My Frugal Simcha features reader’s stories about their beautiful simchas – on a budget. If you have hosted a budget-friendly wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Brit Milah or other simcha, we’d love to read about it! Please fill out this form to submit your story.
By Selena Treister
Three years ago, I had a baby boy the week after Passover. After the whirlwind of a shalom zachor and a bris, the next thing I started planning was his upsherin. I know you think I am crazy, but I hadn’t thrown an upsherin in years, and to me it is a super fun simcha! Also, since my baby was born between Pesach and Shavuos, I knew I was going to be able to have a Lag B’Omer uspherin. Extra fun, but also a little scary. On Lag B’omer, everyone expects a BBQ. How was I going to have a BBQ for more than 100 people without breaking the bank?
Since I started planning early, it turned out to be really fun, really frugal, and not too difficult. The first thing I decided on was to have the party at home. I don’t have a big house or a beautiful backyard, but I figured that the ease of set up and food preparation was well worth doing it in a less than ideal space. Also, I had a baby a few months ago and decided to do the bris at home, and it was the best decision I have ever made. Doing a simcha at home allows you to do your own cooking (on your own schedule), do the set up when you want, and take it down when it is convenient.
Next, I decided on the menu. I love Israeli food, and for a Lag B’Omer BBQ, it felt appropriate. We decided the main course would be ground beef kabob, chicken schwarma, hot dogs, and falafel. All of this was homemade, so the only cost (besides my time) was the ingredients.
We were expecting about 150 people, including kids, so I estimated that we should make about 12 lbs of ground beef, 7 lbs of chicken, 180 falafel balls and 4 dozen hot dogs with buns. I also made 150 laffas (like big pitas without the pocket). That took about 15 lbs of flour and some yeast, but the price of that is almost negligible (less than $5).
Because we planned the menu in advance, we waited until there were sales on the meat. We bought the hamburger after Pesach when it went on sale for $4.29/lb. Same with the chicken – we bought it at $3.99/lb. Falafel is simply chickpeas and herbs, so that cost less than $5 total. We decided the hot dogs were for the kids and they could live with chicken dogs. Overall, I would estimate that the main course cost us about $110.
We also served 2 huge cans of Israeli pickles and olives. I had a friend bring over a large serving of Persian rice. Honestly, the most expensive thing I served was probably the Israeli salad. My husband bought the red and yellow peppers from Walmart. Walmart will match prices to any local store, so he brought in the Sprouts ad and bought 9 beautiful peppers for $3. The cucumbers were from Costco (I am a cucumber snob and I really wanted English cucumbers, even though they are at least $1 each). The tomatoes were also a little pricey, because I didn’t want to buy them ahead of time.
For drinks – I bought a few bottles of soda at $1 each, and I also made huge amounts of lemonade and limonana (mint lemonade) that I served in big pitchers. The week before the event, I boiled a gallon of lemon juice ($7) with sugar and added mint ($3) to part of that. Then I stored the lemonade/limonana concentrate in the lemon juice jug. The day of the party, I just added ice and water. The gallon of concentrate made about 10 gallons of juice.
We bought the plain paper plates and plastic wear (even though it would have been nice to have something prettier). We borrowed some extra folding tables and chairs. I made a cake (2 boxes of Duncan Hines, 2 boxes of pudding, and 5 containers of Pillsbury frosting). Was it as nice as a bakery cake? No, but it tasted great and cost a quarter of the price. If anyone asked if they could help, I either asked them to bring a dessert or come early (I have awesome friends who were such a giant help).
The key to all of this, however, was advance planning. I made the falafel, laffa, and cookies a couple weeks in advance and froze them all. The only menu items we made the day of were the salad and barbequing the kabob.
The only problem we encountered is that we had many people come who did not RSVP, and we ran out of food by the end of the day. Next time I will reserve something for me to eat. Overall, the event was fun, my son is adorable, and I can’t wait to do it again in a few years! Best of all, it cost less than $250 total to feed 150 people.
Selena Treister is a big believer that it is possible to be frum and frugal. She and her family moved to Denver 8 years ago to escape the costs of living in LA and they are very happy they did.