Picnics always seem like they are budget-friendly endeavors, don’t they? After all, you make the food at home, take it to a park or beach or wherever, and eat. Sounds like a rather inexpensive activity! But picnics aren’t necessarily the money-savers they seem to be…if you aren’t careful in your planning, you may end up spending a lot more that you had originally intended.
How do the costs add up? First of all, we have to consider the picnic gear. Some people believe that a picnic basket is required for a picnic-trust me, it isn’t. Why spend $20-$40 on a special basket in which to carry your supplies when you probably already have something at home that will do the job just as well? Here are some items you likely have in a closet somewhere that can double as a picnic basket:
–a duffel bag
–a tote bag
–a small laundry basket
–a sturdy box
–a plastic crate or tote
Besides, most picnic baskets are too small to carry everything you need, so most picnic-goers usually end up bringing along an extra bag or tote anyway. It is much smarter to just skip buying the basket and use what you already have.
There is more gear that you need on a picnic-the utensils and plates. Again, some people think that it is necessary to have a special set of picnic plates, complete with matching utensils and cups. This is a waste of money-use plates and utensils you already have! There is absolutely no reason why you can’t do that. Just make sure to bring along a set of your plastic or Corelle dishes-not the breakable china.
This idea applies to napkins as well-bring along a set of your cloth napkins for everyone to use. Also make sure to bring a tablecloth, blanket, or sheet-it can be used to cover the table if you are planning to sit at a picnic table or it can be spread on the ground for everyone to sit on. No need to go out and buy a special red-and-white checkered tablecloth or blanket for your picnic-who cares if your picnic area is covered with an old Power Rangers or Care Bears sheet?
Now that we have the picnic gear covered, let’s move on to beverages-this can be a budget-breaker for picnics if you don’t choose wisely. Sure, some people enjoy having beer or wine with their meal, but this can get rather costly. So, if you have adults in your picnic group who are going to want some alcohol, try offering a mixed drink that you have already spiked with the liquor. Fill an insulated thermos or two with one of these options:
–fruit punch with vodka added
–cranberry juice with vodka added
–lemonade with gin added
–orange juice with gin added
Any of these choices would save you money because you can control the amount of liquor that is added to the beverage. You can buy a bottle of gin or vodka for under $10 and use that one bottle to mix with enough juice to satisfy several thirsty adults–$10 wouldn’t go very far if you were purchasing beer or wine.
As for the kids in your picnic group, skip the single-serve juice boxes and cans of pop-those are very costly. Instead, mix up a large jug of Kool-Aid, punch, or lemonade. Don’t forget to bring along cups for everyone to use!
So now we need to discuss picnic food. The food choices you make can put quite a dent in your wallet if you aren’t careful! If you are trying to stay within a certain budget, it is smart to stay away from any kind of gourmet items-specialty cheeses and breads and the like aren’t really fully appreciated in a picnic setting, anyway. Save those for a later time at home. Instead, focus on kid-friendly, quick and easy foods.
For a main dish, fried chicken is always popular at picnics, but the cost of that can add up quickly if you have a large group at your picnic. So, why not try something else, such as:
–chicken salad sandwiches
–tuna salad sandwiches
–make-your-own sub sandwich
–cold pizza subs
These sandwiches are quite cost effective. Bread for any of the sandwiches is relatively inexpensive, even if you purchase submarine rolls. Chicken salad and tuna salad are simple to prepare-just bring a tightly sealed container of the salad to the picnic along with the bread and assemble the sandwiches once you arrive. For the make-your-own subs and cold pizza subs, bring the ingredients (deli lunch meats, cheese, pepperoni, pizza sauce, etc.) in Ziploc bags or plastic containers.
Side dishes for your picnic can be thrifty as well. Here are some budget options:
–raw veggies with salad dressing for dip
–fruit salad (with seasonal fruits)
If you choose to bring any kind of salad, make sure to keep it cold until people eat-especially salads with a mayonnaise base. Don’t go overboard with the side dishes, either; two to four side dishes are plenty. And, don’t forget to bring along serving utensils for your side dishes.
Of course, a picnic isn’t complete without a dessert, right? But there are some very simple and inexpensive desserts you can bring-you don’t have to get something fancy or special. Try one of these:
–a pan of brownies
–any kind of homemade cookies
–pound cake with berries
As long as you stick to the ideas listed here, you won’t spend much more than you normally would for a meal at home-and that is the whole idea. Picnics are about having fun, spending time with friends and family…they aren’t about being extravagant and fancy. Keep it simple, and you will have an enjoyable, budget-friendly picnic.