How to Have a Low-Cost Cookout (Without Ruining the Budget)

Who doesn’t love a good cookout? Amazing food, a time to hang out with your friends, and fun summer memories that you’ll cherish for the rest of the year. But being the host to a cookout can really add up when it comes to expenses which makes it difficult for those who are trying to save money or stay on a budget. Here’s how to have a low-cost cookout without blowing your entire summer budget! 

(Grab my grocery list template so you don’t forget a thing! Find it HERE.)

Shop the Dollar Section

When you’re planning a cookout, it can be easy to want to purchase cool-looking plates, napkins, and accessories, but that can really add to the cost of all your items. Instead, shop the dollar store for cookout essentials like: 

  • Napkins
  • Plates 
  • Cups 
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Serving utensils 
  • Tablecloths

The dollar store and the dollar section at big box stores are also a great place to get some of the food essentials to have a low-cost cookout. Look for some of these: 

  • Hamburger and hot dog buns
  • Seasonings
  • Drink mixes 
  • Candy and snack-y food  

Consider a Potluck

Everyone’s got that one special dish that they love to bring to cookouts. By having a potluck cookout, you can save a lot of money on the cost of food! And, for the friends who just can’t cook, assign them the roll of providing plates, napkins, and other things like that! 

A word of caution on potlucks: make sure you talk to everyone who is coming and make sure that everyone is bringing something different. It’s a bummer when you show up to a cookout with your world-famous potato salad and Aunt Ida shows up with hers too. 

DIY Instead of Premade

When you’re strolling through the produce department and see the fruit and veggie trays all made up and ready to go for you, or you see the premade cheesecakes, it can be tempting to pick them up for the cookout. These trays can cost anywhere from $5 to $30 which adds significant cost to your cookout. And the real kicker? You only get a fraction of the produce you’d get for that price if you just bought them yourself! Make the veggie or fruit tray yourself to save tons of money. Plus, you can add more variety and take out the items you know people won’t like.

Note: The same goes for premade desserts like cakes and cheesecakes. They often cost upwards of $10 when you put just a little effort in and make them yourself for only $2-$5! 

Don’t Buy Expensive Meats

Yeah, you might want to impress your friends, but a cookout isn’t the place for that amazing cut of wagyu from Costco. Instead, get moderately-priced meats and season them the right way. Make sure that you tenderize any steaks and use your favorite seasonings. As for burgers? Go with a higher fat content for a juicier burger and make sure to add plenty of tasty additions (an onion soup or ranch packet mixed in with your burger meat is a fan favorite). 

Choose Seasonal Ingredients

Most cookouts happen in the summer which means that many different types of produce will be readily available and in-season, but you should still consider what’s the most in-season at the time of your cookout. These items will be at their cheapest so choose those for sides. For example, you likely will pay more for corn at the beginning of the summer than you would at the end of summer when it’s corn-harvesting time. Make sure you check produce prices and choose the best ones for your sides and ingredients.


For the love of saving…have guests bring their own beverages! Even if it’s not a potluck, they can bring their own favorite drinks. Trying to get a variety for everyone is hard enough, but it’s worse when you consider just how expensive the drinks are when you want to have a low-cost cookout. As far as your drinks? Keep them out of the way so guests don’t mistake it as part of the barbecue food! I’ve been doing this for years so, just know that even if someone forgets their drink, there’s normally enough to share!  

Don’t Ruin the Budget

Planning a cookout – or any kind of gather, for that matter – shouldn’t wreck the budget. With a few tweaks to your normal plan, you (and your guests) will have a great time! In the meantime, grab my grocery list template and get ready for the party!