Tips to Stretch a Holiday Budget for Food Shopping

save money on holiday meals

Budget Ideas for Thanksgiving Dinner

Stretching a holiday budget for food shopping can be quite an experience. I've been the primary grocery warrior in my family for a few years now, and the best practices to save significant money can just as easily be applied to stretch any special dinner budget.

Invite Guests To Contribute

In early November, we send out small, personalized cards via the USPS asking confirmed guests to bring an item to Thanksgiving dinner. We refuse to use email or social media in this case, as it's simply too impersonal. Instead of requesting something vague, like 'an appetizer', we will specifically ask Great Aunt Ernestine to supply her world-famous Creton, and if possible, to share the recipe. 

My brother brings artisan breads, our friends bring wine, and my mother tends to bring what she feels like. This way, the meal isn't completely drawn from our wallet as the hosts, and the table is re-imagined each year with a wondrous mix of new flavors.

Budget For Food

budget for food When the personalized cards are in the mail, we list what items are needed to fill in the gaps (on the back of an used envelope because that's the way we roll), and determine what dollar amount fits the budget. Next to each item on the list, I jot down what we can expect to pay, and while shopping, I'll adjust those numbers with the actual price. 

This acts as a mental exercise in not going over my expectation, as we will pay the exact amount or lower, never more. This is a great idea for visualizing actual cost per item, and total, realized savings during the trip. Once the bill is tallied, I will divide that number by the total place settings to know exactly how much we spent per place setting. 

We aim for around $10 per person. It might sound cheap, but we are also pulling from our homestead stores. On the same note, we can divide the total savings to bring up in casual conversation - "Hi Uncle Fred, great game. By the way, I was able to save $3.49 off of your plate this year."

What To Buy

As hosts, we always provide the poultry and meat dishes, my grandmother's recipe for baked-from-scratch rolls, and a desert. For selecting the turkey, we start the process in late-October, pricing the per pound offerings at local farms, as well as the frozen solid early-bird prices at the super markets. 

Once again, the local farmer won out this year (she always seem to), by undercutting the grocery stores by a good .20 cents per pound. For hams, this process can be a bit more difficult, as I'm not about to buy a whole pig (though the thought has crossed our minds on more than one occasion . Spiral cuts are always pricey, so for the table this year, we went with a cheaper Hormel Canned Ham that we'll brown up and bake with our own canned McIntosh apples.

Buy Local

local butcher When ever possible, we support my local food growers by purchasing directly from them anything we don't have put up in our canning provisions - whether at the farmer's market or straight off the farm. 

This simple act reduces our carbon footprint by cutting out the processing and retail middle-man, as well as transportation costs, and puts our spending dollar back into the local community. The food is always fresh, and by building a relationship with the farmers, we often realize a better price as repeat customers.

Grow Your Own Holiday Banquet

Of course, this tip takes a bit of pre-planning, but having a vegetable garden can bring huge savings by knocking off $40-$80 from your meal budget for food. Squashes sell in our local market for .99/lb, and we use at least ten pounds of our own in various dishes. 

Fresh green beans and peas price around the same, and we can't forget to add in the various expensive tomatoes, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and chives. A great deal of our seasonal plantings are chosen with holiday meals in mind, as well as any canned jellies, syrups, and fruits put up from multiple pick-your-own excursions.

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Have a wonderful and safe holiday!