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Spending smart

Scrimp on money, not fun

Globe correspondent Julie Balise offers ideas about entertaining at home on the cheap

March 22, 2009
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House chef
Want delivery or take-out, but don't feel like scrambling through your crowded kitchen "menu" drawer?

Websites such as Dining In, Foodler, GrubHub.com, and Campusfood.com take the concept of a friendly pizza delivery man to the next level. On these sites, users can search restaurants by location, name, or type, view menus, and place orders for delivery or take out. Dining In, which was founded by Brookline resident Michael Hackel in 1987, also offers a reward system that gives users points they can redeem for discounts on the site. Dining In even gives users an estimated delivery time.

If you're seeking to cut dining costs even further, you can cobble together random ingredients from your cabinet to make a feast of your own.

College students dread the acronym, but frugalists swear by it. But BYOB, or "bring your own beverage," can mean more beer, wine, and other beverages for all, without the host spotting a huge fee.

Casual dinner gatherings can feature BYOB's culinary counterpart, the potluck. Dishes are delegated beforehand to avoid overlap and often include macaroni and cheese, salad, and lots of potato chips. For a more diversified selection and to jazz up the potluck a bit, an "Around the World" party theme can be applied so that dishes represent various countries.

DIY night
Want an inexpensive way to spruce up your place and host a fun night with friends?

Have a "do-it-yourself" party in which friends and family can help you tackle those fun decorating projects you've always wanted to try. You can find ideas from ReadyMade, a DIY magazine, and it's website, www.ReadyMade.com - both are free and feature projects that are inexpensive and fun, particularly when shared with friends. Each project features a guide displaying required skills, time, cost, and "ingredients," or household items.

Projects include the "Rack of Ages" shelving crafted from suitcases and a side table, the "Head Cozy" beanie made with an old sweater, and the "Global Warming" chandelier made from rope lights, zip ties, ceiling hooks, and an extension cord.

Guilt-free gaming
Board games can make any party better, so why not make games the feature of the shindig?

It's a match made for frugality. Plan a game night with friends and family - and they might have so much fun they may not notice if you don't have a lot of food.

Scrabble, Jenga, and Rummikub provide hours of competitive entertainment while Pictionary, Taboo, and Apples to Apples can be just as fun, but require less deep thought and concentration.

You might even want to try video games such as Rock Band, Mario Kart Wii, and Wii Sports, which provide both entertainment - and occasionally exercise.

Home theater
Why go to the movies when you can bring them to you?

Services such as Comcast On Demand, Netflix, and Hulu provide inexpensive - and often free - alternatives to the movie theater or rental store experience.

Netflix offers some 100,000 DVDs for a $4.99 monthly fee. Hulu has television shows like "30 Rock", "Family Guy," and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" for free. And if you are a Comcast subscriber, you can get through its On Demand service more than 10,000 programs, including television series, films, both blockbuster and independent, concert footage, and more, 90 percent of which is available at no extra charge.

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