99 Days At The 99¢ Store, WEEK THREE: I Threw A Dinner Party I Don't Entirely Remember

My boyfriend's been a saint. But on this particular shopping excursion, my 99¢ OCD was driving him up a wall -- I could tell, he could tell, we didn’t really need to talk about it.
Publish date:
December 19, 2012
money, dollar stores

‘Tis the season to get embarrassingly drunk at parties!

Fa la la la la la la la la!

Am I the only one here with a shoddy record of yuletide binge drinking? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

My take on it is: now that I’m an adult with, like, loads of important shit to do, I don’t have time to be throwing back adult bevs on the reg. But then there’s this month where we cram in all the parties and all the drinking and much of the inane conversation, and I’m not that skilled at stopping inertia -- or someone -- from topping off my glass.

The main problem for me is a ridiculously low alcohol tolerance. I’m the type of person who is genetically coded for tea drinking yet I have a taste for vodka and sauvignon blanc -- though I haven’t had much to partake in recently.

So this is how it starts on Monday -- Day 17 in the journey of 99, which is also the day of our 99¢ Store dinner party! I was a little sick over the weekend, not incapacitated sick, but sick enough to weasel my way out of obligations without too much self-loathing. This gave Monday morning the delightful sensation of drowning in a swamp: too much work, not enough time.

I love deadlines and scheduled events for precisely that reason. Perfectionist me is forced to stop accosting the rest of me and that’s when the magic happens. Time restriction is a beautiful thing. Soon after noon, I decided that if I didn’t shower, get ready, and take care of my dog, I would look like the most dilapidated party host on the planet -- not a reputation that would be to my liking.

I then headed over to my boyfriend’s house, a nice ranch-style home in Valley Village with a lush backyard and a pool that he shares with three other guys, ages 35, 62, and 63. Yes folks, there’s always a catch.

We’d given the party a Feliz Navidad theme, so we made a list of everything we’d need for a build-your-own burrito bar before setting out to the Van Nuys 99¢ Store. Though the shopping experience was a nightmare of chaos and frenzy, we did manage to procure the majority of our list: assorted tortillas, chips, mixing bowls and spoons, rice and beans, veggies, enchilada sauce, spices, cooking oil, decorations, and candy canes.

The total came to $52.78, which was joyfully close to my goal of $50. I paid and we headed back to his place. Now it veers off the rails a bit here, but I think I know why. Thus far in my 99 days, my boyfriend has been a placid wading pool of patience. If he wants us to go out to dinner, he picks up the check; we want to go on a Homeland bender, he buys the season on Vudu -- no qualms about it.

He’s been a saint. But on this particular shopping excursion, my 99¢ OCD was driving him up a fucking wall -- I could tell, he could tell, we didn’t really need to talk about it. So when he suggested plainly that I clean while he went to the grocery store for the rest of the items, I only asked, "Are you sure?" like three times before determining that yes, he was 100% sure.

The remainder of the list was chicken and beef for the omnivores, avocados ripe enough for guacamole, salsa, and a bottle or two of wine (we’d suggested the guests bring beverages). I estimated that he’d spend under a hundred bucks and I went about my cleaning -- seriously a lot of cleaning, even the toilet, which was disgusting -- but after more than an hour had passed, I got a little concerned. Thirty minutes later, he rolled in laden with bags and sheepishly told me he’d spent nearly $200?!??!

Um, WTF, that was not part of the 99¢ dinner party plan! But, alas, my boyfriend does not have nor want that kind of restraint. I didn’t say another word -- partly because you can’t control people and partly because the gourmet salsa was bomb.

The tables were set for 16, and we (meaning he) got fast at work with the chopping and the cooking. Being pretty much useless in the kitchen, I tried in vain to light the fire pit with only discarded newspaper until eventually I was instructed to go to the grocery store for a Duraflame, vanilla ice cream, and ice. Not about to push his total over $200, I refused the offer of cash.

I wound up buying all generic -- including the log -- and saved 90¢ with my Ralphs reward card. My total was a mere $13.86, but, oh boy, did it feel weird to be in a regular store!

Soon after I got back, our first guest arrived. My boyfriend mentioned that he’d never thrown a dinner party before and hadn’t realized what an undertaking it would be. The guest offered a brilliant solution that hadn’t occurred to either of us -- potluck.

We wanted this night to be a gift to our friends, but we’re definitely going to use that idea in the future. We decided an Italian-themed potluck sounds ideal for our next venture and can totally be done on the cheap. We’d provide the noodles and marinara, and guests could bring drinks, sides, and desserts potluck-style.

Slowly more guests trickled in -- my girlfriends were uncharacteristically punctual, I guess because I was stern with the "dinner’s at 8" -- and wine bottles were uncorked. Merriment was underway. Sipping on a full glass of Chardonnay, my bestie passed me a pipe of greenery and soon my lips grew looser and the ground less steady.

Though there were only ten of us, at about 8:45 the food was ready and we decided to eat. There’s definitely a moment when you host a guest list function that you wonder how many will show. It’s in our DNA -- but don’t they like us? Well, apparently they do, because once we were at the table seven others stumbled in.

By this point, however, I had killed about 2/3 of that wine bottle and had not been anticipating that many more hellos. Though not in mint condition, I was able to slur together some welcoming phrases. Unfortunately, you guys are the real losers of the evening because I’d planned to document it much better than I managed to.

All in all, I spent $86.57 at the 99¢ Store this week -- 61% on dinner party food and supplies. My non-99¢ discretionary expenses totaled $80.39: for Georgia’s regular brand of dog food ($1 markdown), a tank of low-grade gasoline, and my last minute dinner party run to the grocery store.

Though this was my most expensive week so far, it may be the greatest success. About 40% was spent on our night of Festivus, which I was thrilled to be able to dedicate to my friends. As far as personal items, it was very frugal week.

To not be a spoiler, I held off on present shopping until next week. I do need tips on one thing, though -- what are some new books that a 78-year-old avid reader would enjoy? It seems that my grandma’s already read everything.

And with that, I’ve donned my gay apparel and off to another holiday party. Someone else is picking up the tab on this one -- so help me Santa, I hope I make it out with my pride intact. Fa la la la la la la la la!

Follow me every penny-pinching step of the way on Twitter (@courtneykocak) and Tumblr.