The holiday season can be one of the most difficult times to stay on a budget. You will probably be buying new outfits for parties, lots of gifts for friends and family, and spending more on your gas and electric bills to heat your home. When money is tight, don't spend too much on a fancy holiday meal that will be eaten in just an hour or two. Start by setting a budget of the amount you can afford to spend, and then turn to some creative ideas to stretch your budget and end up with a delicious meal for family and friends.
Saving Money When Preparing a Holiday Dinner
- Focus on the food: It can be easy to overspend if you start buying items for decorations, so start by doing your food shopping. The decorations can wait, and it's actually quite easy to find creative and inexpensive decorative supplies at dollar stores, craft stores, and even the great outdoors. You can find tons of clever ideas for holiday table decorations online, or just go with a simple look that does not require many materials.
- Find a deal on the meat: Grocery stores often sell holiday meats as loss leaders, so look at weekly ads for low prices on a turkey, ham, roast, or other holiday main course. You can buy this several weeks ahead of time and freeze it until the week of the meal. You’ll need to plan ahead and remember to thaw the meat in your refrigerator for one full day for each four to five pounds your choice of meat weighs.
- Prepare dishes from scratch: As much as possible, plan a menu that you can cook completely from scratch. Convenience foods like prepared piecrusts and pre-washed and chopped vegetables come at a cost. There are only a few convenience foods you should consider purchasing, including frozen vegetables and canned pumpkin puree for your pie.
- Don't be afraid to tweak recipes: It's always fun to look up new recipes to try, but a long ingredient list can break your budget. When you're making your shopping list, feel free to substitute similar ingredients you already have to avoid buying expensive ingredients you will barely use. For example, you can use butter in place of shortening in a piecrust or use water and salt in place of stock. You can also substitute dried herbs for fresh, or just leave out a few of the herbs as long as you have others that will impart a similar type of flavor.
- Borrow supplies: Depending on how many guests you will have, you might not have enough tables, chairs, or dishes for everyone. Rather than buying or renting more, just ask around and find a friend who is going out of town for the holiday and can lend you some supplies. Mismatched dishes can create a rustic look, or you can use different sets at different tables if you are setting multiple tables.
- Make it a potluck: If your budget is really tight, one way to make it work is to just cook the main dish and make the meal a potluck dinner. Guests will often offer to bring something, so take them up on these offers and assign each guest a specific side dish, appetizer, or dessert that will help complete your menu. If you are willing to be flexible, just assign a type of dish, like a potato side dish or vegetable side dish, and let your guests show off their favorite recipes.
Keeping things simple, sharing the cost and remembering to not waste the leftovers will be keys to keeping your budget intact through the holidays.