Frugal Foodie’s Guide to Hosting a Kentucky Derby-Inspired Party

How To

The Kentucky Derby is often billed as “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” and pulling together your own fabulous celebration can be almost as quick.

Fortunately, it’s also pretty cheap.

They’re only selling those $1,000 Mint Juleps on site at the Derby (whew!), and grandstand seats for the race start at $187 per person on the resale market.

In comparison, getting together to watch the event with a few friends is a pretty sweet bargain:

Think big

That Derby staple, the Mint Julep, takes a bit of time if you’re making them one after another.

You’ve got to muddle the mint leaves with sugar and water before layering in the crushed ice and adding bourbon.

The easier strategy: Make them in bulk.

“Making a pitcher of juleps and having
 them ready when your guests arrive will allow you more time to spend with
 your guests rather than making a mint julep every 5 minutes,” says Elizabeth Dodson, co-founder of

Or there’s this genius idea from Mike Manning of Proof Media Mix: make mint julep cubes.

Make a simple syrup using a half cup sugar and 16 ounces of water. Muddle 15 to 20 mint leaves in a shaker with a bit of simple syrup.

Separate into ice cube tray and pour more simple syrup into each. Freeze.

“The completed cubes are beautiful in appearance and melt slowly for a relaxed drinking experience,” says Manning. “I normally start with two or three mint julep cubes and 1.5 ounces of bourbon.”

Source your spirits

There are plenty of ways to save on bourbon for those Juleps and other alcohol, too.

Try buying from Costco or another warehouse club—in many states, you don’t need to be a member to shop for alcohol there, and the discounts can top 30 percent.

BYO mint

Growing your own mint can be a big budget help—one small plant for $2 or $3 will provide you with a bonanza for years to come.

Of course, it’s a little last-minute to grab a plant now. But definitely ask other gardening friends to see if they can contribute.

It’s an easy way to save the $5 or so you’d spend on fresh mint at the supermarket.

Dress it up

Picking up roses from a wholesaler or inexpensive derby cups from a party supplier can give you a fun atmosphere, says Dodson.

For a bigger impact, ask guests to don Derby attire—notably, those outstanding hats.

“Raid vintage shops for cool clothes and hats, or 
use an old hat and add some trinkets to make your own,” she says. “A hat contest is always 
fun in this scenario. You will be surprised by the creativity.”

(For added incentive, if you’re going out, many bars offer free drinks and other prizes to guests with the best Derby hat.)

Consider bar specials

Dining out may be less expensive than hosting.

In honor of Derby day, many local bars are offering food specials on Southern cuisine and Julep drink specials.

Session Kitchen in Denver, for example, will have a $30 buffet including Kentucky brown buns and chocolate walnut bourbon cookies.

Newport Bar & Grill in Chicago will have $4 Juleps.

Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.



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