I don't particularly like football. But tailgate parties—well, that's another matter. Football (to me at least) consists of jocks in weird costumes body slamming each other—and all this over a small leather object that is anything but "ball shaped." The fact that they get paid zillions of dollars to do this is the most interesting part of any game. However, tailgate parties come fully stocked with all the things I like most—fun friends; a festive atmosphere; crunchy, sweet and salty junk food; adult beverages; and lots of things to put delicious condiments on.

If you—like me—don't have a ton of funds on hand to throw (or attend) tailgates, or you aren't too crazy about the games but you love the parties, this handy guide can help you save on tailgating in some awesomely creative ways.

Average tailgating party costs 

If you cost-share with other tailgaters (always the smartest way to go) you can plan to spend $30-$40 per person at a minimum (read more at The New York Times and Cost Helper). So the goal here is to reduce per-person tailgating costs across the board.

1. Rotate "away" and "home" games

Die-hard fans may balk at this, but you can cut your tailgating costs in half by attending only half the games in person. For the other half, tailgate at home (preferably at the home of someone with a home theater system). You’ll save on both game and tailgating expenses.

Average spending per person for "away" (at stadium) games:

  • Parking: $40
  • Ticket: $100
  • Hot dog: $5
  • Beverage: $6-$8 (soda, beer)
  • TOTAL COST: $152 per game

Counting pre-season games, our team, the Houston Texans, will play a total of 10 games in our home stadium this year. If I decided to attend all 10 games in the stadium, it would cost me $1,520. If, however, I attend only 5 games in-stadium, I save $760 and I still get to watch the game (just at “home”).

2. "Shop" out of your stockpile for tailgating staples

If you've previously stocked up on snacks, now is a great time to use them!

Examples of common stockpile items to look for:

  • Paper goods, plasticware, sanitary wipes, anti-bacterial gel, trash bags, chips, cookies, candies, crackers, condiments, juices and sodas

3. Save a bundle on party supplies

If you are intent on trimming wherever you can, these creative ideas can save you anywhere from $37 – $72 (depending on the number of guests and what you serve).

  • Don't buy ice packs. Freeze bottles of water to use—and then you can drink the water as it thaws. Savings: $15.98 (Amazon) for ice packs or $2 per 10-lb. bag of ice (BagofIce).
  • Use the case the beer comes in as a beer cooler. Line it with 1-2 trash bags against leaks, add frozen water bottles, then add beer. Savings: $20-$40 (Amazon) for a cooler that holds a case of beer.
  • Just say no to utensils. By serving snacks and meals you can eat by hand, you don't have to buy utensils. Savings: $6 per 24-pack (Amazon) of knives, forks, spoons.
  • Reduce the need for plasticware. Leave condiments in their containers. Put garnishes in recycled yogurt or cottage cheese containers. Use empty six-pack holders to hold smaller condiments, napkins and sanitary wipes. Savings: $9.99 for a 100-count box of plastic plates (Amazon).
  • TOTAL SAVINGS: $37.99 – $71.97

4. Attend someone else's tailgate party for "free"

If you are an alumni, belong to a professional association, or your company (or a friend's company) hosts tailgating parties for employees and/or clients, you may just be able to tailgate for very cheap or free (outside of game attendance costs). Sometimes hosted tailgate parties will ask for a donation, but in most cases it’s optional.

5. Mix up awesome dishes at home for less than $1.00 per serving

Even if you found the motherlode of all tailgating supplies in your stockpile, you still need more than chips and crackers for hungry guests. Here are a few recipes you can make for less than $1.00 that will tide up to 10 hungry guests over until the meal is served.

Dill Dip with Pita Wedges

  • What you need: one quart low-fat yogurt, one handful dill (dried or fresh), one lemon (zested), one garlic clove (minced), 1 tsp each of salt and pepper, 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • What to do: Mix all ingredients together and chill. Serve with soft or crispy pita wedges.

Trail Mix

  • What you need: dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, candies, seeds
  • What to do: Mix together and serve!

Hard-boiled Deviled Eggs

  • What you need: Hard boiled eggs (sliced in half with the yolks scooped out), mayonnaise (4 Tbsp per 12 eggs), mustard (2 tsp per 12 eggs), salt and pepper to taste, paprika or chives (as garnish)
  • What to do: Mix the hard yolks together with the other ingredients except for the garnish, then fill each egg white "cup" and sprinkle paprika or chives on top as a garnish.


How to Save on Tailgating Expenses