LOS ANGELES ( TheStreet) -- Do you tend to be surrounded by friends who expect fine things, even at casual July 4th barbecues?Do they scoff at anything less than a Stella Artois, mock any rose that isn't Domaines Ott and shun the idea of eating meat wedged between anything other than organic, locally made wholegrain rolls? Perhaps it's time to initiate some financial reforms, much like the banking and investment industries did last week, with some surefire barbecue cutbacks. Start with a good invite: Nothing says "I still party like a frat kid" like an Evite or Facebook event posting. Why not get creative with an email insert sent directly to a guest's email, offering a personal touch even if you decide to bcc your entire address book? Before you hit "send," decide if it will be a day or evening party. Daytime parties should be from noon to 5 p.m., give or take an hour, and ideal for anyone with a beachfront pad or backyard swimming pool. An evening dinner party should start at 7 p.m. or no later than 8 p.m. Summer theme punch: This two-tier budget-saver not only keeps you from having to book a bartender for a summer mixer but also allows you to turn unused or aging fruit or vegetables into a delicious cup of summer. People love a punch, especially in summertime. Over the past year we've been wooed by the Cucumber Facial served at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs. It marries mint leaves, cucumber and vodka in a refreshing spa-like twist to the classic vodka spritzer. Also, don't be afraid to get creative with old strawberries or unused watermelon that can be blended, combined with soda water and rum or tequila to make a delicious version of a margarita or daiquiri. Pretty summer appetizers: White table cloths, flower pedals and a hearty appetizer spread will keep guests noshing, allowing you to pare the pricier main course. Cheese boards, tasty crab-and-sour-cream dips or even a gussied-up version of the classic brat-dog are all tasty ways to incorporate summer in an appetizer buffet that doesn't break the bank. Be sure to have room-temperature foods on the table as the party begins, with hot dishes served once guests arrive.
Prosecco vs. Champagne: A good bottle of French Champagne will set you back $25 to $35, even with the euro at lows against the U.S. dollar. If you plan to infuse your summer barbecue with bubbly, do your homework and find a Prosecco alternative with just as many sparkles at about half the price. For anyone planning to serve mimosas or belinis, it's a great mixer that offers a sweeter flavor that complements more acidic freshly squeezed juices or nectars. Try Santa Margherita Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut (750 ml) from Italy's Trentino-Alto Adige region. Master the flank steak: A fraction of the price of rib eye and filet has long been a frugal chef's secret weapon. Flank steak is the long cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow that is popular for summertime grilling in South and Central America. It's used in a variety of Latin dishes, like fajitas as well as French brasserie specialties where it's served with shallots and a dry red wine. If you're buying from a butcher, request a dry rub to be placed in the bag and toss it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Its sizeable nature means easier grilling for larger parties. Dress it up: Garden-party austerity doesn't have to come in the form of paper plates and Styrofoam cups. The best way to disguise budget cutting is to actually dress up your party with things lying around the house. Pull Grandma's china out of the cabinets and mix it up with your everyday serving platters and tableware on crisp white tablecloths. Grab five of six empty white wine bottles, buy elaborately large taper candles and allow them to drip-burn through the night. Head to Pottery Barn and buy crisp white or natural linen, which will last for years. Let them eat cake: It's what everyone really wants in the end, anyway, so be sure to spend plenty of time on the cake. Larger cakes can feed an army, and a really good one will likely make anyone forget about any inconsistencies in the preceding meal. Summer cakes should be showy, with a lot of fruit, ideally over pound cake or a good angel food cake for a lighter version. Store-bought cakes should be avoided at all costs. In a pinch, find a good box mix and camouflage with some homemade whipped cream frosting and giant strawberries. Cake should always be served at room temperature, a common mistake for many garden parties.