6 Ways to Save Money on Holiday Meals

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Don’t go over budget this year! The holidays can be festive as well as frugal. Consider these savvy tips to help you save money on holiday meals.

dinner spread of potatoes, vegetables, and pork tenderloin

Remember the first time you hosted a holiday meal for the family? You were so excited. You researched for weeks which dishes to prepare. You checked the grocery ads for the best prices.

You almost keeled over from sticker shock when the checker told you the ingredients for one meal cost as much as a regular week’s groceries.

Oh wait, that was me, wasn’t it?

Whether you lived this scenario with me or not, the holidays can be a prime time for us to blow our carefully budgeted grocery dollars. There are so many wonderful foods to make this time of year, it’s easy to justify it all.

It is the holidays, you know?

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can celebrate with wonderful meals this holiday season without breaking the bank.

Consider these savvy tips to help you save money on holiday meals.

 6 Ways to Save Money on Holiday Meals

Now before you go grocery shopping, sit yourself down a minute. Do not pass Go. Do not spend $200.

You’ve got some planning to do, my friend.

1. Check the pantry first.

Know what you have before you head to the grocery store to buy more. Chances are you might already have some of those seasonal ingredients in stock. How often do you really use ground cloves and molasses?

Be sure that you don’t already have some at home before you buy more!

Now in order to know what you need to see if you have it already, you’re going to need to have an idea of what you are going to prepare for your holiday meal.

stack of three cans of organic pumpkin

2. Plan simple meals, but be flexible.

In order to know what ingredients you’ll need, you need a meal plan. Plan out some simple meals because, really, simple is as good as a feast. Remember that food presentation can elevate the simplest of suppers.

Jot down a list of your standard holiday fare, must-makes that your family loves, as well as some new recipes to try.

Then visit the pantry. Will you need to buy a lot of different ingredients in order to make this meal happen? If so, you may want to adjust your meal plan. Check out what’s in your cupboards already for inspiration.

Once you’ve got a meal plan that makes good use of ingredients on hand, then you’re ready to head to the store? No.

It’s time to look at the grocery store ads.

3. Check the grocery sales ads.

Thankfully, all major grocery stores post their ads online so you can compare prices. Typically, they have sales on basic holiday meal ingredients, so you’re going to be able to fill in the gaps of your pantry with items on sale.

You may want to jot down on your list of needed ingredients where you can buy each item for what price. Just because one item is a screaming deal, aka loss leader, at one store, that doesn’t mean everything else will be a great price at that same store.

Potatoes may be $1/5-pound bag at Vons — to get you in the door — but everything else there will cost an arm and a leg. Might not be worth the bargain spuds.

As you compare prices for your needed items, hone in on one or two grocery stores that have the lowest prices for the items you plan to buy. It makes no sense to go to ten stores for a few different items at each. Even if you got amazing deals, you’d waste your savings in time and fuel costs.

4. Choose the store with the best overall prices.

Once you know which store or two you’ll be heading to, do a little more investigating. Does this store offer extra discounts for shopping on certain days? Do they double coupons? Do they have great clearance items? Do they offer digital coupons?

Do a little homework before you go shopping. Do you have a stack of coupons from this store that you’ve been meaning to go through? Dig those out.

Not all grocery stores offer the same deals or service. Choose the one that fits your grocery list and budget.

grocery cart with food at store

5. Be flexible at the store.

Having a plan and a hot stack of coupons in your hand does not always a successful grocery shopping trip make. Things happen.

Once you’re at the store you may find that the sale items aren’t what you expected or they’ve already run out of those items. You may find a great unadvertised special on meat that may prompt you to change your meal plan.

Shop with flexibility based on what’s available.

6. Avoid food waste.

They say Americans waste 25 to 40% of the food they buy. Don’t let this be the case with your holiday meals. Make sure not to waste that good food you just bought.

Don’t be the lady who forgot her Christmas ham in the car! Ahem.

Instead, be sure to store food properly when you get home and to package leftovers appropriately after your meal so you can maximize your grocery investment.

Not sure what to do with holiday leftovers? Check out these posts:

It’s not that hard to save money on holiday meals. You just can’t throw all caution to the wind. It’s far too easy to go for broke during November and December, so batten down the hatches and prepare to save money on holiday meals.

