Tackling the Tailgate Party with a Money-wise Strategy

Football season is finally here. In most of the country, these first few weeks of the season brings great fall weather, which means your tailgating game needs to be in top form.

If you’re the type to roll into the stadium lot with a 30-foot RV with 60-inch flat screens and a giant smoker towing behind it, this post may not be for you. For the rest of us, here’s how to throw a great tailgate party without breaking the bank.

Pregame

Like any victory, saving money on the tailgate begins with the right game plan. Think about covering every facet of the game: offense (beverages), defense (food) and special teams (everything else). Doing this well ahead of gameday will save you from scrambling at the last minute and committing a major cash turnover.

Offense

For many, this tailgate party begins and ends with adult beverages. Sure, three kinds of beer and multiple cocktail selections would impress your friends, but does it really matter? If you’re living under a salary cap, go with a 30-pack of domestic cans instead of five expensive craft six-packs. Offer one type of mixed drink … with less than top-shelf spirits. For soda, get one diet and one regular, whatever mixes well.

Tell the crew what you’re offering ahead of time. The rest is BYOB. No self-respecting tailgater shows up without their own cooler anyway, so it’s an opportunity to save some money.

Defense

The best offense is a great defense. A few slabs of slow-smoked ribs or perfectly grilled rib-eyes will always score you serious points – but at serious cost. The standard burgers and brats is always the most economical route, but for a few more bucks you can easily class things up a bit.

For about the price of two quality steaks, you can feed the whole crew with a smoked pork butt, flank steak or chicken legs/thighs. Sides are all too tempting to buy pre-made at the grocery store. But that’s not always the most economical play. Think pasta or potato salad. Both can be homemade for only pennies per pound.

Dessert doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant, either. Rather than a custom cake or carton of stale cookies from the bakery aisle, spend $5 and 15 minutes with a box mix you can doctor with some extra ingredients. Better yet, ask somebody else to cover dessert.

Special Teams 

This is no place to skimp, unless you want to cook, serve, eat and sit on the ground. But there’s no need to splurge. Skip the plates, cups and napkins with the team logo. Instead, simply buy them in the team’s colors. Better yet, go with the cheapest, usually plain white.  

Ask the others in your group to bring their own chairs or loan you a table. If you really need something new, you’re in luck. Now that Labor Day has passed and camping season is over, items such as coolers, folding tables and chairs, canopies and grills can be found at steep discounts.

Here’s where teamwork really pays off: If you’re hosting, chances are you’re the one driving. To save on those ridiculous parking fees, bring as many of your guests as possible in one car. Someone in the group may even foot the whole thing as a thank you for being such a great tailgate party host.

Perspective

Hopefully your team wins more than it loses this year. Regardless of how the season goes, the time with your tailgating crew will probably create just as many memories. One thing they won’t remember is what type of beer you served or whether your tablecloth had the team logo on it. Spend (and save) accordingly. Go team!

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