Whether you’re a die-hard football fan, or you simply relish football season as the perfect occasion for a party, the fact is—tailgating time is upon us. And in the interest of stretching our budgets through an entire season, we’ve gathered a list of budget-friendly tips for achieving your best tailgating season yet (without blowing your savings).
Food and Drinks
Make your own.
Sure, it’s easier and less time-consuming to pick up pre-made snack platters at the grocery store, but you’ll pay a premium for that convenience. Instead, make your own classic tailgating food at home, and if you’re having guests over, get them to share the cooking load and pitch in a couple dishes too. For some inspiration, check out our roundup of tailgating snack recipes.
Look for cheaper cuts of meat, or skip meat altogether.
Meat tends to be one of the more expensive food groups, and many classic tailgating recipes call for a lot of it—grilled steaks and chicken, burgers and chili. Try to look for recipes that use cheaper cuts of meat like flank steak or skirt steak (or ground meats), or opt for vegetarian (or even vegan alternatives) if you’re willing to sacrifice tradition in favor of cheaper (and healthier!) tailgate food.
Buy in bulk.
For items that you need to buy from a store, including condiments, chips and disposable utensils, buy them in bulk at stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club to big saving. This is doubly important if you tailgate almost every weekend or host big gatherings, since smaller packages usually equal smaller savings.
Explore your beer options.
Speaking of buying in bulk, many of those stores sell their own beer brands for cheap, as well as other brand names at a discount. Or consider filling a keg—and ask your friends to pitch in a few bucks. Just be sure to compare costs to make sure the bulk option is actually cheaper in each case.
If you absolutely must have a higher quality beer, consider making your own home brews, though you’ll need to plan ahead, since it takes a few days or weeks to ferment depending on the type of yeast. And if you’re tailgate parties tend to draw a crowd—we recommend the BYOB route. That way, everyone’s happy, and you’re not forced to dip into savings to cover booze for a crowd.
Games and Decor
Make your own cornhole game.
Having the regulation size cornhole set would certainly be nice, but any official game or decor could cost you a pretty penny. Lucky for you, the DIY Network has instructions for making your own regulation size cornhole set out of plywood. If you hate woodworking, look for a tailgate toss, which is essentially a smaller, cheaper version of cornhole, or check out this ring toss DIY project.
And your own beer pong table.
You need a homemade beer pong table to accompany your homemade beer, obviously. This tutorial explains how to make a football field-themed beer pong table out of an ordinary folding table, complete with PVC pipe goal posts.
Create your own jersey.
Official apparel looks great, but you certainly pay for the NFL or NCAA stamp. If you want to rep your team with similar looking duds but can’t afford to pay the official price tag, try these instructions (they’re for a New Orleans’ Saints-inspired shirt, but could easily be styled for any other team).
Get creative with decor.
There’s no need to buy expensive official decorations when you can make your own. Look for paper plates and plastic utensils in team colors and removable team decals that you can attach to entertaining items that you already have.
At the Stadium
Carpool with friends.
If you like to bring your tailgate to the game, you’ll pay twice for each car—once for gas and once for parking. Coordinate with family and friends to fit as many people and tailgating supplies as possible into each vehicle to save on these two fees.
Do your parking research.
The prime spots right next to the stadium will cost you the most cash, so be willing to park farther out and then walk in (or take the shuttle) if you’re trying to stick to a budget. If you’re not familiar with the stadium, ask tailgating regulars for parking advice, and get there plenty early to scope out a good spot. A season pass at your home stadium can also get you a decent discount.
Borrow whenever possible.
Consider having a “potluck” for your tailgating gear as well as your food. Canopies, chairs, portable grills, and coolers are all expensive, especially if you want them in team colors. Pool resources with your friends to cut down on expenses and to keep from lugging excess gear halfway across the state and back.
Don’t buy things at the game. Just don’t.
Whether it’s food, beer, jerseys, or spirit fingers, everything costs more inside the stadium. Get fueled up on food and drinks at your tailgate, order your team gear online, and check the weather ahead of time so you’re not stuck buying a hideous $12 poncho you’ll never wear again—even if it does have your team logo on the back.