How do YOU save money on holiday meals?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Alice E says

    With me, most of it comes down to planning a practical menu and making it in reasonable quantities. Holiday dinners usually have more dishes than usual. If you have a big group, and they will eat leftovers, that’s great. But, if you have a smaller group, and they won’t or don’t want to eat leftovers, then be consider how much of each dish to make. For example, don’t make a huge pan of green bean bake, if over half of it won’t be eaten and nobody will eat it as leftovers. At my house, leftovers are considered a wonderful bonus, but I know people for whom this isn’t true. While something like turkey can provide lots of ‘planned’ over meals, that isn’t true of some of the other dishes that show up at holiday time.

    • Ah! You hit the nail on the head, Alice. Reasonable quantities is huge! We love some leftovers but not all. Being able to identify what is too much, while both an art and a science, is a great way to save money!

    • Mary says

      We like leftovers and in fact, for me, the cook, I enjoy them more than the big day. However, even we have too much sometimes. I freeze leftover turkey, half-eaten pans of sweet potatoes, wild rice, rolls, etc for another meal when the Christmas season gets busy and I don’t want to cook.

  2. I am working on this. Last year we did a roast, which is pricey, but it works since we had a small group. I am planning ahead though, and will have my Christmas dessert in the freezer before Thanksgiving!

    • I did a roast last year and due to not reading my receipt in time to catch an error, it was way too pricey. This year I’m planning a bit differently, and I’ve learned to check my receipt before leaving the store!

      • Oh no, did they over charge you?

        • There was a limit of 1 roast for the sale. I failed to read the small print until I was going over my receipts at the end of the month and saw I had paid $75 for a roast! Almost died!

  3. beth says

    For us, beverages are the budget busters. We combat this with specialty drinks in the crockpot and big pitchers of tea and water. The same goes for dessert–you can make several pumpkin pies for cheap, but when you start making multiple different things it adds up!

    While my mom feels the need (and can afford at this stage) to make everyone’s favorite side and dessert, I just fight this urge–I plan a simple menu with a few favorite sides and a beautiful bird and one or (at most) 2 types of pie and call it a day. It is lovely. Everyone is stuffed. It costs more than a regular meal, but doesn’t break the bank

  4. Janet says

    I had to have a heart-to-heart talk with my family. I was always asked to make “Old Family Favorites” for the holidays. Problem was the memory was an old favorite, but the actual food often set barely touched on the table. Shelly beans were one of those side dishes. I quit making it for the holidays, but I make them other times of the year with more simple meals and they become the star of the meal for my husband. It is not necessary to have dozens of sides. I have slimmed down the menu for the holidays. Thanksgiving includes turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans and crescent rolls. Add pumpkin and apple pie for dessert and that is more than enough for one meal.

    • Such an a-ha moment, Janet! There are lots of good things to enjoy at the holidays. Spreading them around the year is a great idea!

  5. Ruth Anne says

    I like to start my holiday grocery shopping in Oct, I check my pantry first then I will buy a few things extra foods or ingredients each week to put aside for Thanksgiving. That way I don’t have spend a lot at one time.

  6. Donna Landwehr says

    We usually have people in our house for a few days before and a few days after the “big” meal. I keep the meals for those days simple—crockpot soups, bread, salad, easy casseroles–all stuff I can make ahead and just heat up. In making the main meal, I plan for leftovers– we have tradition of making gallons of turkey soup with the meat and carcass from the turkey, we made bread puddings/french toast bakes with leftovers rolls, and puree leftover veggies for frozen soup too. I hate throwing food away, so I try to have something in mind for every possible leftover that isn’t eaten within a couple days.

  7. I start shopping months before the dinner. I check different stores for the prices not just the one I shop regularly. I make the desserts in AUGUST and freeze them. Noodles are made in September. Bread and rolls in Oct. I have everyone bring one dish either a appetizer or dessert. One daughter brings pop another does paper goods. We served 50 – 100 a normal dinner. I do start saving $$$ after Tday as I know I can do it including a rental hall for $1200. This year with grandson just getting married we decided to by pass our Tday dinner.

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