Ah, autumn is in the air, and with it visions of tailgating in the parking lot of State U.! Nothing beats a chunk of fire-grilled meat and a few beers in the company of fellow travelers just before your team thumps the competition on the old gridiron.
But one thing can put a serious damper on your tailgate party: A giant credit card bill the following month! Here are ten tips to save money on the party and avoid some seriously costly mistakes.
1) Remember the caliber of the event
Many people try to outdo one another with their amazing tailgate parties, and that can be a lot of fun. But if you’re more concerned about watching your budget than impressing the group in the next parking spot, put things into perspective. You’re going to be eating outdoors, possibly in bad weather, with minimal amenities.
Are your friends really going to care if that steak you’re grilling cost $3.95/pound instead of $12.95/pound? No! In fact, they’re probably more concerned about quantity than quality, so buy a few more packages of the inferior steaks and you’ll make everyone happier.
2) Same goes for the beverages
When you’re at La Chez Paris on your fifth anniversary, splurge on the $45 bottle of pinot gris. When you’re dining at La Chez Parking Lot, wash down those $3.95 steaks with the two-buck chuck. Another beverage tip — beer can be used as currency in crowded tailgating parking lots, so consider bringing an extra case to barter for things you forgot to bring.
3) Join forces
You’re probably not tailgating alone, so join forces with the others in your group to save money. Plan a menu and have each person bring a dish or beverage that fits the menu — everyone loves a potluck, and there’s no reason you should bear the entire expense of this tailgate party. Save money on gas and parking, too, by driving together.
4) Don’t shop at the last minute
Every other fan in town will be jamming the aisles, and you may not be able to find the lower-cost cuts of meat you were planning to grill, not to mention the fact that a lot of items on your shopping list may already be sold out. Furthermore, by the time game day rolls around you’re going to be excited about the game and probably hungry, two things that may cloud your shopping judgment.
5) Prep lots of fillers
You know how expensive the stadium food is, so make sure you and your guests are completely full before you head inside. That means you need some serious filler items, like potato salad, baked beans, and loaves of bread. These are not expensive items, especially if you can make them at home, and they could save you a bundle in the long run.
6) Use your connections
Are you an alum? Make sure you tap your alumni association to see if they have deals on parking in the best tailgating lots, and of course on tix for the game itself.
7) Park wisely
Speaking of parking lots, you might think the best parking lot for tailgating is closest to the field. But you can probably save money, and get your car out more easily, if you park in an ancillary lot somewhere farther from the field.
Go cheap on the equipment
My wife’s uncle used to troll the parking lots near Notre Dame after game day and pick up grilling equipment the fans left behind, either because they forgot it or it was still too hot to put back into the trunk after the game. With that in mind, don’t bother bringing any fancy grilling equipment or utensils on your cookout. The little $10 charcoal grill will cook your grub just was well as that $900 gas-fired behemoth next door, and you won’t worry a bit if you have to leave it behind.
9) Use plastic plates and cheap silverware.
Disposable plates and silverware may be completely expected, but they’re not exactly budget-friendly. Instead bring the plastic plates and inexpensive silverware you use for casual meals at home. Bring a plastic bag to put them in after the meal, and throw ‘em in the dishwasher at home. You’ll save a few dollars and you’ll be reducing the waste load at the stadium.
10) Finally, two no-nos
Don’t try to sneak food into the stadium, because it probably won’t work and you’ll have to discard the food instead of eat it. And don’t drive out of the parking lot until you’re sober; you know the cops are paying close attention, and a DUI would wipe out ten years’ worth of savings from this column — not to mention that you’d be risking life and limb.
Tailgating may be the best part of football season, but it can also put a dent in the budget. Avoid the latter by following a few of these tips!