New Year’s Eve. I arrived at a sprawling ranch-style home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., decked out in my cerulean blue Chloe cocktail dress ready to partay. A crew of my friends was already there. Our plan was to ring in the New Year while playing “Rock Band,” drinking cocktails and eating delicious potluck.

However, I had to work earlier that day and didn’t have the time to prepare anything myself. I dreaded showing up empty-handed, which is why I walked through the doors of this thrilling soiree with a bag of Del Taco in tow.

Everyone’s faces lit up. People high-fived me. My friends thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. Peppered among the brie loaf, crudités and the lasagna was a bowl of fast food that turned out to be the surprise hit of the party.

You don’t have to spend a mint to feed your guests. Sometimes, all it takes is a little creativity and about $20.

The one silver lining of the recession is that many chain restaurants and franchises have significantly lowered their prices and even created cost-effective dollar menus for consumers. You can easily create a quick buffet of recognizable favorites.

To get started, make sure you have a festive serving platter. IKEA offers several colorful choices that start as low as $1.99.

Since a lot of my friends have varied dietary needs (diabetes; vegetarian vs. meat-eater) I tend to frequent Subway. The restaurant offers a number of sandwiches for just $5 everyday. Get a foot-long tuna sub, a meatball sub and a veggie and cheese for $15.

Take the remaining $5 to your neighborhood supermarket. Pick up a box of decorative toothpicks (the ones with the colorful flourish of plastic on the end) as well as a couple of two-liters of soda.

As you set up for your party, cut each of the footlongs into bite-sized segments (enough for each of your guests to enjoy), then garnish with the toothpicks and place on your serving plate. This will not only add a nice aesthetic touch, but will make it easy for people to eat without making a mess.

Recently, I attended a reception for a play. The small gathering was catered with Mediterranean food. Guests snacked on hummus, pita chips, stuffed grape leaves and black olives. Trader Joe’s carries every last one of these items in its deli section at everyday low prices. Or, if you have a favorite falafel stop, you can pick them up there.

Love to cook but can’t afford to lay down a wicked feast? Never fear – breakfast is here. Breakfast for dinner is a big hit the world over.

All you need is a dozen eggs, a couple of packs of bacon, a loaf of bread, butter, berries (grapes or strawberries – whatever is in season) and a gallon of OJ. Scramble the eggs (but prepare them last so they’re still warm when people arrive), fry up the bacon, make toast (add butter, cinnamon and sugar for tasty cinnamon toast), rinse off your fruit and place in a decorative bowl, then chill the OJ for the gang. Most people won’t be expecting this particular feast and will love that you’ve taken the initiative to do something different.

Potluck is always the way to go for bigger fetes. Send an Evite to your friends instructing them to bring along a dish fitting a particular theme. If it’s a holiday (like Thanksgiving), there’s no shame in asking for cranberry sauce, stuffing or even regional favorites like corn bread or matzo ball soup. The more diverse your circle of friends, the more rockin’ your party’s menu will be.