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  • Paul Sisolak

10 Ways to Host Your Tailgate Party on a Budget

Any gridiron fan knows that no football game is complete without the sizzle of a grill, the chill of kegged beer and the pregame excitement known as the tailgate party. What other sports tradition lets us eat what we want, drink an endless supply of alcohol and celebrate our favorite team's impending victory (or defeat) before kickoff? Simply arriving at the stadium to watch the game without some type of festivity just isn't right and feels incomplete to not show your team spirit with friends and fellow tailgaters.

Attending an NFL match is expensive enough as it is (several hundred dollars per ticket on average), and tailgating can be just as costly between travel and parking, food, beverages, supplies and assorted amenities. Here are several money-saving measures to make your next tailgate party just as fun while protecting your budget from getting tackled.

1. Park farther from the venue. Location means everything! Most professional franchises are wise to the popularity of tailgating and charge for parking by the spot, hitting your wallet before the party's even begun. Instead, choose a row of parking spaces farther away, and take a shuttle to the stadium when it's game time.

2. Stay frozen. No, that doesn't mean freezing your tailgate tail off in Green Bay or Buffalo. Shopping for hamburger patties, chicken cutlets, spare ribs or wings can be one of the biggest costs for the afternoon, so opt for frozen instead of fresh, raw meat. Freezing your water bottles and placing them in a cooler, or filling up empty gallon containers can take the place of buying ice by the bag load.

3. Don't rule out fresh items. Provided you're attending a winter game in a warmer climate (think the Miami Dolphins), freshen up your burgers with veggies handpicked from your local farmers market. You'll be supporting locally-grown efforts, the produce is fresher and vendors may be willing to provide a discount if you buy party-sized quantities.

4. Fill up on filler foods. If spending a bit more on meats and main fare is a must, balance out expenses by buying cheaper filler foods. Stay on the lower end of the price spectrum when it comes to buying baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, nachos, chips and burger or hot dog toppings. Most cost less than $1 a serving.

5. Select the store brand. Save on ketchup, mustard and other condiments and edibles by picking the generic store brand over name brands. Take it a step further and visit a nearby dollar store for paper plates and towels, napkins, utensils and cups. (All in your favorite team's colors, of course.)

6. Bulk up on beer. Card-carrying members of wholesale clubs like Costco or Sam's: Buy your beer in bulk cases. For the teetotalers or designated drivers of the tailgate bunch, you can also save by skipping on the soda and serving spritzers – water infused with fruit and vegetable flavors.

7. Briquette 1, Lump 0. Got grill duty? Pass on lump charcoal, and choose the briquette variety. It may take more time to light up and doesn't generally burn as hot as lump charcoal, but it burns longer. For a tailgate party on a budget, that's a small price to pay – or rather, a small savings, since briquette is also cheaper.

8. Home-cooked fare with flair. Time is money, so spend less of it cooking and more enjoying the party by preparing some food at home before the tailgate: think chili, salsa, punch or other special large or side dishes, drinks or homemade desserts. A slow cooker can come in handy to prepare foods in advance that can't be cooked on the grill in a pinch, like pulled pork. It's also one more way to put a personal touch on your tailgate options.

9. Go the DIY route. Official team merchandise is overpriced. Make your own decorations, banners and team rally gear at home. Do some advance research online for crafty ideas or parking lot-friendly games – don't forget a Frisbee, and at least one pigskin should be standard for a tailgate party. If you must buy team-endorsed gear, such as jerseys, hats or oversized foam fingers, buy them cheaper in the offseason.

10. The more, the merrier. Think of it as one big potluck. Invite more people to the party, and request that everyone pitch in monetarily, or with their own dish. It's a football game, so make it a team sport and put each team member in charge of something different. For example, see if a party member has snack tables or folding chairs the tailgate can use instead of buying them. Try carpooling, too; when the team rides together, it will save gas and the parking fees mentioned above.

Don't let the tailgate party get priced out of your league. If the cost of being there in person on game day is truly prohibitive for you, your family and friends, don't be afraid to celebrate the home game at home. All of the above tips work just as well in your own backyard or living room, and you'll save more money on transportation, parking and off-site grilling. Most food items you may already have in your kitchen, too. Think of it as your own pre-Super Bowl party scrimmage, so party on, and here's hoping your favorite team makes it to the postseason!

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