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Tailgating, once an underground activity, has majorly gone mainstream. Web sites, sports networks, books, and blogs all tout the fanfare and fun of this pre-game event, which is a wonderful cross between a picnic and a BBQ — only usually held in a paved parking lot, not a park.
As so often happens with any party, keeping up with the Joneses has impacted tailgating. Bigger, better, more, and more expensive has replaced the formerly simple, traditional tailgating fare. There are fancy decorations even fancier equipment. Some tailgate hosts succumb to the pressure and buy expensive, gourmet foods. Some have even have hired caterers for the event, but great tailgating doesn't have to mean leaving frugality and quality back at the home stead. A little planning is all you need to score a touchdown with your tailgating party.
Here are The Frugal Yankee's six simple steps for scoring a winning tailgate party on a shoestring budget:
Step 1: MAKE A GAME PLAN
Frugal people understand that planning is the key to saving money. Tailgating is no different. So, step back, take some notes, mull it over, and come up ideas that work for you. Then assign tasks. Everyone involved should bring a dish, beverages, or other items like chairs and blankets. Sure, the cost is split, but more importantly everyone participates, so everyone enjoys. A master checklist is always a good idea to keeps things on track.
Step 2: SPECIAL TEAMS
Creating the menu is part of the Game Plan, but is also an important step unto itself. Create a theme to make it special. Perhaps even design a game-specific menu, like basing the menu on team locations. Kansas City barbecue or Philadelphia cheese steaks would be two examples. Another idea is to present a new BBQ idea. If hunting or hunters are in your group, fresh deer, moose, or venison would be sure to impress. Make the day memorable so matter what the score is in the game, the Special Teams come up the big winners.
Step 3: BULK UP
Many ingredients on the menu can be found at warehouse clubs or bought in bulk. Chips, soda, and non-perishable items all can be purchased for less if shopped in advance and with a budget in mind. The same goes for meats. This is where planning really comes into play. If planned with time, getting deals at supermarkets or butcher's markets — even warehouse stores -- can save substantial amounts of our favorite green stuff.
Step 4: KEEP YOUR COOL
Assuming all the pieces are meshing, game day will be here before you know it. Now it's time to pack. Bring two coolers: One filled with drinks (water, beer and juice); the other filled with ice for the perishables. Be careful not to put the coolers inside the trunk of your car, which can get awfully hot — some as high as 150 degrees Fahrenheit — and high temperatures can ruin foodstuffs or render them unsafe. Store trunks on a passenger seat inside the car instead, if possible, and put the non-perishables in the way back.
Step 5: BAKE, DON'T BUY
With the menu planned and the tasks assigned, the host should have enough time to bake desserts. Buying sweet treats at the stores is always more costly, but baking brownies, cupcakes, or cookies is an inexpensive way to top off a great tailgate meal. Going back to the theme: use food coloring to tint frosting in your team's colors. It'll keep you in the spirit and satisfy that sweet tooth at the same time.
Step 6: DITCH THE DECORATIONS
Team-themed decorations are necessary, but they're usually over-priced and mostly hit the recycle or trash bin immediately after the event. Instead, stock up party basics like table coverings, napkins, plates, and cups in your team's solid colors at a dollar store or inexpensive party store. A truly crafty host will be searching for these items all year long. Then they'll catch a sale and really become the MVP of the group budget.
Just a few easy steps and a little forethought make tailgating really fun and really frugal. For more of the Frugal Yankee's tips, listen to this podcast on frugal tailgating with Amy McCoy of Poor Girl Gourmet — she's also a Shoestring columnist!