Holiday dinners with family and friends can be fun, festive – and expensive. One meal can stretch a budget, but if you host more than one event during the holiday season, costs can easily skyrocket. The good news is that there are creative – and delicious – ways to save significantly on holiday meals.
- plan ahead
- be realistic in menu planning
- stick to in-season vegetables and fruits
- use leftovers smartly
- use the bulk of the budget on the bird
- buy more than what you need
- ignore the idea of a potluck dinner
- overdo the drinks
- complicate the decorations
- get fixated on the holiday date
If you are days away from a holiday meal with nothing planned, you will be more likely to run to the store and purchase more random items. Planning in advance makes it much more possible to control spending.
Before heading to the store, make a list of everything you’ll need for special holiday meals, including food, drink, decorations, serving dishes or utensils you may need, travel (if you’re heading to Grandma’s house or elsewhere), even child care expense if that figures in. Assign dollar items to each, and then modify as needed.
Most dinners probably do not require multiple varieties of casseroles, vegetable and potato dishes, and desserts. Instead of pre-dinner appetizers, think about a simple first-course soup. Stick to the basics, and what you know your guests will like and enjoy.
In November and December, these might include squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, pears, cranberries, oranges, cauliflower and broccoli. Use locally grown foods if you can.
Send some home with guests, and freeze some to enjoy later. If you know you will have too much left, do some research to see if you can donate extras to a soup kitchen. Or invite other family or friends to share in a post-holiday weekend meal.
The most expensive item for many holiday meals is usually is the meat. If you’re sticking with turkey, remember that frozen ones are less pricey than fresh. You can also save by opting for a bone-in turkey breast instead of a whole bird. Take advantage of any turkey sales. If you can, buy an extra, cook and carve it while you are in the turkey-roasting mood, and freeze the meat in smaller packages.
Turkey leftovers are nice, but keep it reasonable and buy only the size bird you really need. Carefully check supplies of essentials like flour, sugar, chicken stock, cooking oil and spices before going to the store. This helps to avoid buying duplicates of what you already have.
Take care of the meat or main course, and ask friends and family to bring side dishes and dessert. Not only does this save you money and time, it adds variety to a meal and ensures that family and friends can enjoy their own favorite dishes at the holidays.
At most holiday meals, the focus is on the food and the company. Look into locally crafted wines and beers, or those made organically. Serve tap water instead of bottled water; make it more elegant with lemon or lime wedges. Or ask guests to bring a bottle of their favorite wine or some of their favorite beer.
Again, guests usually are coming to be with you and your other guests. Instead of spending on home décor, keep things warm but simple with candles and a table of delicious food.
Depending on your situation, it might be easier and less stressful for all to have a celebration a day or two after the actual holiday. It’s often possible to pick up marked-down grocery items, and holiday decorations, with that extra time.
By planning and budgeting ahead, and taking a new approach to a few details, it’s possible to host excellent dinners and create wonderful memories without going overboard financially.