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Frugal Food Friday: How I Plan to Host Christmas Dinner on a Budget

In less than a week, we’ll be hosting Christmas day at our house.

Excuse me, what?! Where did the holiday season go? I haven’t even watched Elf yet! Visions of sugar plums have yet to dance in my head! My mind is reeling from all of the tiny tasks that are left to get ready for our 25 (or so) guests.

We recently finished a renovation on our downstairs that increased our entertaining real estate by about 50%. This, combined with the fact that we haven’t once hosted a Christmas in the 5 years we’ve been married, made our home the obvious choice this year. And we’re super excited!

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When I start thinking in circles about all of the things I need to accomplish to help an event come together, I know it’s time to start writing it down. I’m a paper and pencil kind of girl. As much as I love paperless technology, when it comes to planning dinners, I do well having everything laid out in front of me. And, maybe I’m crazy, but I get even more amped when it’s color coded.

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So, with the help of my trusty Flair pens, I set out writing down everything that I need to do, make, and buy for our Christmas day gathering. And, with my New Year’s resolutions in mind, I have the additional goal of staying on track with our budget.

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While these examples are a bit extreme (I don’t always write out extensive, colorful grocery lists and menus for 25 people), the underlying principles can be applied to your everyday frugal food planning efforts. I’ve broken it down into the areas that are typically helpful for me. They’re not glamorous, but when I’m trying to stick to a grocery budget and host a successful party, these tried and true strategies are my best friends.

Plan your menu around loss leaders at your local grocery store. Loss leaders are the items typically pictured on the first page of a weekly supermarket circular. You know, those inserts that get stuffed into your newspapers or displayed at the store’s entrance. Most stores also have them available on their websites (you can customize your circular by entering your zip code so only deals at your local store will be displayed).

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Supermarkets offer certain items at rock-bottom prices, in order to entice people to shop there. The underlying philosophy is that, while the sale items may initially attract people to a particular store, more often than not, those shoppers will leave with additional items that are priced for profit.

Why is shopping the loss leaders a helpful strategy? Well, while it can be exciting to mix things up and serve something non-traditional for a holiday dinner, your biggest savings are going to occur on those classic foods: ham, turkey, cranberries, potatoes, etc. These are the items that are typically in demand, so that is what grocery stores will offer at a sale price to try to draw shoppers into their store. So, if your aim is to save money, shop the loss leaders. If your aim is to wow your guests with a new and interesting meal, just plan your grocery budget accordingly.

Share out the menu with those attending, and figure out what others are bringing before you shop. This tip applies to potluck style events in which everyone brings a dish to share. I use the Evite app to send casual invitations to friends and family. It’s free and super easy, and it allows you to send messages to all of your guests at once.

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Earlier this week, after I had planned out what my husband and I would be making, I simply copied it into a message and sent it out. I left blank spaces to indicate where guests could sign up for additional appetizers, side dishes, or desserts. Knowing what others are bringing allows me to narrow down my own grocery list and buy fewer “just in case” items.

Play up the seasonal produce in your menu to cut costs. Seasonal is often synonymous with loss leader. When a particular produce item is in season, it is more readily available. Because it is more readily available, grocery stores can stock their produce displays for less. These deals are reflected in a lower price for the customer.

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Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

How is this helpful for you? Well, if you take seasonal produce into account when planning your menu, you can often discover significant savings over buying out-of-season or obscure produce (think watermelon in December). It’s no accident that several of my recipes include cranberries!

Write out a grocery list, and, here’s the kicker: Stick. To. It. It’s easy to be overtaken by all of the lovely, perfectly crafted supermarket displays. But don’t forget, it’s someone’s job to make us want to buy those things. Stay strong! You are armed with your list and every necessary ingredient is accounted for. So keep your head down and your eyes on the prize, my friend.

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Pro tip: be sure to include measurements and quantities right on your list (e.g. canned pumpkin x1 @ 30 oz.). This way, you’re not hunting through your Pinterest boards in the middle of the grocery aisle (to everyone’s annoyance) to locate that elusive ingredient list. Not that I’ve ever done that [clears throat].

Buy the bulk of your groceries at Aldi (or comparable grocery store). Guys, this is instant savings. If you want to skip everything else on this list, you could still save money by shopping at Aldi. I had to include it here because I have never found a grocery store like it. Honestly, I could write a whole post on Aldi, but I’ll save that for another day. Instead, I’ll just say that Aldi is able to sell food at significantly lower prices than your standard supermarket because they cut costs themselves. Less overhead = lower prices for us. I plan to do the majority of my grocery shopping at Aldi this Christmas. For those harder to find, specialty items on my list, I’ll pop into my larger local grocery store (with a list!) to fill in any gaps.

Borrow or invest in an inexpensive set of dishes and/or flatware for larger parties. This tip is especially applicable to those of us who frequently host parties that surpass the number of dinner plates in our cabinets. Although the initial investment may be more than if you were to buy disposable cutlery/plates/cups a single time, this step could save you serious dough in the long run.

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I’ve seen beautiful, complete dish sets at Goodwill for a tiny fraction of the original retail price (read more about the benefits of buying used). For this party, I’ve arranged to borrow my babci’s (grandmother’s) china set and a spare flatware set from my mom in order to avoid having to purchase disposable plates and cutlery. A small savings, but it all adds up.

Well, that’s what I’ve got! These are the strategies I’ll be using to save money on my own grocery bill this Christmas. I hope that some of these will be useful for you as well.

I’d love to hear from you, too! What are some ways you save money on your grocery bill, either at Christmastime or any other time of year?

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