4th of July BBQ Ideas on a Budget: Inexpensive Backyard BBQ Tips

burgers being grilled on a grill and flipped during a 4th of July BBQ holiday at the park.

If you’re planning an Independence Day celebration, it will probably involve grilling outdoors while you share the day with friends and family.

That can get expensive, though. Once you’ve invited a few more people over, your spending is going to ramp up as you buy more meat for the grill, beverages, and all the accessories you need to entertain on a sunny day.

Ideas for 4th of July BBQ

The first step is to plan the details. How many people are coming? Does anyone have food allergies? Are you planning a potluck-style party? Knowing these details can help you plan a backyard cookout budget.

What do you need to budget for? Here are various items you might end up buying for your 4th of July BBQ:

  • Meats for the grill: hotdogs, hamburgers, ribs, chicken, etc.
  • Vegetables: you can grill corn on the cob, vegetable skewers, etc.
  • Side dishes: don’t forget the potato salad, slaw, etc.
  • Condiments: BBQ sauce, ketchup, mustard, and all of the other essentials for grilled burgers and hot dogs.
  • Starters: dips, vegetables, chips, pretzels, etc.
  • Desserts: apple pie is great for the 4th of July, or maybe cupcakes, watermelon, etc.
  • Beverages: soda, sparkling water, adult beverages, etc.
  • Utensils: paper plates, cups, plastic forks, napkins, etc.
  • Insect repellent: nobody wants mosquitos joining their Independence Day party.
  • Activities: plan to play horseshoes, croquet, lawn darts, etc.?
  • Decorations: flags, flowers, banners, etc.
  • Cleaning and sanitation: ensure everyone’s safe and healthy with proper supplies.

These are just the obvious expenses. What about outdoor furniture, umbrellas, tablecloths, party favors, or any other unexpected expenses that might crop up? If you’re hosting a party with a swimming pool, do you have everything you need to keep swimmers safe? Will you have to spend extra on pool supplies and chemicals? Obviously, putting together a 4th of July BBQ isn’t as simple as throwing open your doors and welcoming people in. It will always cost more than you expect.

4th of July Dishes and Recipes

Food prices are higher than ever, and certain cuts of meat that make for great grilling are sure to bust your budget. Read on for backyard BBQ ideas on a budget:

  • Flank Steak – this is one of the less expensive cuts of beef, so if you want to avoid the high cost of brisket or steak, look for grilled flank steak recipes. This is a flexible cut of meat that can be cooked multiple ways, and it’s a healthy, lean beef option. Beware, however, that lean cuts can dry out on the grill, so find a recipe that includes a marinade and learn the right cooking technique to make sure your flank steak isn’t overcooked.
  • Grilled Eggplant – grilled veggies are easier on the budget, healthy, and good for vegetarians and vegans at your 4th of July BBQ celebration. The trick to making eggplant work on the grill is bringing it in advance, so find a grilled eggplant recipe that teaches you this technique.  
  • Chicken Thighs - grilling chicken can be tricky because you never want to leave it undercooked, but chicken breasts can easily become dry and overcooked on the grill. Thighs are a less expensive piece of chicken that are much easier to grill without drying out. Find a recipe for grilled chicken thighs that–you guessed it– includes a marinade to ensure the meat stays juicy and delicious.
  • Grilled Corn - another good grilled vegetable option is grilling corn on the cob. You can buy fresh corn cobs still in the husk and save a little money. When you’re preparing that corn for the grill, peel the husk back, remove the corn silk, and then apply butter/oil and seasonings. Then put the husk back in place and grill the cob in the husk. This will help the corn get tender and not burn on the grill. Soak the ears in water first so they don’t catch fire.
  • Grilled Pineapple - you can grill your BBQ dessert just as easily as the main courses. Grilled pineapple is an easy recipe without too many ingredients. The trickiest part is cutting the pineapple for grilling, but it’s definitely less expensive to buy the pineapple whole and prepare it yourself.

4th of July BBQ on a Budget

It’s important to plan ahead, and take some proactive steps to manage the cost of your cookout.

1. Live on a budget

If you’re not already budgeting in your daily life, budgeting for a special event will be an extra chore. But if you learn to budget every day, it’ll be a breeze to set up a special savings fund just for holidays like the 4th of July.

2. Set a spending limit

Know how much the whole cookout is going to cost in advance, so you can make smart decisions about your spending. Some things on your wish list might not happen, and if you know your overall spending limit, you’ll have an incentive to set priorities and only spend on the things that are most important.

3. Use coupons for extra savings

Both digital and paper newspapers advertise before the holiday and they bring lots of deals at the grocery store. Grab a copy of the items advertised in the supermarket sales circular. These are typically found at the front of most grocery stores. Check out the ads for coupons you can use to save money. But only use coupons on the things you need; don’t let an ad convince you to buy more things that are in your spending plan. Also, buying the store brand vs the national brand will usually let you save up to 30% without clipping coupons.

4. Start planning early

Make sure you have a plan for everything you’re preparing and give yourself time to get it all done. If you’ve got potato salad on your to-do list and you run out of time, you’ll end up just buying it already prepared at the deli counter. That’ll cost you; our local grocery has 16 oz. of potato salad for $4.99 – at the same store, you can buy a 5-pound bag of potatoes for $1.77! The same is true for desserts: pre-made cupcakes are $11.99 for two dozen, while a box of cake mix that will make 30 cupcakes is $1.29. Making dishes from scratch saves you a lot of money.

