Feast on a Budget

Big, family meals. Tables laden with food. Drinks flowing. 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 meals:

  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!

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