Inexpensive Office Party Ideas for Broke Startups (or Cheap Bosses)

Is your company in a tough financial spot this year? Or maybe your party budget is nonexistent (or headed by a notoriously tightfisted boss)? If so, you best get on the ball and start looking for cheap party ideas for the holidays.

We’re here to help!

Holiday party season is right around the corner and while that may bring a much needed break and fun for employees far and wide, it can create stress for the owners and management of broke startups… or any other companies that are struggling to make ends meet this year. Regardless of your financial woos, however, it’s not a good idea to break tradition and cancel holiday parties. Such festivities are a core element in strengthening peer-to-peer relationships within the office and building your company’s culture. Fortunately for all involved, there are a million good ways to shave down holiday party costs and still enjoy a festive time with coworkers. You’ll just need to think outside the box and plan a cheap office party instead of the traditional costly affair.

The following are our favorite cheap office party ideas for the holidays:

(These ideas will work with any holiday you’re celebrating, whether it’s Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, Ramadan or Diwali!)

The Setup:

1. Use What You Got – So many times, office parties are planned at outside locations like restaurants, bars and other rented spaces. If your company is trying to cut costs with a cheap office party this year, it’s time to look around and take advantage of the space you’ve already got. This may include game rooms, the foyers, or any room with enough size for some festivities. Look around and start planning how to decorate the space you already have.

2. Use Work Time – While employees may understand the need to cut back on expenses, they may grumble about having to stay at work later for a ‘not-exactly-mandatory’ holiday party. To give your loyal staff an extra reason to get into the holiday spirit, consider having your party during a workday, maybe Friday afternoon, and providing them lunch, and a half day off. This is a feel good gesture that will keep employees happy but doesn’t take a huge cash flow.

3. Party with Other Companies – If you share an office building with other companies, ask them to consider sharing the space and costs of throwing a holiday party. This will make for a more festive and social event, while saving both companies money on decorations, entertainment, catering, and more.

4. Party in Low Season – If your budget does allow for an off-campus party, plan your holiday party during the low season. Instead of competing for party space during the traditional December rush, try a November or January holiday work party. You’ll be blown away by the savings you’ll see from simply moving the dates around a bit. Your employees may also appreciate the shift, as they won’t have to juggle and maybe miss other December holiday party invitations.

The Activities:

5. Holiday Games – A bit of healthy competition is good for the soul and can be mixed with holiday spirit, if done right. Cookie decorating, Frisbee tossing, ugly sweater wearing, holiday card creation and satirical poem writing can all make for fierce competition with the right incentive. So buy some gift cards for local services/businesses to hand out for prizes and let the games begin… with the odds being ever in your favor!

6. Baked Goods Competition Party – Are your employees always talking about excellent bakeries or recipes they found on Pinterest? Challenge them to deliver the magic with a baked goods competition and party. If you separate the fun into two categories, a ‘Who’s baked goods are tops’ and ‘the best local bakery’ competition, you’ll enjoy some fun AND save money by not having to purchase extra desserts for your holiday party.

7. Potluck Gift Exchange – If you company is super strapped for cash and planning a cheap office party, give the gift of a lunchtime potluck party and the rest of the afternoon off. Lunchtime holiday parties will typically bring in the best employee participation and after everyone is done with the taste testing, you can award a prize for the best potluck dish (done by anonymous votes, of course). A local massage certificate or a gift card to a local book store would work well for this. The best part is, your employees will enjoy sharing their food and love you for allowing them an afternoon to catch-up on holiday shopping and decorating!

8. Charity Events – There are so many great charities that really pick up steam and need extra help around the holidays. Mix holiday fun with giving back by volunteering your staff to work at a local food bank, wrap presents at the mall, or sing holiday songs at senior homes. You could ask your staff for suggestions on their favorite place to volunteer and then pull one from a hat to decide. These types of holiday experiences can double as team building, as they provide great bonding experiences between co-workers.

9. Annual Movie Day – If your company isn’t the type that believes in spending a ton of extra money or celebrating the holidays, it’s still nice to reward your hardworking staff with a company movie day (or many other activities would work). Matinees movies are less expensive than evening flicks and if you call in advance, you may even be able to work a group price with the theater’s management. Take your office to a movie and have a little lunch afterwards. The holiday spirit may not be strong at this type of festivity but the effort will still be appreciated and seen in the moral of your team.

Additional Thoughts:

10. Be Honest – Be straight-up and explain to your office that you’re conserving finances this year and need to plan a cheap office party for the holidays. Depending on your relationship with them, you can explain that funds are being reserved for a future goals or tightened up because of a poor performance. If you’re honest with your staff, explain the problem and set them on a solution, great things can happen. This will help set grumbles aside and get them thinking of ideas to help.

  • Ask for Feedback – Create a company suggestion box or flowchart to ask for ideas on the “Best Cheap Holiday Party Idea”. You may be surprised to learn that your marketing guru is also a guitarist who will play for the party, your sales guy is a master baker and that everyone loves to sing karaoke. Get your crew involved and have a reward for the best suggestion. Just the process of involving everyone and using their feedback will set the stage for the spirit of the holidays.

Holiday party season is almost upon us so start planning now for ways to save money on your office’s holiday party. With a little creativity, you can have a lot of fun with a cheap office party while keeping finances under control.

Have you ever planned or attended a cheap office party? If you have ideas to share, we’d love to hear them in the comments below!