Last December, you nearly lost your mind (and blew your checking account) throwing a lavish holiday soiree. This year, you’ve learned your lesson—and all you really want is to gather your best buds for a cozy winter meal. We’re with you, which is why we teamed up with A Cheesemonger's Daughter to devise an elegant, minimalist and oh-so-hygge menu and tablescape. Best of all? The whole shebang clocks in at $20. (Assuming you’ve got a spice rack and friends who aren’t total Scrooges.) From decor to dessert, here’s how to host a dreamy holiday dinner party on a dime.

RELATED: 10 Hygge-Chic Styling Idea That Work Year Round

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Claire Matern

The Theme

A vital lesson we picked up from our fictional Godmother, Martha Stewart: All the most memorable fetes have themes. (It just makes a gathering feel so much more special.) For a low-key, wintery vibe, we looked to hygge Scandinavian gatherings for inspiration. This simple, rustic aesthetic lends itself especially well to a tightly-budgeted soiree. 

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Claire Matern

The Florals

No matter where you live, make like the Danes and forage for natural decor. A walk through our local park yielded a handful of acorns that we scattered on the table, and a bunch of chestnuts which we placed in a bowl with some bits of festive evergreen. Another money-saving tip: when you're cooking with fresh herbs, remember they doubly earn their keep as decor. (Leftover sage and rosemary, for example, can provide the perfect pop of color when laid atop a napkin or plate, and of course, the food itself.)

Cost: $0

cozy dinner party under 8
Claire Matern

The Placecards

Does your intimate, four-person dinner party need assigned seating? Of course not. But that shouldn't stop you from adding this professional touch anyway. Reserving seats makes any meal feel like a carefully planned occasion. To match our theme we used plain white paper, tearing gently along the edges to achieve a rough-hewn effect.

Cost: $0

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Claire Matern

The Linens

To nail the Scandi look, keep your linen palette earthy and neutral, and don't you dare touch that iron. (Creased? Please. It's called organic). We opted for a simple runner and oversized napkins, which we folded into fourths and laid as a stripe between plate and bowl. This added texture and a dramatic drape over the edges of the table. Don't own neutral linens? Borrow...or treat yourself to an early holiday gift. (Whatever you do, no disposables.)

cozy dinner party under 10
Claire Matern

The Tableware

The key is working with what you’ve already got. For interesting texture and layers, look to a mix of old and new. Think: Your everyday dinner plates topped with the vintage china bowls you inherited from your Grandma. When in doubt, go with simple, white plates (they always make food look amazing). And as this particular evening is all about literal warmth, try to mirror that by using tableware in the warm spectrum (coppers, golds, wheats, etc.), if you have them. (P.S. Here’s how to lay your cutlery like a class act.)

Cost: $0

Claire Matern

The Appetizer

Homemade soup: it's so easy, so beautiful and so. Darn. Cheap. This easy and customizable carrot soup is perfect for warming up on chilly nights, and can be made days in advance. Psst: Don’t forget to garnish each dish with those aforementioned herbs. (The little things make all the difference.)

Cost: $2 (2-pound bag of carrots, 1 onion, 3 garlic cloves)


Claire Matern

The Entree

Don't get us wrong, we love carbs—but this is a special occasion. For festive wow factor (dietary restrictions pending), we always look to meat and fish over pastas and pizza. The key is to pick a recipe that you don’t have to babysit, so you can simply pop in the oven as you get yourself (and the table) ready. This rack of slow-roasted ribs with apple and onion is way less intimidating and expensive than it looks.

Cost: $12 (1 rack spare ribs, 1 large onion, 2 apples, 4 potatoes)


Claire Matern

The Dessert

Two words: chocolate sandwiches. Literally just melty chocolate chips between two slices of toast, these desserts are whimsical, adorable and easy as can be. If you want to get really fancy, add a dusting of cinnamon sugar or some flaky sea salt to elevate the presentation.

Cost: $6 (1 crusty sourdough baguette, 1 bag chocolate chips)


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Claire Matern

The Cocktails

OK, this is where we're cheating a hair with budget. But given the gorgeous get-together you’re orchestrating, we think it’s totally reasonable to have your friends bring a bottle of wine (or two) each. If you prefer to have some cocktails waiting in the wings, set aside a separate budget for imbibing. (P.S. Here’s how to find great wines for under $10.) 

Cost: $0 (or to preference)

cozy dinner party under 2
Claire Matern

The Festivities

This part's easy. Just eat, drink and be merry. Light every candle you own, and soak up each other’s company while discussing the past year’s highlights and your hopes for the year ahead. Important: After snapping a quick 'Gram of your handiwork, put the phones away for the evening. (After all, there’s nothing hygge about tech at the dinner table.)

RELATED: Have Yourself A 'Hygge' Little Christmas

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