Expert: Barbara Martin is co-owner of BrandLinkDC, a Bethesda public relations, events and marketing agency whose clients include W Hotels, H. Bloom and Room & Board .

She once invited what she called “40 judgmental women” over to her Bethesda 1940s Cape Cod home. Declaring her living room a disaster, she moved out all the furniture and rented tables and gold ballroom chairs. “It was cheaper than redecorating,” says Martin, 40, who dished out homemade lasagna to the crowd.

Money is not the most important ingredient of a party, she says. Here are her suggestions for making the most of a skinny budget without skimping on style.

Rethink potluck

Spend your limited budget on food, not alcohol. “Nobody wants to schlep covered casseroles around in a party dress,” Martin says. The bar is one of the most expensive parts of entertaining, so ask each guest to bring wine or beer.

Embrace Costco

“Half this town entertains by going to Costco,” Martin says. Great finds include frozen appetizers, cheeses and olives.

Barbara Martin (Mark Silva)
Go bite-size for dessert

The mini-cupcakes at Whole Foods are a great deal, Martin says. You get 12 for $4.49. “They are the perfect size. All you want is one bite anyway,” she says.

Seize the day

Martin says that being forced to host a party can be the best thing that happened to your house. “It forces you to hang up pictures that have been sitting in a closet and sweep all the magazines and papers off your windowsills. It’s a call to action.”

Paint your powder room

You’ll feel like you made a major decorating upgrade with the cost of one gallon of paint. Martin recently invested a few hours applying Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy on her powder room walls and loved the deep blue drama it added.

Splurge on something personalized

At, Martin orders the heavyweight paper guest towels. Get your monogram or your address printed on them.

Walnut Chiavari ballroom chair (Courtesy of Perfect Settings)
Consider renting

Check out the list of equipment and prices available at It is relatively inexpensive to rent tablecloths, tables, glasses, plates or chairs. Save money by picking up and returning yourself.