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Think veggies and dip, fruit platters, nachos, a couple of choice desserts or some savoury appetizers. Soda pop and blended drinks help keep the alcohol quotient low too.

Other basic money saving tips:

Keep it simple. Upscale is nice, but fancy decorations, gourmet foods and all those extravagant touches will quickly add up. (In this tough economy and environmentally-friendly climate, they may even be offensive.) Stick to the basics and let a few key items take the spotlight — like patio lights or a colourful table clothe.

Go casual. Summer is a laid back time of year, so forget formal dress — and the costs of buying an outfit you won’t wear a lot. Keep the dress code on the casual side to save you and your guests money.

Do it yourself. You pay a premium for pre-made foods, so the more preparation you do yourself the more money you’ll save. If you’re short on time, spend money on the things that are most time consuming, and handle the simple things yourself.

Buy bulk. Dinner party cooking and baking often involves ingredients we don’t usually use, like candies, sprinkles and spices. Shop in the bulk food section so you can get as much as you need — without paying for packaging or unused product.