How to Plan a Cookout on a Budget

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Go All Out on a Cookout Without Emptying Your Bank Account

Summer's here, and you're totally excited to host the ultimate cookout, yet you have no idea what to expect when it comes to the expense. Instead of setting yourself up for a big shock to the wallet when you reach the checkout line, keep your budget in check by planning out your purchases in advance.

Eliminate Guesswork About the Guests

Do your best to figure out how many guests will attend your cookout before you go shopping. This may seem like a no-brainer if you've invited close family members or neighbors, but it's also important to consider what they may eat. If you aren't sure if Uncle Bob is still a vegetarian, ask. Take notes on special dietary concerns, as well as the number of adult and children guests, to plan a cookout that includes options for everyone.

Check the Ads and Sales Circulars

Save those grocery-store sales flyers and coupon mailers that arrive in the weeks leading up to the cookout. Look for the best deals on ground beef, hot dogs, ribs and even side-dish fare such as corn on the cob or baked beans. Check the coupon booklets too. Add extra oomph to your clipped coupons by using them at a grocery store that offers double the coupon's face value. Note the deals at that particular store by reading the sales flyers or by checking the store's website for weekly specials before your shopping trip. Frozen burger patties or veggie burgers are fair game too. Buy the items you know you'll need for the cookout while they're on sale, including ketchup, mustard and recyclable plates.

Make It a Group Effort

A large cookout can get expensive in a hurry. Keep that checkbook in check by asking each guest to bring an item. Put one guest in charge of hot dog and hamburger buns. Another can bring snack chips, and yet another can bring a large cooler of lemonade or a favorite homemade dessert. Coordinate with guests well in advance so you'll know what's left for you to buy. If you're working on an extremely tight budget, ask guests to bring main-course items such as hamburger patties, hot dogs, veggie burgers or ribs. If each guest brings at least their own main course, everyone can be fed without much out-of-pocket cost.

The Dollar Store Is Your Friend

The discount or dollar store gives you a great place to stock up on cookout supplies such as plastic cups and forks, disposable tablecloths – even balloons and other party supplies, if your cookout is for a special occasion. Check the food aisles as well. Discount stores often have great deals on condiments and snacks, and some carry the same brands found in grocery stores. Look for seasonings and spices too, as the deals are often better in discount stores than at the supermarket. Don't forget to purchase trash bags, napkins, foil and any other goods you might need for your outdoor extravaganza.

Shopping for Special Deals

Once it's time to shop for your main course, side dishes, beverages and everything else not covered by guests, visit the grocery store with the best sales deals. Check the meat cooler for marked-down ground beef, chicken breasts or anything else you're up for grilling. Stores often give discounts on meat that's near its use-by date, letting you save quite a bit per-pound. If the cookout date is far off in the future, freeze the meat until a day or two before, and then thaw it in the refrigerator.

Save more money by buying ingredients to make side dishes yourself, such as macaroni salad. Keep things simple for dessert by buying on-sale fruit for a fruit salad, or opt for a watermelon as a healthy, refreshing dessert that requires only some slicing in advance.