An increase in your holiday food bill can consist of purchasing additional food and beverages for entertaining, eating out more due to busy schedules, or spending too much on holiday favorites. The average family spends 12.5% of their budget on food, which includes eating at home and dining at restaurants. With food taking up so much of the average budget, finding creative ways to cut back, can leave you with more money for other holiday expenses.
Start with A Shopping List
Shopping with a list is one of the most reliable ways to reduce food costs. The practice lowers impulse purchases and leads to less waste. Ideally, you will plan a menu and then create a shopping list based on the menu choices, ensuring you use what you buy. Statistics show the average family throws away 40% of purchased food, wasting hundreds of dollars per year.
Grocery stores excel at increasing your bill through careful placement of convenience items, food samples, the smell of freshly baked bread, and colorful displays of vegetable, fruit and cheese trays, for gatherings with friends and family. Resist temptation by sticking with your prepared list.
Stock Up on Sale Items
Holiday events can bring big sales on staples, which you can use beyond the holidays. Items commonly found on sale near Thanksgiving include turkeys, hams, vegetables, and baking items, which drop to annual lows. Turkey, cranberry sauce, and canned goods tend to drop prices during Thanksgiving, but not always for Christmas. Stock up early and save money all December on food.
Bulk purchases can extend beyond canned goods. You can repackage meats into meal size portions and freeze. Stocking up on everyday food items allows you to shop from the freezer and pantry first, before heading to the grocery store. Mark items by date, making it easier to rotate food and reduce waste.
Buy in Season
Purchasing vegetables and fruits in season save money and increase the quality. The further food must travel to reach the grocery store, the less fresh and more expensive it costs. While you can buy nearly any fruit or vegetable year-round, the cost and quality tend to reflect the seasonality.
For example, for fall pies, opt for pumpkin, peach, or apple, rather than strawberry or blueberry. Choose locally grown vegetables rather than more exotic fruits and vegetables imported from thousands of miles away.
Food Gift Cards and Bonuses
Grocery stores compete for your business during the holidays because it represents some of the highest spending levels of the year. To encourage loyalty, they may offer specials such as receiving $10 cash back bonus for every $100 spent. Rewards programs can include discounted gas or other perks. Compare prices across stores, because sometimes, even with the perks, you will pay more than the discount grocery stores every day low prices.
Discounted gift cards are another way to lower food costs. Some stores will offer a free $5 or $10 gift card with a gift card purchase. You can also locate discount gift cards at websites such as Raise, which can save you up to 30% depending on the retailer.
Keep It Simple
Cooking shows and recipes found in magazines can tempt you to try new dishes, but often come with less familiar items sold at a premium. Before embarking on new foods during the holiday, consider alternative ingredients found at a local store rather requiring you to visit a specialty store.
When time is at a premium, you may want to eat out more for the increased convenience. Fully stocked deli’s and ready-made meals found at the local grocery store can bring the convenience of a restaurant, at lower prices. During the holidays take advantage of these benefits to lessen the temptation to eat out.
Have Everyone Bring Something
For social gatherings rely on guests to help keep menu costs down. You can serve a potluck dinner, where you provide the main dish, and everyone brings a side, salad or dessert. Have guests contribute wine or alcohol served or use other strategies that allow you to enjoy entertaining more without the financial strain.
Limit Beverages Served when entertaining
Shrinking the beverage list can save you a significant amount of money when entertaining. Rather than serving an array of drinks, limit the selection. For example, you can choose one red and one white wine, but no mixed drinks. Choosing to serve only non-alcoholic beverages and encouraging guests to bring their own, can save even more.
Find Discounts on the Main Dish
Aside from the cost of alcohol, meat is typically the highest expense of a meal. Carefully choosing the main dish when entertaining, will help control costs. Choose the meat based on sale prices found during the time you host. If you have a specific type of meat you want to serve, begin looking for sales on that cut early in the season and freeze it until you host.
Put on Your Chef Hat
The more prepared the food is, the higher the cost. Buying food at a restaurant or using the restaurant, catering will cost more than food purchased at the grocery store. Buying pre-seasoned food, and then cooking it at home, saves the time of preparation, and costs less than restaurant meals. Cooking from raw ingredients will save the most, but also require the highest time commitment.
Balancing the amount of time you have, versus your budget, will help you decide when to prepare a meal, and when to utilize alternative options.
When busy schedules preclude you from cooking meals, you can plan a menu in advance. Then prepare and freeze meals for busy days, to keep food costs down. Planning a menu based on pantry and freezer items also reduce the immediate cost of buying food.
Being with family and friends makes the winter holiday season special. These traditions often include eating together. Keeping your food bill in check, allows you to enjoy the holidays without the stress of going over budget.