10 Tips for Tailgating on a Budget

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 26.

The big game may be the main event of your weekend, but enjoying some tasty food and beer in the stadium lot is almost just as fun. Of course, if you're in charge of planning the next tailgate party, you might be stressing about how much money you'll have to shell out to keep everyone happy, well fed and entertained. Thankfully, we've asked money experts to dish on how you can cut costs while still scoring big points with your friends. Here are their top tips.

10. Plan Your Meal Around Sales and Coupons
10. Plan Your Meal Around Sales and Coupons

Be sure to browse your grocery store's weekly circular to determine the best deals on food, beverages and other items that week.

"If you are flexible with the menu, you can slash your grocery bill by about 40% by planning your tailgate party dishes around what is on sale at the grocery store," says Jeanette Pavini, savings expert at Coupons.com. "Make sure you sign up for the store loyalty program so that you get the special in-store sale prices."

If you don't feel like flipping through printed circulars, the free location-based app Flipp allows you to browse hundreds of local weekly circulars right from your smartphone. You can also easily search for a specific item, brand or store.

For additional savings, be sure to use coupons—either print or digital—on your grocery purchases.

9. Think Outside the Bun
9. Think Outside the Bun

Burgers may be a tailgate favorite, but there are other tasty crowd-pleasers to consider.

"Sometimes chicken drumsticks can actually end up costing less than a burger if you include the cost of buns and all the condiments," says Pavini. "Drumsticks and thigh meat is usually very flavorful and easy to throw on the grill."

As for sides, consider whipping up something inexpensive that can feed a big group, like pasta salad, spinach dip or potato salad.

If you're looking to serve dessert, skip the expensive store-bought cookies, cakes and pies and make something simple but delicious in your own kitchen. "Get creative with desserts and treats," says Pavini. "For example, make Jell-O desserts in the team's colors."

8. Buy Beer & Beverages in Bulk
8. Buy Beer & Beverages in Bulk

The cost of beer, soda and bottled water can quickly add up, but you can experience significant savings by buying larger sizes and quantities.

"When buying drinks for any tailgate party, bigger may be better and cheaper," says Pavini. "Buying individual cans of sodas are often much more expensive than buying the larger sizes."

When it comes to booze, you can save money by buying beer in bulk at a wholesale club, such as Costco or Sam's Club, says Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com.

7. Chop Your Own Produce
7. Chop Your Own Produce

Prepping fruits and vegetables yourself at home can be a great way to save big.

"Chop your own produce, like onions, tomatoes and lettuce, to avoid the 40%-plus markup on pre-chopped food from the store," says Kendal Perez, blogger for HassleFreeSavings.com and savings expert for CouponSherpa.com.

6. Buy Chairs and Tailgating Gear Now
6. Buy Chairs and Tailgating Gear Now

Do you need portable chairs and other gear for your tailgate party? If you can't borrow them from friends, now is a great time of the year to buy these items.

"Since camping season is basically over, most sporting goods stores will be marking down items like ice chests, chairs and folding tables," says Pavini.

5. Save on Parking
5. Save on Parking

Fans know that stadium parking fees can be a big expense. In fact, parking can cost a whopping $75 at a Cowboys game on average, according to a survey by GOBankingRates.com.

What's a football fan to do? Consider carpooling with friends so that you can all split the parking fee. And if you're willing to park farther away from the stadium entrance, you can often score cheaper rates, says Perez.

4. Shop the Dollar Store for Party Essentials
4. Shop the Dollar Store for Party Essentials

When it comes to party essentials like plates, cups and napkins, don't pay big bucks for premium team-branded supplies if you're on a tight budget.

"Instead, hit up the dollar store for basic party supplies in team colors," says Perez. "You'll spend less without sacrificing style."

You can also get creative by buying an inexpensive green paper tablecloth and using white masking tape to make it look like a football field, suggests Pavini.

3. Make Your Own Games
3. Make Your Own Games

Keeping your friends entertained at your tailgate party doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg.

"For games, skip the expensive versions that are marketed for tailgating or specific to your team's colors and instead make your own," says Lal. "There are plenty of online tutorials for building your own wooden bean bag toss or ring toss—then you can paint or decorate them in whatever team colors you like for a much lower cost."

2. Create Your Own Fan Gear
2. Create Your Own Fan Gear

Banners, flags, hats and T-shirts bearing your team's colors and logo can help show your enthusiasm and team spirit, but buying these items from popular retailers can often be pricey. Thankfully, with a little creativity you can still show your support without emptying your wallet.

"Avoid spending $15 to $40 on these items and make them yourself," says Perez. "Free printables of team banners [found online] make it easy and cheap to show your support, while printable team logos can be printed to iron-on paper and transferred to sheets of fabric for flags and other outdoor decor."

1. Suggest a Potluck
1. Suggest a Potluck

If paying for all the food and drinks yourself is too much of a financial burden, even with the tips mentioned earlier, we doubt your friends would mind if you suggested that the tailgate be organized as a potluck.

"If you provide the gathering spot and the grill, your guests can bring their own meat to grill, side dish to share and even beverages," says Perez. "This cuts down on your personal costs and also ensures there are enough provisions to go around."

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