Having a gingerbread house decorating party during the Christmas season is really fun, but it can also be REALLY expensive if you’re the one throwing the party.
These are some ideas that can cut your costs and still make it a fun time for everyone!
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1. Stock up on discount candy ahead of time.
You might not be able to do this, depending on how far ahead you have to plan, but the cheapest way to do a gingerbread house party is to use less-expensive candy. A lot of the time, this will involve hunting for cheap prices in the months leading up to the party, if not the year before!
Guess what…Most candy doesn’t go bad in a year. I’m totally serious.
Think about things like M&Ms. If you buy a bag of the green and red Christmas edition during the clearance sales after Christmas, they’ll be perfectly fine for the next Christmas as long as they don’t melt.
I have a cabinet full of candy that I buy on sale then bring out when I need it. The only thing that’s affected by humidity and time is anything that’s soft sugar like cotton candy, or hard candy that can soften up on the outside and get sticky if it’s really humid.
But those are usually fine for years, too. As long as they’re wrapped up, there’s no reason you can’t use them if they’re in perfect condition.
This goes for things like seasonal sprinkles and dragees, too. They last for years without looking any different!
2. Stock up on gingerbread house kits after the Christmas season.
Same as with the candy, you can usually get gingerbread house kits on sale right before or after Christmas.
Stock up on those because even if they seem expensive compared to what you think it will cost to make them, they’re not if they’re on sale.
The time that you’ll spend mixing and baking and burning things is worth something, too, and if you can just grab some kits for people to decorate, that’s fine!
And the truth about those kits is that they last for years without changing forms because they’re basically full of preservatives and chemicals. Nobody is going to try to eat them because they’ll stop after the first bite!
The kits that you can buy are designed to be hard as a rock so that they don’t break and they last a long time. They’re not made from the same gingerbread that you make cookies from.
If you do want to make your own houses that people can actually eat and enjoy, I have a recipe for them here that tastes good: Gingerbread House Recipe (That Tastes Good) And A Template
You need to watch for these deals, though, because people know about this and they snatch them up the minute they go to a certain discounted price. If they get to 40% off, you might want to get them then.
Another benefit to doing this is that the kits all come with a (very) basic assortment of candy, so you’ll have the start of what you need to decorate the house.
For another article that I wrote about improving a gingerbread house kit, click here.
Some kits even have more than one house if they’re a mini-village kit. If you can get those on sale you’ll have three or four mini-houses to use, which is perfect for a decorating party for kids.
I bought the house kits in this photo last year, and they’re waiting for me to use them when I feel like it. I guarantee that if I wait another year, they’ll be fine to use.
3. Have your guests bring their own bases for the houses.
Instead of paying for cake boards or plates to put the houses on, you can ask your guests to bring a decorative tray, cookie sheet, or cutting board to be the base of the house they’ll decorate and take home.
You can put the houses together before the party so that they have time to dry, then the guests can put the house on their own board to take home.
You won’t have to pay for cake boards, and they’ll be able to choose how they want to display the house they decorate.
4. Use thrift store plates.
If you don’t want to have your guests bring their own plates, or you’re not sure they’ll actually follow instructions, you can go to a thrift store to get some cheap dinner plates to use.
That way you can send your guests home with plates that are sturdy enough to hold a decorated house, but you won’t have to give them your own tableware!
Most thrift stores have dishes, and as long as you’re not picky about what they look like, they probably won’t be too expensive.
5. Have a potluck candy party.
You can tell each guest to bring one bag of candy, and assign them all a specific type, or give people a few types to choose from.
That way everyone will have an assortment of candy to work with but you won’t have to pay for everything.
Just make sure that you have some basics on hand in case you have the kind of friends who will each show up with a pack of gum…I know some people like that.
6. Make the gingerbread houses out of graham crackers.
This isn’t something that I’d do for a party for adults, but if you’re hosting a party for kids it could work.
If you make houses out of graham crackers, it will be cheaper than buying kits or baking them.
It will give you smaller houses, but if you’re having a group of little kids over, that’s probably all they’ll have the attention span for, anyway.
For older kids or adults, I’d make larger houses, though, they won’t be happy with small ones.
If you do decide to do graham cracker houses, make some extras in case they get smashed during the party, since they’re not as strong as regular gingerbread.
7. Have the guests bring their own houses to decorate.
This is the ultimate time and money-saver, but it’s also more work for your guests, so you have to decide whether you want to do this.
You’ll also end up with people who bring an enormous house and people who only have a teeny one, which isn’t going to go over well for a lot of people.
In general, having people bring their own gingerbread house to decorate will save you money, but I would go with having people bring some candy to share instead, and I would make the houses myself so that they’re all the same size.
8. Use non-candy decorating options.
I had a family gingerbread house decorating party last year, and one of the most popular decorations was breakfast cereal.
You can use non-candy elements to make thatched roofs, shingles, tile walkways, and siding on a house.
My husband made this one with sticks of gum for the roof and pretzels on the front.
If you put out bowls of things like pretzels, mini marshmallows, cereal, animal crackers, and nuts, they can be added to the house along with candy and it will cut your costs a lot.
Seriously, a cup of Fruit Loops is way cheaper than a cup of M&Ms, and more colorful, too.
9. Have lots of sprinkles as decorating options.
This is one of the things that I stock up on after holidays, because they tend to have a lot left over, the discounts are steep, and they last for YEARS.
Have you ever looked in the back of your kitchen cabinet and found a jar of colored sprinkles that’s been there for 15 years? I have, and guess what…It’s still fine to use it. Sugar isn’t perishable, so have at it.
Sprinkles, jimmies, and dragees in seasonal colors can add a lot of color to your gingerbread houses without costing nearly as much as candy would.
You can also color regular sugar with food coloring by putting it in plastic bags, adding a couple of drops of the color, then kneading the bag until the sugar is dyed evenly.
Use that to sprinkle on the icing for a low-cost way to add color to your house.
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