Hosting Christmas dinner is so much fun — but all that fancy food can definitely add up, putting a strain on your budget. Fortunately we’ve got some great money-saving tips for throwing a memorable, wonderful, fabulous holiday meal on a budget.
Plan well and no one will notice your meal didn’t cost your entire Christmas budget. Because we also want to save money for gifts and end-of-year holiday donations, right?
If I can give you one single best tip, remember this: No matter what you do, no one will truly care if your table isn’t packed with fresh flowers, or you didn’t serve the most expensive brie. The best guests (and those who really love us) are just happy to join us for a holiday meal, and thrilled to be surrounded by friends and family too.
Also? They’re probably super happy they didn’t have to host (and cook and clean and clean again) themselves.
Money-saving tips for hosting a holiday meal on a budget
1. Shop ahead and take advantage of coupons.
Leading up to a big holiday, a lot of stores put traditional foods and ingredients on sale. Keep an eye out for deals by checking online flyers and searching for manufacturer and store coupons.If you can buy some foods in advance when you see them on sale (like frozen pie crust, or cheeses that keep) then go for it.
That said, be careful for endcap displays — those are those racks of products at the ends of the supermarket aisle that have giant signs screaming ONLY $8.99 THIS WEEK, despite the fact that that’s the regular (or higher!) price. A big sign doesn’t always equal a sale!
2 Skip the gourmet stores if you can.
We all want to support our local butchers and bakers, especially over the holiday season, so try to balance your shopping. Think about where you can save and where you want to spend a little more.
For example, you may want to get the best cut of prime rib from your butcher, but for appetizers, you can find a terrific selection of cheeses in regular supermarkets and they’ll cost a lot less than that 10-year-aged whiskey-washed Gouda at an artisanal cheese shop. You may also be able to find good crusty bread, nice produce, and a whole bakery case full of pies and desserts at your regular grocery store and there’s a whole lot of money-saving on your holiday meal right there.
3. Don’t make too much food.
We associate holiday meals with indulgence — or overindulgence — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But have you ever noticed how much can be left over? I know that we all want to be sure we don’t run out of food, which is wise, but consider this:
Because a typical holiday dinner may include more dishes than an average weeknight dinner, you can probably go smaller on portions.
As much as we love mac and cheese, your guests might eat a little less than usual to make room for the roasted potatoes or the warm dinner rolls. (Well, okay. We’ll probably still heap our plates with mac and cheese, but you may not need one potato per person.)
4. Keep your menu seasonal.
Produce that’s in-season is generally less expensive than items that have to be shipped in from other climates. For example, for a winter holiday meal, skip the asparagus and serve winter greens like kale, mustard, and collards instead. Or make a dish using beats or brussels sprouts. And of course, an apple pie is a better call than blueberry or cherry.
5. Avoid recipes with ingredients you won’t use again later.
Need mace for your pie? Don’t buy it, just substitute nutmeg. Don’t have that either? Offer your neighbor a slice of the pie in exchange for for a teaspoon of nutmeg.
If you can’t borrow, beg, or trade, you may be able to buy only the small quantity you need in a store that sells bulk spices . Sure, fifty cents is a lot for a teaspoon of allspice, but it’s less than the $4 price tag on the jar you’ll never open again.
6. Order some dishes ready-made.
A lot of grocery stores offer pans of mashed potatoes, ready-made sauces and gravies, or delicious whole pies. Do the math and see if it might actually cost less to order from a grocery store, deli, or even a restaurant (yes, really!), than it will to buy all the ingredients and make everything yourself from scratch.
This can be especially economical if a dish requires you to buy ingredients or even gadgets you won’t use after the holiday. Besides, no one has ever said no to a terrific store-bought pie. Maybe you just make your own whipped cream to give it that homemade feel.
7. Go easy on the decorations.
A beautiful table can be a lovely part of your celebration, but remember this truth: Your guests are really there to visit with you and each other. Not to see your silver candelabra display.
If you want to decorate for less, cut a few branches from outside or off the back of your Christmas tree, where no one will see. Throw some candles on the table…done! You can even place a few ornaments in dishes or hurricanes.
You can always borrow a nice tablecloth or cloth napkins too. I find friends and neighbors are pretty generous this time of year.
8. Have your guests chip in.
No, I don’t mean charging an admission fee (and at least nine out of ten etiquette experts agree this is wrong). I mean hosting what I call a micro-managed potluck. A few weeks before a big holiday dinner, I send an email inviting all my guests and letting them know they should bring a dish to share.
Guests who have something specific in mind can let me know what they want to bring, and we’ll fill in the blanks by cooking some things ourselves. and giving assignments to people who ask for them. Let me tell you, there is always a guest who’s thrilled to be told simply to bring two gallons of iced tea.
9. Limit your beverage selection.
There’s no need to stock a full bar, which requires ice and mixers and vermouth and tiny olives and…well, it could go on forever. Stick with red and white wine and sparkling water that can be mixed with orange or cranberry juice for festive mocktails. (You SodaStream owners are in luck the savings on that one.) Or have just wine, chilled water, and maybe sparkling cider for the kids and other non-drinkers.
It not only makes your planning so much easier, it really is a big money-saving tip for a holiday dinner when you’re on a budget.
10. Use your leftovers wisely!
You know what’s the best money-saver of all? Eating everything you’ve made. So while planning how to use your holiday meal leftovers may not help your budget before you host, it may keep you out of the grocery store for at least another few days.