Cinco de Mayo celebrations are proof positive that Americans don’t look hard for reasons to party. A minor battle that took place 250 years ago in a neighboring country is enough to get us excited about the party possibilities.
Officially, Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s upset win over France in the 1862 Battle of Puebla. Mexico owed France some money and Napoleon III sent an army over to do some debt collecting, or at least turn Mexico into a French colony.
The French army did neither and the people of Puebla have been partying ever since. It took another five years, but they came out of the war debt free and didn’t have to learn French. What’s not to celebrate?
For some reason, their countrymen weren’t impressed. Few Mexicans outside Puebla honor the day. There is no federal holiday. Banks, stores and office buildings throughout the country remain open. For Mexicans, Cinco de Mayo is nothing more than the day after Cuatro de Mayo.
Here in America, however, it’s fiesta time, the Mexican equivalent of St. Patrick’s Day. Any restaurant, tavern or store that can ice down a bottle of Corona or pour a shot of tequila, hangs a Mexican flag on its front door and screams at consumers to come celebrate Cinco de Mayo with them.
Easily coerced Americans throw on a nice sombrero, bandana and serape, pull out the credit card and overindulge in burritos, tamales and guacamole, washed down with a few Dos Equis and a shot or three of Cuervo’s best tequila.
A long evening of that can get expensive and Frugal Man is not fond of blowing every dollar of May’s entertainment budget on a Tuesday night, which is where Cinco de Mayo falls on this year’s calendar.
Mrs. Frugal agreed and suggested we move it to the weekend and host our own party. She argued that neither our friends nor the budget would be offended by having a Mexican-themed party on a Saturday night, even if we had to change the name to Nuevo de Mayo.
She promised that the food, decorations, drinks and entertainment would be bright, beautiful … and cheap! Frugal Man liked those ideas, especially the last one.
Here are some of Mrs. Frugal’s, bright, beautiful and cheap ideas:
- Party favors: Buy some tablecloths, plates, silverware, napkins and cups in a fiesta theme. Every guest gets a sombrero and bandana. Cost: $90.
- Appetizers: There are a zillion ways to throw meat, cheese, vegetables and refried beans together and make it look and taste good. Ask guests to provide one and offer a prize for the appetizer that best combines taste with colorful presentation. Cost: $50.
- Main course: Shredded pork burritos and tacos. Pork keeps the unique and cheap theme alive. Surround it with the usual collection of colorful vegetables – lettuce tomatoes, onions, olives, green peppers, jalapenos and cheese – and the bright and beautiful themes are still alive. Cost: $50.
- Dessert: Rice pudding with raisins or cranberries and cinnamon sprinkled on top. Lots of color, lots of flavor. Did I mention cheap? Cost: $10.
- Drinks: Skip the margaritas and try Chivas, a Mexican cocktail that blends tomato juice, Tabasco sauce, lime or lemon wedge with six ounces of beer or a shot of tequila (or both) in a glass rimmed with kosher salt. Cost: $100.
- Entertainment: Pandora offers a Cinco de Mayo station whose playlist is chosen specifically for the occasion. Cost: FREE.
Frugal Man generally doesn’t like parties that create credit card debt, but this one comes in at around $20 a person, which is bearable. If I get Mrs. Frugal to ditch the tablecloths, silverware and other party favors, we’re under $15 per partygoer.
I’m sure the people of Puebla would join me in celebrating that, even on Nuevo de Mayo.
Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth Debt.org into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].