T60 How To Budget For Holiday Meals

How To Budget For Holiday Meals

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Are you in charge of the feast for the entire family this year? Are you so excited that you could go shopping and splash out on supplies that you’re uncertain how to combine? Indeed, the holiday season is a prime time for most people to spend a significant portion of their carefully budgeted funds.

With so many delicious foods that you can prepare at this time of the year, you have grounds to justify the overspending. Yet, some ways can help you be an excellent host on the cheap. Follow our suggestions and enjoy the holiday meal without breaking the bank.

Check Inventory

Never skip your pantry before creating the holiday menu and setting on a shopping trip. The chances that you already have most of the ingredients for simple recipes are enormous. Hence, check your kitchen cabinets for sugar, baking soda, and flour if you had a pie in mind for a holiday meal. You might have also saved some olive oil, chicken stock, and spices for the savory dishes.

Once you know what supplies you have at hand, create the menu and see what’s missing. This way, you won’t end up with duplicates. Undoubtedly, having fewer products on your shopping list saves you more cash. Plus, the items you already have in your pantry can give you an insight into possible meal ideas.

Plan Your Meals

Before you make a detailed plan of supplies for the feast, don’t forget to find out how many people will attend it. There is no need to stretch your budget for excess foodstuff that you’re eventually going to throw away. Once you know the exact figure, plan the meals and any side dishes accordingly and finalize your budget.

When it comes to the food itself, it’s best to keep a holiday meal cooking schedule. This way, you will know when to cook what meals and won’t miss a substantial dish. The best strategy is to prepare some dishes the previous day or perhaps most of the sauces and sides.

Moreover, why don’t you pick a dessert that you can prepare ahead? Consider a pumpkin pie or cookies that can get stored in the fridge for later. Make a cranberry sauce that goes perfectly with both salty and sweet dishes. If possible, keep the desserts on a separate display or the mantel to avoid resetting the table during the celebration.

Make Low-Cost, Simple Recipes

When you think of a feast and holiday dishes, probably thousands of ideas flood your mind. Yet, you can’t make them all. Therefore, to save both effort and money, it’s better to simplify. The holidays are about tradition, not about posh dinners. Indeed, the more frugal you go, the better.

We suggest you go with your and your family’s favorite meals to keep everyone satisfied and full. Keep your meal plan flexible and if something goes wrong with a specific dish, make alterations. Plus, you can add a new, unusual specialty that you haven’t tried before as a surprise.

Stuffing, mash potatoes, and pumpkin pie will do excellent work for Thanksgiving, while tamales and cranberry salad are ideal for Christmas. There is no need to experiment with three kinds of salads or a range of desserts. If you lack ideas, go ahead and try these excellent cheap meals for large families, too.

Another great idea is to set the table the previous night to have one worry less the next day. This way, you might get an exceptional idea or notice shortcomings. For example, cloth napkins might need ironing or cutlery polishing. You don’t want to realize this half an hour before guests start arriving.

Not sure what other recipes to consider? Well, check out these cheap party food ideas or these cheap meals for large families. You will definitely find something suitable there!

photo 2020 12 31 10 10 03
Photo by Daria Shevtsova

Making quick and low-cost recipes can save you both money and time when you organize holiday meals.

Create A Budget

Never step out of your doorstep without having set the limits of your budget for the holidays. You should also create a list of priorities for the celebration to ensure your financial capacity reflects your decisions. Apart from the grocery budget, you’ll most likely need an extended one that’ll cover the added expenses around the holidays.

Bear in mind that an average Thanksgiving dinner for about ten people should cost you approximately $50. Hence, if you notice an unusually high price of an essential ingredient, be flexible, and find the same item from another brand. A higher bill than the average means you’ve exaggerated with the meals, and anything less than $50 is a real money saver.

What you should be paying more attention to is food presentation. Even the most basic meals can leave a rich impression on guests if presented with garnish and table decorations. So, ensure your table is well-decorated with fresh flowers and candles that don’t cost much.

Shop Early

Have you always wanted to throw an exceptional holiday meal for the family on the cheap? Well, the key to staying within budget is to start shopping for ingredients early. Once you’ve decided on the dishes, it’s time to hit the stores and grab the most affordable deals.

Shopping early will also give you a chance to select the best offers before the crowds start to pile. Check the prices of the items you need to procure in several supermarkets and start buying a couple of weeks earlier. Most ingredients have a long shelf life, so make sure you have canned goods, flour, wine, beer, butter, etc. ready early on.

Purchasing supplies for your holiday dinner at the last minute will put you under pressure, and most deals will be long gone. So, don’t put yourself in a scenario where you buy stuff only because those are the only ones left. Having everything ready in due time will come as a relief for both your mind and your wallet!

Shop In Season

Buying in-season produce is not a new concept though today we have almost any fruit and veggie at any time. However, sticking to the seasonal foodstuff is wise if you want to economize and don’t compromise taste and quality. Such food is cheaper because there is an abundance of it, and that drives the prices down.

Plus, seasonal food tastes so much better at the time of the year when it reaches its natural ripeness. It also travels shorter distances to get to the shelves and what you get is a fresh assortment of healthy ingredients. Buying at nearby stores that sell local products is your best shot in the pursuit of inexpensive and bio fruit and veggies.

The best holidays are in November and December, so focus on pumpkins, sweet potato, oranges, cauliflower, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, cranberries, and pears. With so many healthy and mount-watering ingredients put together, a unique and savory meal is inevitable. We highly encourage you to consider discounted produce that is near expiring or even scarred, too. If you’re preparing the meal any time soon, buying bruised groceries can be a substantial money saver.

Stick To Your List

Evidence shows that people splash out on many unnecessary and otherwise expensive foodstuffs during big sales. They believe that they’re getting an excellent bargain and, therefore, get the impression of satisfaction. Such impulse buying during the holidays is detrimental for your pocket, so refrain from this approach.

Even in the middle of great, almost 90% off sales, you need to have a shopping list and stick to it. Hence, ignore all distractions in the stores that offer you incredible savings. Marketing strategies like “buy two get one free” and a certain percentage of the second item won’t do your budget any good. If you need just one turkey, don’t purchase a second one because you’ll get it cheaper. You are not even going to use it!

Even more, avoid small traps like, ‘it’s only $2, I’ll buy it’. As insignificant such amounts can seem, they add up to the final bill. You don’t want to get shocked at the end of your holiday meal shopping trip. Last, don’t let the candies, décor, and other lovely treats by the cash register tempt you to spend a few dollars on top.

To learn more on smart shopping habits, check out our guide on how to fill out your pantry for less.

photo 2020 12 31 10 09 59
Photo by picjumbo

Buy In Bulk And Generic Brands

Whatever meal you opt for, there are ingredients that you’re most likely going to need. These include sugar, butter, flour, salt, soda, and other things you may buy in bulk and save money. Also, you can use such foodstuff later, so don’t worry about the leftovers. These products have an extensive shelf life, and procuring them in bulk is a wise strategy. Buying in bulk is one of the ways to survive on $1,000 in the United States. So, it definitely is a smart decision for budgeting your holiday meals, too.

Furthermore, switch to generic versions of items to stay within budget and even save in the long run. Why buy paper plates and napkins by famous labels when their regularly-priced counterparts can do the same job? The same refers to drinks, pasta, and spices.

Indeed, what’s the point of forking out on brand names when you get the same taste and value for half the cost? Get the habit of buying generic products if you like the taste. Most branded variants are expensive because you’re paying for the name and their boosted marketing campaigns. Certainly, you’re not paying more because they’re more healthy or high-quality.

Look For Free Giveaways

Start saving wild cash by getting a free turkey for Thanksgiving. Some of the useful hacks you can try are to collect points or spend a certain amount of money to receive a free turkey. Food banks are also an ingenious idea if you’re out of cash but want to host a decent Thanksgiving feast. Last, charities and religious organizations always open their doors to Americans in need during the holidays.

Freebies are a common sight during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve season, too. Many stores and groceries organize competitions and games to let their loyal customers win valuable foodstuffs and drinks. So, what are you waiting for, pal? Hit your local stores in due time and find out what’s on offer for free. You might get surprised at the giveaway offer by a little effort on your side.

Use Coupons And Cashback Rewards

Most stores offer plenty of coupons for the holidays, so it’s essential to pick up local stores’ flyers. Also, get the Sunday papers and coupon books you’ve found in your mailbox. You can even use manufacturers’ coupons you’ve gathered previously on top for maximum savings at this period of the year.

If you’re not into clipping, look for digital coupon variants. Even better, download some of the most popular coupon apps, such as coupons.com, and they’ll do the couponing job for you. Meaning, you swipe your phone at the end of your shopping trip, and the coupons get applied automatically to your shopping cart.

Last, count on cashback rewards and loyalty cards that allow you to collect points. Also, if you’re a part of particular credit card reward programs, you might have some perks piled up. This way, you can even get a free turkey for Thanksgiving. Alternatively, use those collected points to buy gifts for your beloved ones.

Let Your Guests Bring Something

If you think you have to do all the work yourself, think twice. Making the special feast a potluck can slash both the cost and your organizational worries in half. Of course, you can be the host and take care of the main dish and beverages. Your guests can participate in meal procurement by bringing the side dishes or anything by their choice. Also, you can tell them to prepare a dessert or bring on some wine and beer.

