A great way to save money on decorations and other event supplies is by shopping clearance sales. The biggest difference between a regular sale and a clearance sale is the purpose of the sale. A regular sale can be a slight to medium discount and temporary, which means that the item could go back to its regular price. A clearance sale is typically a large discount and permanent, which means that the item has been priced to be sold before it is either destroyed or shipped off.

The biggest advantage to a clearance sale is the larger discount, but there are some disadvantages:

  • Clearance sales are often seasonal. They tend to run right after a major holiday, when the store wants to move out old merchandise so they can move in new merchandise. While items with text specific to the holiday may not be usable until the following year, you can still make great use out of items without text that have colors or symbols shared with your event theme.
  • Clearance sales are sometimes final. Depending on the store’s policy, they may or may not give refunds or allow exchanges if you attempt to return the item. Like any sale, make sure you ask about the store’s return policy before you purchase anything, especially if it has only a one-time use or costs a lot of money.
  • Clearance items may be damaged. Carefully inspect any item for chips, cracks, holes, etc. before purchasing. If it’s a scratch on the back side, then it’s no problem because no one will see it anyway. If it’s a hole in the bottom of the glass, you can’t use it for real flowers, but you could still use it for dried or silk flowers. Damaged doesn’t mean it can’t be used, just that its use may be limited.
  • Clearance items may be a limited quantity. Dishes may not be a complete set and there may not be enough items for favors. Consider it a call to be creative! If it’s an incomplete set of dishes, use them as serving dishes or decorations. Numbers don’t matter then. Favors and decorations can be eclectic with a variety of items, which adds to the interest and memorability of your event.

After you have considered all of the above and are ready to tackle clearance sales, start with a list or at least a clear idea in your mind of your theme and the items you need.

Shopping After a Holiday

If you have enough time to plan ahead, shopping clearance sales after a holiday are a great way to get your hands on supplies without spending a lot of money. This is when items are the most discounted so the stores can make room for the next holiday’s items. We created a seasonal chart below to help with your planning (let us know if we’re missing anything!):

NOTE: The following list is *not* a complete list of holidays but rather a list of larger, commercialized holidays for which stores are likely to stock themed supplies. This doesn’t include regional or less commercialized holidays, so check your stores after local and smaller events!

Month Holiday Colors Shapes
January Chinese New Year Red, Gold dragons, lions, red paper, red envelopes, fireworks, gold coins, chocolate coins, oranges, flowers, lanterns
February Valentine’s Day Red, Pink, White, Purple hearts, cupids, flowers, chocolate
February Mardi Gras Green, Yellow, Purple fleur-de-lis, crowns, beads / beaded necklaces, chocolate coins
March St. Patrick’s Day Green, Orange, White, Yellow four-leaf clovers, cauldrons / pots, gold coins, rainbows, leprechauns, beer mugs
April Easter Sunday Yellow, Pink, Green, Purple, White bunnies, chicks, eggs, baskets, flowers, crosses
May Mother’s Day Red, Pink, Purple, Yellow, White flowers, hearts, chocolate
May Memorial Day Red, White, Blue flags, stars, stripes, fireworks
June Father’s Day Blue, Green, Brown golf, football, cars, grills, fishing, hamburgers, hot dogs, beer mugs
July Independence Day Red, White, Blue flags, stars, stripes, fireworks
October Halloween Orange, Black, Green, Purple, White, Grey, Red pumpkins / gourds, leaves, cobwebs, spiders, witches, bats, ghosts, monsters, haunted houses
November Thanksgiving Day Brown, Orange, Red turkeys, leaves, pumpkins / gourds, cornucopias
December Hanukkah Blue, Silver, Gold Star of David, candle holder, candles, oil lamps, oil (doughnuts and latkes), gold coins, chocolate coins
December Christmas Day Red, Green, Gold, Silver, White, Blue fir trees, stars, angels, balls, bells
December Kwanzaa Red, Green, Black mat, candle holder, seven candles, crop, corn, unity cup
December New Year’s Eve Black, Gold, Silver, White top hats, stars, fireworks, champagne bottles and glasses

Being Creative and Flexible

If you’re lucky enough to find the exact item you need, fantastic! You have hit the clearance jackpot. Most of the time you won’t be that lucky, which means being creative and flexible.

Creativity can come from unexpected places, especially when your options are limited. Maybe you started with a specific idea for a fun centerpiece or you are hoping for inspiration for a wall decoration. In either case, try looking at objects in a different way and being open to new ideas. Here are a few that helped us:

  • Plastic eggs and plastic grass from Easter made a great alien nest with battery-operated LED lights inserted in the eggs. The glowing eggs and grass were placed in a metal bowl and made an eerie – and cheap! – decoration. (See Space Invaders.)
  • We found a bunch of small frames of different designs at a craft store, which we spray painted to be the same color for unity. Not only did we use them for their intended purpose as picture frames at a bridal shower, we repurposed them to display table numbers at the wedding. (See Wonderland Bridal Shower.)
  • To add whimsy to a child’s party, we turned coffee mugs upside down and placed small stacks of cookies on top. It made the kids giggle and the adults smile, so it was absolutely worth it.

When you can’t find exactly what you need, flexibility can help you solve the problem.

  • Superhero posters are pricey; instead we found kids’ plastic superhero posters where you are supposed to punch out the face and take pictures with your face in the hole. We left in the faces and hung them on the wall. Instant superhero posters! (See Superheroes and Villains.)
  • Vases not readily available? How about using glasses or mugs? We used decorated coffee mugs as vases for tissue paper flowers to add a whimsical touch… and just as effective. (See Playground Picnic Birthday Party.)
  • For an “under the sea” party, we were having a hard time finding affordable lighting to convey the theme. We hung a translucent blue shower curtain in front of lamps aimed upward (boxes hid the lamps), and, voila, we had an underwater glow.

Thinking Outside of the Box… Store

Most of your party supplies are easily found at grocery stores and larger chain stores, like party or arts & crafts stores. Is that all there is? Thank goodness it’s not, or all parties would look alike. Boring!

Even if you aren’t into creating your own decorations, there are still plenty of other stores out there with clearance sales that could help you. The more creative your party, the more likely you are to find items in more creative places. A little brainstorming can help you come up with alternate locations. Here are a few that have helped us:

  • Educational / Teacher Supply Stores
  • Restaurant Supply Stores
  • Hobby Stores
  • Electronic Stores
  • Yarn / Fabric Stores
  • Dollar Stores
  • Book Stores
  • Home Design Stores
  • Culture-centric Stores
  • Etc.

With a little care and creative thinking, you can make clearance items work for your event AND stay in budget. Good luck!