When planning your party menu, concentrate on dishes that lean heavily on inexpensive ingredients, such as legumes, and lightly on the things that cost more, such as meat. A good cassoulet, but without the duck and other costly items, is a good example. But note, you can make a fine beef burgundy at a reasonable cost if you stroke your butcher adroitly and have him cut you a good piece of chuck which you can then cube yourself. Thus you pay for almost no fat. If you marinate the meat and cook the whole dish a day in advance, you not only will have saved money and time on the day of your affair, but you will have a better dish because of aging.
Economy in shopping is most important. Here are some points to keep in mind to hold down the bill.
Buy inexpensive cuts of beef such as chuck. Keep part of it for last-minute grinding just before you cook it as hamburgers. Other grindings can go into picadillo, which can take many forms -- with a pasta, a fine meal. Marinate the rest of your chuck for beef burgundy. Use a drinkable red wine in the marinade.
Buy fresh fish when the budget allows, but frozen trout works well for broiling or sauteing. European frozen sole comes off remarkably close to the fresh thing, but it's hard to find and expensive.
Make your own white stock with chicken bones and carcasses, and with veal bones if you can find them. This is done with vegetables, of course. The same goes for brown stock.
Eliminate waste. Throw nothing away. Save things such as celery leaves and freeze them with chicken bones and scraps for making stock.
Take advantage of the low cost of eggs; they can be made into splendid dishes. Don't let the falling souffle syndrome scare you. If you can make an acceptable white sauce and catch on to the knack of folding a mixture into beaten egg whites, you have nothing to worry about.
Or take a tip from the Basques and serve an easy-to-make piperade as a starting course, or a larger portion for a main course at lunch.
Use wine for at least part of the liquid in many parts of good cuisine. Don't worry about the alcoholic content because of those who shun the cup that cheers. The alcohol is dissipated through heat, except for the small amount that remains when sherry or another wine is added to a soup at the last minute.
Avoid convenience food and preprocessed things except juices and chicken and beef broth (not concentrated or with gelatin) for most cooking. Fresh tomatoes when locally grown are fine for all uses. But when the alternative is, the Styrofoam product, picked green and then gassed to look red, the canned is preferable. Italian canned tomatoes are both better and cheaper than the domestic offering.
Parsley is cheap, and when french fried (a simple process) delightful garnish for many dishes.
Use poultry as much as possible; it's more economical than most meat and fresh fish. Buy whole chickens and cut them up yourself. Thus you have boneless skinned breasts for a fraction of the price if prepared for you, and you have other parts which can be used for many dishes such as coq au vin.
As for potables, have a decent white wine on hand for those who shun the hard stuff before a meal. Get a bottle of French cassis for those who like a kir.
The table wine you serve with the meal need not be anything fancy and therefore expensive. Jug wines have had a spotty reputation, but today there are some of merit, both domestic and imported.
Be sure to have plenty of crusty French bread, especially if you are serving a dish that provides a sauce that one can mop up with bread. i
Select two or three cheeses, and remember that table ricotta is not only tasty, but very low in fat. So is fontina.
If you are serving liqueurs, you don't have to go for the most expensive, but be sure what you have is drinkable, for as Edmund Burke wrote, "Economy is a distributive virtue and consists not in saving but in selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment."