Feast on a Budget

Holiday Time

How to Create a Feast on A Budget

Big, family meals. Tables laden with food. Drinks flowing. Money being spent. It’s holiday season and a time for celebrating. But the holidays can be a stressful time if you are on a strict budget. When you are living very carefully on the money that you have, extra expenses can really be a struggle. There are some who go all-out on Thanksgiving and don’t really care to spend extra on this once-a-year occasions but remember that if you are putting money on a credit card to pay for your expenses you will regret it later on. You don’t want to be paying for your Thanksgiving meal in February. The best way to tackle the large expenses of the holiday season is to put aside money for holidays all year round. I have an “envelope” for holiday expenses which I try to fill every month. But even with saving, money is finite and holidays are expensive. So….

Here are some tips to save money on your big holiday feasts:

  1. Serve soup. Starting a meal with a nice soup is a good way to fill up on something cheap and festive. You want your family and guests to fill up on the cheaper items first so that you can skimp on the more expensive stuff. Don’t get carried away and make a fancy, expensive soup with lots of ingredients! A simple cream of potato or zucchini soup is fitting start to an elegant meal but a very cheap and filling dish. Soup can also be easily frozen as leftovers (see #7).
  2. Serve bread and dips. A yummy (homemade) bread or rolls is a good, filling way to start the meal. Any plain bread recipe can be elevated with the addition of some roasted garlic or herbs. A simple tehina or hummus dip (can be homemade) to dip the bread in will get the meal started.
  3. Lighten up the sides. Many traditional side dishes are based on pretty cheap items- sweet potatoes, potatoes, stuffing etc. Cut down on the margarine, butter, salt and oil to make the vegetables less heavy. The cost savings may be minimal but the lighter version will be easier to swallow and will encourage guests to eat more of these vegetables. A light lettuce or tomato salad is another easy, cheap side dish.
  4. Shop around for the turkey and other main dishes. While it not exactly practical to shop around for the best deal on each ingredient- especially if you are cooking all week!- pick the most expensive or most used ingredient and find a deal on that. For thanksgiving, this will probably be the Turkey. If you save $1 dollar a pound on a ten-pound turkey, you will save $10. That is worth driving a little extra for! Keep an eye out for grocery stores offering coupons or deals on other more expensive ingredients like nuts, throughout the week.
  5. Cut down on drinks. Soda, punch, and juice add expense to your meal. Consider serving water or a homemade lemonade or sumac juice to cut down on costs and make your meal a little healthier. Some lemon slices or fresh mint in a pitcher of water make a festive addition to your table with very little cost.
  6. Sweet potato vs. pecan? While it may not be worth it for you to cut down on all expensive ingredients or dishes (Thanksgiving is one time a year, after all!) it may be worth it to cut down on the more expensive dishes on the menu. A smaller piece of pecan pie can be served next to a larger slice of sweet potato pie. The more expensive the ingredient- the more sparingly it should be used.
  7. Leftovers! It goes without saying (but we are saying it anyways)- save leftovers. Take the time after your exhausting day to properly pack up and fridge or freeze leftovers. Don’t leave all food to be eaten the next day. Freeze some dishes to keep for those days when supper is just not happening. Instead of ordering pizza, pull some leftovers out and you will be grateful you took the time to freeze it!

Do you have any tips to cut down on expenses for the big meal? Share on Twitter or leave a comment below!

The Number 1 Problem with Personal Finance

I just read a whole thread on Twitter “bashing” FIRE and extreme miserliness. The gist was “Why be miserable just to save money?”. It then started veering into the mentality of “If I can’t/don’t want to be miserly then why shouldn’t I spend/waste tons of money?”
I rarely get political but I think we have the same issue with politics today.

THE NUMBER ONE ISSUE WITH PERSONAL FINANCE AND POLITICS TODAY IS EXTREMISM ON BOTH SIDES.

The problem with extreme blogs and subreddits (though why anyone uses that as a barometer is beyond me) is that the extremism is broadcast and amplified on social media. At the other end is the extreme materialism that has permeated our culture. Those that show off their extremely lavish lifestyles. This, too, is broadcast and amplified on social media. I know that I sound like a grouchy old lady complaining about today’s ills and “social media” but I am just a millennial who is seeing what is going around in the world. There is no moderation. There is no “middle ground”, there is no “balance”. There is either good or bad. Extreme one way or extreme the other way.

In terms of finance, there is either a miser or a lavish spender. Pay off all your student loans in 2 years or never pay them off. Never buy deodorant or buy $11 deodorant. Analyze each purchase or never look at the bill. I think that “we” (as in people who live today) often tend to look at things and then either hate or love them. If we have an idea with which we disagree, we automatically take up the opposing stance without considering that there may be a middle ground. There may be a balance. There may be good and bad mixed up together. We are so desperate to label everything “good”, “bad”, “tolerant”, “intolerant” that we can’t see that maybe there is a middle. Maybe there is a mixture of both.