By doing so, your guests will feel special because of their contribution to the holiday. They’ll also be glad to have the opportunity to present their most refined cooking skills. After all, the holidays are about sharing love and food, so this is your chance to make everyone feel comfortable and relaxed. Hands down, hosting a shared-effort feast is a truly fascinating experience.

photo 2020 12 31 10 10 08
Photo by cottonbro

Remember, the fact that you organize the holiday meal doesn’t mean you have to pay for everything. Ask your guests to bring something, and you won’t even feel the cost of the meal.

Downsize Your Guest List

The more extensive your guest list, the more money you’ll pour down the drain. Why would you invite the whole family over when you haven’t heard from some of them for ages? Or a bunch of random friends you recently met that aren’t even worth your attention?

The best approach is to invite a handful of carefully selected friends or relatives. In a word, keep the guest list as short as possible to keep the costs down, too. This way, you can focus your precious time and energy on the immediate family, and everyone will be satisfied and well-attended. Go out with your friends later that day so that nobody feels left out for the festive season.

Make Your Dessert

Buying a cake or a pie from high-rated bakeries during popular holidays is almost an impossible mission. First, the confection and pastry prices before the festivities are exorbitant as everybody rushes out to pursue sweets. Second, you won’t find unique items on sale.

Hence, think about making a dessert from scratch to cut the cost and feel the joy holidays bring. Focus on one or two sweet foods at the most to avoid spending too much on supplies and to save time and effort. If you’re a novice, brownies or cookies will do the job. Moreover, you can find numerous simple recipes for cakes on the Internet, so no excuses, please!

Finally, if you’re broke and your holiday budget is highly limited, encourage your guests to bring the dessert. A homemade cake from your skillful aunt can add a personal stamp to your feast, indeed.

Make Use Of Your Leftovers

If you thought you’d use the entire holiday meal purchase for one evening only, you were wrong. Typically, you’d use half of the ingredients for the big day and have some leftovers to deal with later. We suggest you stretch the supplies for the next couple of days. Meaning, you can use some smart hacks to reuse the leftovers from the holiday dinner after that.

For instance, the remaining turkey meat can get transformed into turkey sandwiches, soup, or even casseroles. Use the other meat leftovers for pasta, soups, or sandwiches to avoid throwing food and money away.

Have some proper containers at hand and store the food to maximize your grocery investment. Even better, you can freeze most of the remaining food for days when you don’t feel like cooking. Meat leftovers can make some frugal and nourishing meals and even out the holidays’ financial cost.

Final Word

Hosting a holiday feast doesn’t have to be a nightmare nor a money drainer. What you need is some careful upfront planning and a little bit of creativity. Consider our ideas to have a pleasant and relaxing festive season without spending excessive cash on foods.

Have you got some secret hacks that help you stay within the budget for the holiday meals? Do they work wonders for your pocket? We will be delighted if you share them in the comment box below. Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for our ProMoneySavings Newsletter for a bunch of other budget-friendly ideas.


What is the cheapest meal to feed a crowd?

Many dishes can feed a crowd on the cheap without compromising taste and quality. We suggest you go with a one-pot macaroni and cheese meal. It’s a straightforward recipe with a few ingredients, and it can be vegan if that’s your intention. Lasagna is another frugal holiday dish that is easy to prepare and doesn’t require more than a few ingredients. Buy some high-quality meat, tomato sauce, and cheese, and you’re ready to rock.

How do you feed a family of 4 on a tight budget?

First, learn to cook all your meals from scratch to save money on pre-made or frozen food. Then, buy in bulk and make use of coupons and promotions as much as you can. Also, minimize snacks and avoid crackers, soft drinks, and chips to save money and your health. Last, have a weekly meal plan and never throw away leftovers. Learn how to reuse them to maximize your savings.

What should I make for dinner if I have no money?

Cooking on the cheap doesn’t have to mean unhealthy and poor-flavored meals. On the contrary, you may get quite creative and impress your guests with even the cheapest ingredients. Make a refried bean and shredded cheese, or even rice and beans burritos. Even better, why don’t you prepare a goulash that requires ground beef, cooked macaroni, and tomatoes only? Finally, you could never go wrong with pancakes or waffles, and the possible combinations are endless.

How to host a cheap Christmas party?

Christmas is never about lavishness and hefty dinners, but about family, friends, and happy thoughts. Still, a carefully organized party with subtle dishes and drinks can leave a wow impression on your guests. To begin with, have a detailed list of ingredients and shop generic discounted items. Consider serving a hot cocoa bar instead of alcohol and simple standouts to keep the festive spirit up. Last, decorate the room with candles and plan some reindeer games.


