Planning a Holiday Meal on a Budget

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Holiday meals can be expensive. I’ve often wondered why we are tempted to spend more on one meal than we might in a whole week. I’ve heard of some families who have spent as much on a holiday dinner as I spend in a month!

May we not get too out of hand this year.

Here are some suggestions from Frugal Friday Past to help you stay in the black this holiday season.

Host a potluck.

This is a great way to gather a group without ending up in the poor house. Provide the main dish and ask others to bring their favorite sides and desserts. You may end up with seven chocolate cakes, but hey, that’s a special occasion if I ever heard of one.

Plan ahead.

If you know you will be feeding more than your own family over the holiday weekend, plan accordingly. Plan some really cheap meals (read: rice and beans) for a few nights in order to leave more padding in your grocery budget for the big meal.

Likewise, if you see great deals that would work for your fancy dinner, stock up on those at a great price, rather than paying “full pop” when you want or need it.

Shop the sales.

Maybe you don’t have a lot of advance notice. That’s okay. Just pick up this week’s sale flyer and let that determine your menu. If ham is the cheapest thing going, then make ham and scalloped potatoes the stars of your menu. But, feel free to be unconventional if that’s the way the sales ads roll.

Thanksgiving kind of has you locked into turkey. But, come December, use creative license in meal planning.

Think outside the box.

There’s no law that says a holiday dinner has to be ham, lamb, or turkey, or that it needs to include five different kinds of pie. If a big bird with all the trimmings is in your budget, so be it. But, if you need to slim down, then go for it.

How do YOU save money at the holidays?

Link up your post or share you money-saving idea in the comments.

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    1. I think it is funny how people get all worked up about holiday dinners- in our tradition, we have a “holiday dinner” with 3 or 4 courses at least 1 or 2 times a week…
      My favorite tip is to base your menus on the loss leaders, serve lots of cheaper side dishes, and serve homemade bread. This stretches the expensive foods further.

  1. We shop the sales ahead of time and freeze as much as possible. Turkey, especially, freezes well.

    We also stretch the budget by making a huge pot of turkey stock immediately and freezing it in smaller portions. In fact at our last fancy turkey dinner, my husband had the stock going while we were having dinner! By the next evening it was delicious and it made at least 5 soup meals for our family of 7.

    Annie Kate

  2. I usually spend more in one holiday meal than I do for a week of groceries.

    I plan on it (budget for it) so I do can spend without guilt. We buy “fun” holiday food that we normally don’t get to splurge on.

    It’s a tradition, however if we needed to cut back then I wouldn’t hesitate to break tradition.

    I love your idea about serving cheaper meals before to offset the cost. I need to remember that!

  3. Great tips! I know the holidays are always the most expensive time of year for most of us, including my family. I try not to stress, but always do – and I’m always looking for ways to $ave! 🙂

  4. I come from a very large extended family that always got together for the holidays (think Big Fat Greek Wedding family except Catholic.) For Christmas my Aunt would always make pans of meatballs with lots of potatoes and gravy, etc. Not your “normal” holiday food but it became tradition and everyone still loves it and really looked forward to the meal. Looking back it is a very inexpensive way to serve a large croud and was easy to prep ahead of time as well.
    My husband also comes from a crazy large extended family and the hosting family would make lots of soups to serve for their big holiday meal and everyone else would bring snacky type sides (cheese, crackers, meats).
    Good idea about the cheap meals beforehand. My budget is tight this year and I think that would help considerably.

  5. Since I know I’m having turkey for Thanksgiving, I plan my turkey leftover dinners ahead of time, and save money the week after Thanksgiving with them.
    Also, I only make the tried and true recipes for Thanksgiving – they get eaten and I don’t have waste.
    I start purchasing for the holidays in September. A little at a time, and then fresh foods closer in. Much easier on the budget!

  6. I actually bought a 22lb turkey at VONS for $7. Though it’s one per person and since we host a large gathering, I bought one and sent my husband for the other!

    1. @La Jolla Mom, it seems like the stores are never consistent from year to year about their turkey sales. I stock up whenever they’re good. This year Fresh & Easy has ham for a good price, so I’m getting one now for Christmas.

  7. We are blessed to live near both my parents and my husband’s mother. We get off easy….one of these years I might have to learn how to fix a Thanksgiving dinner! LOL! 🙂

  8. We’re splitting up the side dishes this year to save on stress. We don’t need sweet potatoes, and stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and rolls, and dessert at one meal when there are 2 diabetics at the table! 😉

  9. My family has always done potluck for big holiday meals – I grew up assuming everyone did! It saves the host the cost and hassle of having to prepare everything, and you also get a better variety of food. I always looked forward to my mom’s pie, my aunt’s mac-n-cheese and my grandmother’s rolls!