Summer is the time when families travel for special celebrations around a picnic table or bonfire, enjoying the outdoors and making memories together. Food is usually the center of these gatherings, and meals seem to stretch on for hours as people keep coming back for seconds and thirds. If you’re the host, you may not feel as relaxed as your guests when you calculate the toll this splurge is taking on your monthly budget. Here are four tips to make your summer entertaining financially painless, so that you can get into the vacation spirit right along with your guests.

Potlucks are festive!

Almost every cook has a specialty: something unique that they know how to prepare and are always proud to offer. If you’re holding a family reunion or a team picnic, play to the strengths of your guests and encourage them to bring the dish that they do best. If someone really doesn’t cook, and you know their fridge contains nothing but take-out containers, ask them if they can supply napkins or paper cups. Those little details can run costs up fast if you’re the only one paying for them.

Chicken vs. Steak

Burgers might be more expensive than you think this summer. Beef prices continue to rise, with ground beef now 71% more expensive than it was five years ago. Steak has become almost prohibitive for entertainers on a budget. So why not try focusing on chicken? Get creative with marinades, using a homemade spice rub or a Thai lime sauce. Or, try putting together some chicken skewers with your favorite veggies. You’ll love the price break and impress everyone with your foodie know-how.

Go Easy with the Fuel

When you have a crowd of hungry people watching you fire up the grill, it’s tempting to pour in the entire bag of charcoal just to emphasize that you’re going as fast as you can. Real Simple reminds cooks that three pounds of charcoal will provide ample heat to cook a meal for six people. If you’re using propane, be sure to turn it off at the tank when you’re finished.

Use Real Dishes

It may be tempting to pick up stacks of paper cups and plates, but these items don’t magically remove the task of cleanup. Most likely you have to buy big plastic bags for all the discards and you may even end up paying for extra trash disposal afterwards. Try bringing ordinary plates, glasses and silverware from home. You can rinse them off in seawater or at a faucet when you’re done eating, and then pop them in the dishwasher when you get home. It will be kind to the earth and to your budget as well. If you want cheap, cool-looking plates that you can just use for outside, here are some great ideas.

Let summertime celebrations lighten your basket of cares. By following these simple tips, you’ll find yourself feeling much freer to have fun in the sun while it’s here!