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    32 thoughts on “How To Budget For Holiday Meals

    1. Lenora says:

      I always cook too much for the holidays. It stays for days. We can’t eat all. And at the end I throw it out.

    2. Brenda says:

      I enjoy cooking for the holidays. All of these special flavors brighten my home. I like cooking for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

    3. Liland says:

      I like shopping for the holiday meals. I always have detailed plan for what I will prepare. I enjoy making some exotic meals and try new stuff

    4. Dilan says:

      We always overspend during the holidays. For gifts, groceries, for everything. It is our bad habit. Most of the stuff expire till you use them

    5. Ann says:

      Detailed menu for the holidays is a good idea. This way you will have a list of products that you need. And try to stick to it.

    6. Maria Jones says:

      Shopping for holidays at the last minute is very expensive. And not only expensive but you can not find the things that you need.

    7. Conchita says:

      I always buy things that I have at home and forget to buy what I need. I am extremely unorganized person and I hate that about myself

    8. Martina says:

      We always tend to buy a lot of products for the holidays. It is like all we have to do is to eat and stay at home.

    9. Svetlana says:

      I enjoy preparing holiday meals for the whole family. I enjoy making holiday menu and to try new meals every year.

    10. Stella says:

      Using coupons and promotions can save a decent amount of money when buying for the holidays. Usually stores give some promotions in a pre-holiday season for a lot of things

    11. Mirjana says:

      Buying in bulk can be good for some products that have a long expiration period. But sometimes buying in bulk means that you will not use them and they will finish in the garbage

    12. Burton says:

      This year is everything upside down. Even the holidays are not what they used to be

    13. Richard says:

      I don’t like crowds during the holidays. I buy most of the things in advance.

    14. Gloria says:

      As for the quest list this year we all have to downsize it. So we don’t have to worry about preparing huge amounts of food

    15. Gabriela says:

      I enjoy to spend the time with my family and my friends during the holiday season. I always prepare a lot of food and snacks that can stay for days and be fresh

    16. Gordana says:

      I like holidays and everything connected with it. I can prepare food for days, special holiday meals etc. Although I overspend during the holidays, I just love it

    17. Suzana says:

      I enjoyed the article. This year we will need all the help to stay within the budget. As many people are losing their jobs it is better to keep some savings for emergencies

    18. Conrad says:

      We will spend the holidays with our closest family so there is no need in buying things that we won’t use. It is the love sharing not expensive food or decorations or gifts

    19. Pilon says:

      I found some holiday recipes on the net that are very cheap and easy to prepare and all with the products that are not expensive. I will stick to them this year

    20. Leroy says:

      Branded products are always expensive. It doesn’t mean that they are better in quality or healthier but just famous. I buy the products I like and are tasteful for me

    21. Melita says:

      I always buy flour, sugar and oil to have in quantities for the whole month. My family is big and we eat a lot. It is better to have some reserves at home

    22. Tina says:

      Some holiday cheap recipes would be a good idea. We all want to cut on the expenses because we need the money for essentials

    23. Prent says:

      I always prepare traditional meals for the holidays. My list is same every year. I know what I will need in advance and I buy the products when they are on sale or with coupons. This way I save a decent amount of money

    24. Vladan says:

      The products have to be fresh, this is what is important to me when buying for home. It doesn’t matter which brand they are as long as I like the taste. And not only for the holidays but for the whole year

    25. Andjela says:

      We have to save some money during the holidays. We all have habit to overspend and to buy unnecessary things because they are cheaper or on sale

    26. Andrea says:

      I like the last few articles. You write how to save money during the holidays and I think these are very useful tips. Thank you.

    27. Nico says:

      I always try to keep some money aside for holiday presents, decorations and food. This way it is easier for me to cope with the expenses

    28. George says:

      I like Christmas and New Year. This is the most magic time of the year when everyone is cheerful and full of joy. As long as you are spending time with family and friends the food or decorations doesn’t matter

    29. Borian says:

      I enjoy spending this time of the year watching Christmas movies in front of the TV and having snacks, hanging out with friends and enjoy the spirit of the holidays

    30. Derek says:

      This year shopping online is the best option. This way we can stick to our list of products needed

    31. Paulina says:

      My opinion is that we should try and stick to the list when buying products throughout the year not only for the holidays. We need some extras at home but not too much. Making a list every time when you go shopping is essential

    32. Lovely says:

      This year I do not have the feeling of holidays coming. Although everything is decorated and the crowds started I just have a different feeling from the previous years

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