Now, since this is a personal finance blog and I don’t want to sit and complain about “what is wrong with the world today” I will turn my rant to personal finance.

There is a way to be financially responsible without becoming a miser. There is a way to enjoy life without spending all our money. You can be financially stable without being a millionaire or retiring at 40.

Now, if you choose to practice extreme frugalism, out of choice, (there are many people who must do this out of necessity) than I guess that is your choice and right. Just be aware that extremism can often lead to abuse and then it is no longer your choice or right.

My message is this: don’t be turned off from being financially responsible by extremism. Don’t stop listening or doing the best you can just because you heard/read/saw/experienced the other end. Allow yourself to find the medium and the balance that works for you.

You can stick to a budget and still buy things you enjoy.
You can cut frivolous spending and still do things you enjoy.
You can use hand-me-downs and not traumatize your children.
You can save money and still spend some.
You can be careful about going into debt and still go to school.
You can make careful financial decisions and still have children.
You can choose to stay home often and still still go to a family wedding.
You can not buy a brand-new Audi and still have a decent car.
You can shop sales and use coupons without driving you and your family crazy.

It does not need to be all or none. It really doesn’t. That voice in your head? The one that is telling you that it’s not worth doing unless you’re doing it completely? Realize that extremism is rearing its ugly head.

Let’s not let extremism of any sort ruin our lives and our futures.

How to Save Money on Gifts

How to Save Money on Gifts

Gifts are important but so are your finances

Let’s not kid ourselves. There is no way to have an extensive gift list and but the perfect gift all on a miniscule budget. In order to REALLY save TONS of money on gifts you have to do the following:

  1. Give less gifts
  2. Give smaller gifts.

Those two should be the main focus when trying to cut down on holiday expenses. See if you can get anyone in your life to agree on a “no gift exchange” rule. Adults are usually more amenable to this type of agreement;) Trying it with an 8 year old will probably backfire. We should all reduce the amount of materialism happens around the holidays. But if you are going to disappoint your children for life or cause an irreparable family rift then you can’t just skip presents or buy something from the dollar store.

Here are some ideas that can help you save some money on gifts. If you are lucky and diligent then this may help you tremendously. The best way to tackle overspending is to make a STRICT budget and really stick to it. You can decide how much you will spend per person or total and then really stick to it. I use an envelope system to save money all year round for the gifts I want to give.

How to Save Money of Gifts

  1. Be open. We all want to find and give the perfect gift and sometimes we have in our heads exactly what that gift should be. Be open, if the item you are searching for is out of your price range or is never going on sale then it’s time to think of other options
  2. Shop sales mindfully. Black Friday sales and per-holiday sales often have steep discounts on some amazing items. But keep in mind that the price you see “on sale” could have been manipulated to seem to be a steeper discount than it actually is. While Black Friday is a great day to do some shopping and a great time to find deals, don’t buy it just because its on “sale”– make sure you are actually getting it for cheaper.
  3. Shop clearance. There is nothing wrong with getting something off the clearance rack. Small children, in particular don’t usually care if something is the latest and greatest. A toy is a toy and a book is a book.
  4. Pair up. For more pricey gifts, see if chipping in with someone else can save you some money (and time). Maybe a group of siblings want to get together to get something nicer for their parents. If done correctly, this can lower individual costs and sometimes the combined gift is much nicer than what you could have afforded on your own.
  5. Give a family gift- if you have family that has many kids, maybe consider buying a family gift instead of individual gifts. If you do this properly it can save you some money. Consider a gift that everyone will enjoy-like a large toy or game or an experience that they can all do together- a membership to a museum or zoo (for example).
  6. DIY or Do it Simple. There are so many meaningful gifts that can be given that are DIY or partial DIY. Picture books, magnets, framed poems can all be lovely meaningful gifts that don’t break the bank. With a little creativity and time you can create some truly memorable items that probably will be cherished for much longer than that Starbucks gift card.
  7. Skip the babies. And if you can’t then give them something small or cheap. Dollar Store or Target dollar section works well for this. They really, really don’t need something big and is honestly a waste of money.
  8. Use Amazon (yes-this an affiliate link). Amazon is currently offering free shipping for all shoppers and has rolled out a targeted program allowing Prime members to have all their items ship at once which allows add-on items to ship without a $25 minimum. Keep on scanning deal sites and flash sales to score some great deals.
  9. Use deal sites. There are so many blogs, twitter accounts, and Instagram pages that are devoted to finding you great deals. Check these every day and sign up for alerts to get the limited time offers that are available.
  10. Use Ebates (again-an affiliate link). Don’t spend more because you think you will get cash back as the amount is not that large. But it does add up especially if you do a lot of shopping online. And its always nice to get a check a few weeks after the holidays are over.

Do you have any tips for saving money on gifts? Hit the comments or let me know on Twitter!