I love getting together with my friends and family on Mardi Gras to watch parades, play games, sing and dance—and best of all—enjoy delicious Louisiana cuisine. Carnival celebrations can break the bank, though. Luckily, I've uncovered 8 economic activities to make your next Mardi Gras party possible!

1. Virtually attend the Mardi Gras parade

I love grabbing a slice of King Cake, propping my feet up on the coffee table and streaming the Mardi Gras parade from Nola for free. This year, you'll be able to view 114 breathtaking floats as they meet at the corner of St. Charles Avenue and Napoleon. The floats were hand-crafted by four Mardi Gras crews. Each crew selected a theme and signature item to throw:

  • Carrollton's theme is, “A Night at the Opera." Throws include fedoras and snap bracelets.
  • King Arthur rolls with “It’s in the Mail.” Throws include sunglasses, hats, horns and backpacks.
  • Alla’s “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” honors past and present members of the military.
  • Femme Fatale features inaugural floats draped in candy apple red, white and black. The throw is a compact mirror.

Bonus Tip: If you’re hosting a Mardi Gras party, ask your guests to bring one of the throw items. Then place them in a pile and hand them out during the parade.

2. End animal cruelty: Go to Mardi Growl

If you live near Kansas City, Missouri or Knoxville, Tennessee, you can celebrate Mardi Gras with man's best buddy—your dog! You can nominate your favorite animal welfare advocate for Mardi Growl King or Queen. Plus, you can nominate your four-legged friend for Pet Grand Marshal. You can also attend the Mardi Growl Party Auction, where you can bid on trips to the Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City Shakespeare Festival, Kansas City Symphony, and much more. Tickets cost $15-$50, but all proceeds go towards ending animal abuse.

3. Listen to Mardi Gras music

I get into the Mardi Gras mood by cranking up some New Orleans brass band, jazz, zydeco, swing, or R&B. 8Tracks offers 42 Mardi Gras playlists for free. Plus, you don't even have to create an account to listen!

4. Participate in the "Bead Game"

The bead game is my favorite Mardi Gras party game. To play, give everyone five strands of beads. Choose an "it" word like "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras." When someone is caught saying the word, they have to give their strand of beads to the person who caught them. At the end of the party, the person with the most beads wins!

Note: If you can't afford beads, paint macaroni noodles in traditional mardi gras colors—purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power) and string them on yarn or fishing line. This is a fun activity to do with the kids!

5. Play pass the baby

I've found that "Pass the Baby," the Mardi Gras version of "Hot Potato," is a favorite among kids. Instead of passing a potato or ball, players toss a baby doll (the item that is traditionally hidden inside of King Cake) while Cajun music plays. When the music stops, the player holding the baby is out. The game continues until only one player is standing.

6. Make a Mardi Gras crown

To make crowns for Mardi Gras, I use old cereal boxes, recycled construction paper and leftover metallic gift wrap. To make your own, you'll need to cut the cereal box into a strip that is three or four inches wide. To make the cardboard long enough to go around your head, you'll have to staple two strips together. Next, cut the construction paper or metallic gift wrap into a five-inch strip. Glue it to the cardboard. Then cut a zigzag pattern into the top edge of the construction paper. Use stickers, markers and glitter pens to give your crown personality. You can also print a crown in classic Mardi Gras color from Family Shopping Bag for free.

7. Make a Mardi Gras mask

Masks are my favorite part of Mardi Gras. Print Picnic offers five mask templates in three different sizes (small, medium, and large) for free. Simply print one of the templates on card stock paper. Then cut it out and hot glue it to an unsharpened pencil, straw or a paint stir stick. If you'd rather not use the templates, you can make a mask by tracing your hands on construction paper. You'll need to glue the palms together. The thumbs should be at the top of the mask. Next, glue the mask onto a cereal box and cut holes into the middle of each palm with a X-Acto knife.

8. Indulge in a New Orleans classic: Jambalaya

I've receive rave reviews for this $8 dish. It calls for household staples, so all I have to purchase is shrimp, sausage and bell peppers.

Makes:  10-12 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 bell peppers, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 12 teaspoons pepper
  • 1Ž2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1Ž2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1Ž2 – 14 teaspoons cayenne
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups white rice
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 package Italian sausage
  • 1Ž2 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined

Instructions:

  1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, peppers and garlic, and sauté them for 10 minutes until they start to brown.
  2. Stir in the spices and the rice. Cook for 2 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent scorching.
  3. Stir in the chicken broth and tomatoes. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cook Italian sausages according to package directions. Slice the sausage at an angle.
  5. When most of the liquid in the rice is absorbed, stir in the shrimp, cover, and cook for 5 more minutes or until shrimp is pink. Stir in sausage and serve.