5. Pick smart dishes

While you’re planning your menu, think about what desserts or side dishes might be cheaper and quicker to make. And don’t buy meats that are ready for the grill. Trim & season them yourself and save money.  At our store, chicken goes from $2.99 per pound to as much as $8.99 if you buy it already trimmed, skinned, seasoned, and deboned.

6. Don’t spring for decorations

Use what you already have on hand. Don’t plunk down cash for extra decorative items you’ll only use once. And if you use paper plates & napkins, just use the cheapest plain white ones you can find – none of your guests will notice if they don’t have little flags printed all over them.

7. Have guests contribute snacks or sides

Make it a Bring Your Own Beverage (BYOB) affair so you don’t have to stock the cooler in advance. Or ask everyone to bring a side dish, dessert, etc. so you can just focus on the main courses.

8. Compare deals before grocery shopping for bbq recipes

If you check those bulk mail circulars (most of us get in the mail), or grab your local newspaper, or look online, you can compare all the deals on offers from your local grocery stores. If one store has something 40 or 50 percent lower than another, it’s worth making the extra trip to shop at multiple places. And for a one-time event like this, consider a dollar store for disposables like paper plates, cups, and napkins. Also, don’t forget your local farmers market for fresh vegetables.

9. Check unit prices in the store

Paying attention to unit pricing in the grocery store can really help with your budget. Not sure what unit pricing is? Take a look at the Unit Price label displayed with the item for sale; it is found on the edge of the grocery shelf. The unit price will tell you how much an item costs per pound, ounce, quart, etc. Look at the small unit price numbers, not the actual price to do true comparison shopping. Sometimes the larger size isn’t the best value.

10. Buy in bulk for larger parties

A big party can be a good time to hit up the local warehouse store if you’re a member. Don’t over-buy things that are going to spoil, but if your party is big enough, buying food in bulk can easily save you 20% or more.

11. Be safe around fireworks

This is the most important tip, and it’s not just budgetary. If your 4th of July party involves fireworks, make sure they’re safe, legal, and any kids are well supervised. An injury will ruin your event and cost you more than just money. If your party involves a swimming pool, make sure someone is willing to serve as a dedicated lifeguard whenever anyone’s in the water.

12. Stay clean and sanitary

Speaking of safety, you want to be careful to keep everyone healthy, so don’t forget cleaning supplies and sanitation. Just like you’re having guests bring their own beverages, you might remind people to bring hand sanitizer, wipes, etc. to make sure no unwanted germs are spreading.

Cheap Backyard BBQ Ideas and Recipes

1. Try a potluck

Potlucks are a great way to reduce the stress and cost of planning a BBQ. Why not ask everyone to bring a side, dessert, or their favorite dish? With less time cooking, you’ll spend a lot more time eating. It’s a win-win (if you’re hosting, that is).

2. Use less expensive meat

A good BBQ doesn’t need to have ribeye steaks or racks of ribs (although, if you feel otherwise, we completely understand). To save some money, opt for burgers, brats, and hot dogs. With a little extra effort, you can jazz up your burgers with a fried egg or make a gourmet hotdog with some hatch green chile mayo.

3. Make the meat last longer

Pulled pork sandwiches are great, but everyone’s going to want to pile on as much pulled pork as they can fit on the bun. Instead, opt for a build your own taco station. You’ll spend less time prepping everyone’s food. Everyone gets to load their tacos with the ingredients they want, and they’ll only be able to fit so much into a small tortilla.

Instead of Carne Asada or Barbacoa, slow cook some ground beef with chipotles in adobo sauce, lime juice, cloves, garlic, and cilantro, and your wallet will thank you later.

4. Offer “too many” side dishes

Do I go for the cheesy garlic mashed potatoes? Or do I claim the last slice of cheesecake heaven? With so many options and so little paper plate real estate, your guests are bound to load up their plate with the extra veggies, dips, and goodies.

Start planning for upcoming holidays

Even if it’s too late to save this year and you’ve already put a grocery shopping binge on your credit card, take a moment to think about next summer right now!

You have a smartphone, use it. You probably have a sophisticated computer in your pocket that can help you avoid overspending on next year’s big cookout. Go to your calendar app and set a reminder for next year, 2 weeks before the 4th of July holiday.

Put some notes in this calendar alert:

  • What did this year’s party cost? How can you cut that down next year?
  • What items did you make that were a definite hit?
  • What items did everyone pass on?
  • What was the most expensive item on your budget?
  • What items can you re-use next time?
  • What took more time or effort to prepare than you expected?
  • What items did you not have enough of? What was left over?

Don’t let a tight budget keep you from enjoying the holidays with your friends and family. The point of budgeting is to allow you to do all of the things you want, without having to sink into debt to afford them.

If debt is already a problem, get personalized debt counseling and create a plan to achieve financial freedom.

Have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Article written by
Melinda Opperman
Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovative ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined credit.org in 2003 and has over two decades of experience in the industry.

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