As Labor Day approaches you might be thinking, “I should get a few friends and family together to share some food and drink,” except, your pockets are light from that blowout summer vacation.

Hundreds gather at Fort Dupont Park in July for a concert. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

You’re in luck! In the Washington, D.C. area, there are several options for financially challenged hosts and hostesses. With a little bit of creativity you can feed, water and fete folks at least one last time before the region is covered in fall leaves.

Where’s the party at?

First, consider having your shindig in a picnic shelter at a local park where you and your guests can up your vitamin D intake by getting some sun, and increase your heart rate while playing games.

If you are quick on the draw, you may snag one of the free picnic shelters at Fort Dupont Park in Washington, D.C. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

But you probably need a little more certainty that you have a space (and I’m sure you don’t want your guests showing up and being turned away!), so you can spend $7 and get a permit that secures picnic areas 47 and 47A at Randle Circle and Lanham Estates in Fort Dupont Park.

If you miss those deals, your next cheapest option is in Montgomery County where renting a picnic facility for half a day at a local park costs $60 for residents and $72 for non-residents.

In D.C., residents can rent a shelter for $65 a day; non-residents pay $80 a day, and both have to shell out a mandatory clean up deposit of $75. If you pick up after yourself the way your mom taught you, that deposit is returned to you. Make your mama proud and get your money back.

Games people play

You’ve got a location locked down. Now for fun.

Gather your softballs, mitts, volleyballs, bean bags, croquet mallets, dominoes, backgammon, soccer balls, checkers, hula hoops and Twister mats — basically, clean your garage out and take all of what you find to the park. Tell your guests to bring whatever games they have stashed away that they like to play, too.

No games? You still need to offer up something other than a picnic table and a smile, so scour CraigslistDC and FreecycleDC for cheap or free items.

For example, these $5 smashball rackets could provide an afternoon of fun. For the older or less athletic folks, there’s Turntiles for $10. And, here’s a motley collection of games you can scoop up at $5 each or $20 for the lot. Think of it as an investment; once you have these items you can bring them to every get-together and family function for years to come.

Finally, load up your MP3 player, bring a speaker dock and voila! You’ve got tunes.

Portable picnic

Time to feed folks. Think light, but filling, because you know we have to ward off the diabetes, gout and other ailments. Also, snacks don’t dent the wallet like beef ribs, t-bones and steamed crabs.

Of course, you can ask people to bring a dish, but is it really a party if the guests bring the games and the snacks? Let’s do better than that. Also, you know that second cousin twice removed that you always tell to bring paper products because they can’t cook is going to try and sneak their potato salad into the mix. Nobody wants to eat bad potato salad!

But, that doesn’t mean you’re limited to throwing some chips in a bowl and slamming it down in the middle of the table either. Every week, grocery stores put out fliers highlighting their best bargains, but if you don’t have time to scour all those, pull up to the keyboard and type in This site lets you choose stores and compare sales and items by zip code. You can print out coupons and take them to the store.

Once you’ve identified the most economical items, use one of the many sites that let you enter ingredients and get a recipe, including Chowhound, Recipe Matcher, Supercook and CookThing, to identify some easy appetizers you can make and serve. Keep in mind that you will be outside so mayonnaise-based dishes are probably not a good idea.

Head to the store, pick up your bargain items, then prep and prepare.

As for drinks, you can buy bottled water at one of the discount stores and lemonade is refreshing, easy to make and generally a crowd-pleaser.

Don’t stop the party

This is just one planning road map, but even if you decide to do this in your backyard, or bad weather pushes the party into the house, there are still elements here that can help you pull off a party without landing in the poor house.

Now, what time should I arrive?

Tanya Ballard Brown writes, tweets and tumbls about pop culture, entertainment and lifestyle content.

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