I love holidays, especially the year-end Christmas and festivities. The fine foods, exchanging of presents and gatherings with family and friends make me excited, but also tremendously stressed.

Because I am the eldest daughter in my family and also a senior manager at work, the task of holding parties has always fallen on my shoulders. The parties I have thrown have always been successful and enjoyable, and it all boils down to one secret of mine – that I am a penny-pinching party planner.

I hated spending too much of my own hard-earned money to hold these parties, yet was too proud to let go of my reputation as the “chief organiser” of such events. Over the past few years, I managed to find ways to cut corners.

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My strategy was to start early – I would look out for discounts and deals throughout the year, going for warehouse sales to stock up on presents and party essentials. Boxes of scented candles were used as individual gifts and to set the party mood. The cheapest, super family-sized cartons of sweets and canned drinks could last throughout the year till the day of the party. I bought three-for-one packs of novelty knick-knacks that I could pass to colleagues and family members as gifts, with them being none-the-wiser.

I also resorted to seizing every opportunity to score freebies. I recycled unused office party favours home, asking every host of every party I went to for their leftovers, like pretty paper napkins, cutlery and utensils from engagements and weddings, party balloons and candies from kids’ birthday bashes, plus unwanted household items from housewarmings and spring-cleanings.

Once, I even took home flowers from a funeral to use as party decor – I confess I was downright shameless!

Except for my husband (who had to carry all my hauls during my regular warehouse raids) and two kids (who called me “Mrs Scrooge” and “Miser Mum” for scrimping so much), nobody knew of my ways. I didn’t want to appear to be a cheapskate, so I lied if anybody asked about how I planned the parties, and say that I knew the right people, or was just plain lucky in coming across great deals all the time.

However, my lying and calculative ways became my undoing last year…

I had gone to a friend’s company’s outdoor shindig, which had a buffet spread served up by a catering company used by several local celebrities. As there was a lot of food left, I decided to convince the caterer to let me doggy-bag everything home.

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He was concerned about the hygiene and quality of the food, but I convinced him by saying it was just for my large, extended family and that I wouldn’t keep it for more than a day. I even managed to wrangle a few luxe-looking disposable party wares!

The truth was that I kept them for my extended family’s Christmas party, a few nights after… 

Everything went well during my party: The honey-baked ribs and turkey tasted lip-smackingly good, and everyone loved the posh table setting. I felt so happy to receive so many compliments from my loved ones!

The very next day, the worst thing happened: My husband, youngest daughter, in-laws, and several of my cousins and friends of the family came down with food poisoning. I even had to send my daughter to A&E that night as she was vomiting and running a high fever, while the rest of the family rested at home. What made me feel even worse was that I wasn’t affected at all.

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I felt so guilty I offered to pay for everyone’s medical fees, and I became so upset that I could not host the New Year office party, and my colleagues had to settle for a restaurant dinner instead.

This year, my brother offered to host the Christmas gathering, not because of what had happened, but because he felt that as siblings, we should take turns doing so, all in the spirit of sharing. Back at the company, I am planning the office party again… and I know it will be the best one ever.

Instead of just doing it all on my own and working towards cost-cutting, it is now a team effort. My colleagues and I have agreed to pool together our funds to make it a Christmas blow-out to remember, and to celebrate our good times, bidding farewell to all things bad.

This article was originally published on Dec 8, 2018.