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New Year's Eve on a budget: Cut corners, not fun

By LEANNE ITALIE Associated Press

NEW YORK -- It's the party of the year, for those who like to party, but what happens when your New Year's Eve dreams are too big for your bank?

There are lots of ways to cut corners and still have loads of fun. You need a little imagination, possibly some elbow grease and the willingness to compromise.

Among the first things to consider is budget. Have one and stick to it, said personal finance professional Rachel Cruze. Without a bottom line, she said, it's too easy to hop from shop to shop dropping $10 here and $20 there. And pay with cash to stay on track.

If the goal is to go out, look for places that aren't charging extra for special New Year's packages. Some venues may be hosting a big-ticket party in one spot and opening another area on the cheap.

In Temecula, California, for instance, the Pechanga Resort & Casino offers party packages for a set price but opens its Round Bar area for no cover and free valet parking. Drinks aren't free but there's a balloon and confetti drop at midnight.

As for fancy duds, party attire can be rented and trendy pieces are plentiful at lower prices. Or throw a no-pressure pajama party at home.

The key, overall, when trying to save your New Year's Eve bucks is to forget about the Joneses, Cruze said.

"Comparing yourself, and your New Year's plans, to others not only steals your joy but also your paycheck," she said.

For families, lots of towns host inexpensive "first night" gatherings.

West of Boston in MetroWest, for example, there's an outdoor event along a local rail trail. Families sponsor and tend to bonfires along the route, supplying marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers for s'mores.

A railway tunnel along the trail is strung with lights and local Boy Scout troops provide hot cocoa and hot dogs as people of all ages walk, some draped in strings of Christmas lights.

On the subject of spirits, not all less expensive Champagnes are swill. And there's always the prosecco or cava options. If you can't give up the idea of Champagne and are hosting a party, do a punch instead of serving glassfuls.

Depending on your style, hosting doesn't have to cost a lot. Do "sweets and treats" rather than a full meal, go for a pot luck or get crafty with decorations you already own, said Sara Skirboll, a shopping and trends specialist for the deals site RetailMeNot.

"Repurpose your Christmas tinsel and string lights," she said. "Tack up some tinsel and twinkly lights around main doorways within the party area or gift wrap a wall for a festive photo opp."

Pick a signature cocktail to serve instead, along with beer and wine. For food, make it a dessert party or go with a burger bar rather than multiple dishes or passed trays. Try doing finger foods and a cookie swap to help save money.

Looking for a destination getaway to keep the party going?

Gregg Steiner in Sherman Oaks, California, and a bunch of friends rent a house in Northern California on Airbnb every year and save a fortune. The cost for a three-night stay amounts to about $100 per couple, he said. They share food, liquor and other costs among 10 to 20 people.

With the drive north and other expenses, costs amount to about $250 per couple, he said.

Maria Velasquez gets together with friends and their families every year in Ringwood, New Jersey, to rent their local clubhouse or hall. Everybody brings a dessert or an appetizer. They collect $20 or $30 per family to cover the rental.

They had enough for a DJ once but otherwise rely on bluetooth speakers and someone's phone playlist for music.

On decorations and bubbly, the goal is to spend less than $100, she said. The Champagne is enough for a midnight toast. They usually have 15 to 25 people, including kids of all ages.

"No one shoulders the financial burden of hosting the party in their home," Velasquez said. "Everyone pitches in to clean up at the end of the night and we all have a blast."

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