School's out, party like a frat boy for cheap
First, it's important to identify the most essential element of a successful party: Hot girls.
It wouldn't matter if you had a 60-foot-long ice luge, overflowing beer gardens, slip and slides awash with Grey Goose, the world's best CCR cover band or even John Fogerty himself -- without hot girls, your party -- and you -- are nothing.
As Money College is a publication of financial merit, it's only appropriate to point out that girls provide the possibility of a cover charge. You couldn't so much as give away tickets to a sausage fest. To attract and hold onto this make-or-break group and turn your party into one that is entirely self-sustaining you'll need:
A healthy variety of booze
1. Two kegs. You will get your deposits back, so this only ends up costing between $120-%130. Don't go the lazy route and purchase cases -- 95% of the time this is stupider and less cost-effective than buying at least one keg. Kegs come cold and stay cold with ice (even longer so with a keggerator), and they require zero emergency fridge space. Cheaper cases reliably cost $9.50 after taxes, and there are at least seven cases of beer in a keg (14 in two). Furthermore, try doing a keg stand on seven cases.
2. Jello shots. These are obscenely cheap. It's safest to use vodka and mix with watermelon or orange. Vodka mimics the taste of everything you put with it, and straying too far from watermelon or orange can land you with a Dimetapp-tasting jello shot that's really hard to get jazzed about. One handle of vodka (Vladimir, Aristocrat, Bowman's, or Popov -- all under $15), seven packages of jello mix (less than $1 each), and two bags of 2-oz. plastic cups later, you've got more than 100 jello shots. If done right, these cost $25 max -- and last hours. Why buy the turpentine of vodkas? Because you won't be able to taste it anyway.
3. Margaritas. These are the show stoppers -- the Jack Nicholson to your party's Michael Keaton -- and nothing says spring-time like a margarita. At least nothing that's as easy to make. Try this ridiculously affordable margarita recipe that has been passed down through my Dutch-Irish family and has never not been complimented. Profusely.
You need one handle of Montezuma White ($25), one liter of Dekuyper Triple Sec ($8), a blender, limes, and six frozen cans of limeade (each about $0.60). This makes six pitchers. For each batch, empty the limeade into the blender and fill the empty limeade can with tequila. Pour the tequila into the blender, then fill the can again about halfway with the Triple Sec and pour. Fill the pitcher with ice until it's at least to 3/4 capacity and blend. Repeat five more times. Total cost: no more than $40 for six pitchers.
All three categories of booze fit the bill for different party goers -- those who just want to be social, those who just want to drink, and those who just don't want to know how much they are drinking. All three will usually attend a healthy party.
Anything more complicated than burgers, hot dogs, Funyuns or string cheese and you're asking for a mess. No one wants to wrestle a six-inch-high Reuben, or cook fondue while they're simultaneously trying to dropkick their liver. But just because the food isn't anything fancy doesn't mean that it's not important. It comes in at number nine of the top 10 reasons to leave a party.
Grilling is always good, as ordering out gets expensive, like shopping drunk. You could spend $10 at the very least on Papa John's for one pizza (not including delivery -- and you know it's not going to end at just one -- or you could spend $10 on ground sirloin at $3.50 a pound and people won't wonder why they came to the party hosted by cheapskates who order Papa John's.
Since certain applications have made play list-making an art of the past, it's best to have one of two things: a request queue for songs or a damn fine student cover band that will accept booze as a form of payment. Student cover bands might seem cheesy, but it's amazing what a live music atmosphere will add to your party. If you have an amp (one of your bros has a guitar and amp), a microphone, and a computer with PowerPoint and access to the Interwebs, even karaoke can be done for free.
Presentation is everything. Depending on your theme, shake things up with how you distribute alcohol. Have pledges walk around with super soakers or turkey basters full of cheap vodka and Hawaiian Punch. At my fraternity's Vietnam-themed spring party, we used copious amounts of bamboo to make huts, chairs, and drinking glasses. I would even recommend this re-usable ice-luge mold. It will cost twice as much just to purchase a block of slightly larger ice that you have to chisel with a screwdriver.
So you see my chemical bromances -- collegiate poverty is the key to creativity. There are literally thousands -- maybe even millions -- of ways to save money on a party. Use that higher education and always remember -- your liver is a human organ, not an armored car; and being drunk in public is still frowned upon to the tune of a misdemeanor in 46 out of 50 states. Enjoy responsibly, or your kidneys are next.
James Van Meter, Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brother, former treasurer, is a recent graduate of the College of William and Mary's Mason School of Business.