Celebrating on a Budget – 7 Tips to Help You Save on Holiday Meals

Fall is in the air, which means the holiday season is almost upon us! And you may be gearing up to host a holiday dinner for your friends and loved ones. But hosting a holiday can come with quite a price tag.

Did you know in 2021 it was estimated that the average thanksgiving host would spend around $391 on the meal? If you’re planning to host a holiday meal this year, that number may cause you to panic.

In a time when inflation is high and may already have started to pinch your grocery budget, it’s especially important to watch your spending. The good news is you can still have a great holiday meal while sticking to your budget! Here are 7 tips to help you save on holiday meals this year.

1. Plan for Your Spending

The first thing you can do to help save on holiday meals is plan for your spending. The nice thing about the holidays is you know when they are coming. This allows you to adjust your budget ahead of time to account for holiday meal spending. If you are in charge of hosting a holiday this year, you should sit down with your budget in advance to get it prepared.

To get started, estimate how much you’ll need to spend (or how much you want to spend) on the meal. Don’t forget to factor any decorations you may want to purchase and how many people you plan to feed into your estimated cost. You want to try to get as accurate an estimation as possible.

Once you have your meal cost, see how this number fits into your current monthly budget. If you have enough wiggle room and can cover it, that’s awesome! If not, you’ll want to start making adjustments. You can make these adjustments by lowering your spending in a few of your discretionary categories for the month.

For example, you could shift some money from your “eating ou,t” “coffee,” or “entertainment” budgets for the month to help cover the cost of the meal. Shifting these funds and being aware of your spending can help you save on your holiday meals.

2. Make a Menu

Before you head to the grocery store to shop for your holiday meal supplies, be sure to make a menu. This will save you both time and money!

Take some time to plan out what you want to serve and also think about how many people you’ll be feeding. Having a headcount will help you avoid overspending and it can also cut down on how long you’ll be eating leftovers. Afterall, Thanksgiving turkey is good as leftovers, but only a couple of times.

Once you’ve made your menu, look at all of your recipes and make a list of ingredients you need. But before you run off to the store with your list, there’s one thing you should do to save yourself some time and money.

Using your list, shop your pantry. You may be surprised how many spices, canned goods, or staples you already have on hand. Shopping your pantry can help you avoid having duplicates, and it can also reduce the number of items you need from the store. This helps eliminate waste and saves you money!

3. Stick to Simple Recipes

There’s definitely a time and place for new or complicated recipes. But if you are sticking to your budget this holiday season, simple is better. Dishes like rolls, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole are fan favorites. They are also typically simpler recipes that need fewer ingredients. Often, you may already have some or all of the ingredients to make them on hand.

It’s important to remember that just because a recipe is simple or doesn’t involve twenty ingredients doesn’t mean it won’t be tasty. Keeping your menu simple will likely please even your most picky eaters.

In addition to helping reduce your holiday meal spending, sticking to simple recipes will help you get back another element that is in short supply during this busy season – time. You will be able to reduce your stress and time in the kitchen while also saving on holiday meals, which may lead to even more enjoyment of the season!

4. Shop the Sales

Often during the holiday season, grocery stores will have sales on key ingredients for your meals. So it’s important to keep an eye out. If you get the local paper, you may see leaflets for the weekly sales there. You can also check online to see what items the store has on sale.

Compare prices for the stores in your area to determine where you can get the most bang for your buck. And remember, it may actually save you money to shop at a few stores.

Another way to use the sales to your advantage is to stock up on non-perishable items when they are on sale. Things like canned vegetables or fruit may be on sale throughout the year, allowing you to spread out the cost of your holiday meals and stock up on what you might need.

It’s also a good idea to see if buying in bulk may save you money. Sometimes buying a larger quantity of items like potatoes or onions can help you save. But be sure you’ll use the quantity of food you’re paying for before it goes bad. You don’t want to waste money on food that will spoil.

When you’re shopping, be sure to compare the “price per pound” or “price per ounce” across similar brands. This can help ensure you’re getting the best deal.

Finally, when you’re shopping for your meal supplies, consider buying the off-brand or store brand. These options will usually be cheaper than the name-brand, but will taste the same. This can help you save on holiday meals and stretch your budget as far as possible.

5. Make a New Tradition

Not sold on thanksgiving turkey (or another dish associated with a particular holiday)? Planning a holiday meal on a budget gives you a great opportunity to try something new!

You may be able to find a less expensive alternative to liven up your holiday table. Look for holiday recipes for main courses, side dishes, or desserts to see if you can find something that is more to your taste and a better fit for your budget.

As you are comparing different recipe choices, be sure to compare ingredient prices and how many people different recipes serve. This will help you find a new recipe to try while staying on budget.

And who knows, your new budget-friendly recipe may become a staple on your holiday table going forward!

6. Avoid Paying for Convenience

There are times in life when you may pay for convenience.

Things like paying for a meal out during a stressful week when you don’t have time to cook can be helpful. But, when you are trying to save on holiday meals, paying for convenience is often not the way to go.

The “ready made” holiday meal items you find at the grocery store will typically cost more. This can hurt your bottom line.

Instead, this holiday season, if you have the time and are looking to save money, preparing the food yourself can help you reach your goal. By keeping your meal simple, buying the ingredients yourself, and taking time to prepare them, you’ll have better control over your budget.

7. Make it a Potluck

Sometimes, if you’re in charge of hosting a holiday meal, it can be tough to ask others for help. But if your budget is tight, sharing the cost of the meal by having everyone bring a dish can help you stick to your budget.

One way to save money on holiday meals is to make the meal a potluck. You could supply the main course and ask everyone to bring a side or dessert of their choice. To make it more meaningful, you could even ask them to bring something that is a tradition in their family.

Often, people want to help but don’t know how. So by having everyone pitch in you are giving them an easy way to help. You are also sharing the financial burden and helping everyone stay financially on track.

Making a meal into a potluck can be fun for everyone. Who knows, you may even find new traditions or try new dishes you’d never try otherwise!

Enjoy the holiday while sticking to your budget

The holiday season is a time filled with love, joy, and good food. But it can also be a time when expenses pile up. Between gifts, food, decorations, and entertainment the holidays can make sticking to your budget a challenge. It’s important to consider these expenses when you set up your budget for the holiday season.

Thinking of the spending you have coming up can help you be prepared and adjust your budget ahead of time. If you are in charge of holiday meals, you can also save money by creating a plan of simple recipes and sticking to it, shopping sales, creating new traditions, paying attention to the cost of convenience, and sharing the cost and work by having a potluck.

It’s easy to get lost in the splendor of the season and watch your budget go out the window. But, if you are mindful you can use these 7 tips to help you save on holiday meals. Remember, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you are celebrating with those you love.

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