7 Cost-Saving Tips for Christmas Dinner

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The holiday season has arrived, bringing with it peace, love, joy, merriment… and money. Well, truth be told, it’s not so much bringing money as taking it. You managed to get through gift-buying relatively unscathed by bargain-hunting like a maniac on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and thought you were in the clear. And then you remembered – you’re hosting Christmas dinner for your family this year!

The traditional Christmas dinner probably didn’t seem like a big deal when you agreed to it. After all, it’s just one meal. But as anyone who’s ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner can attest, one meal can be a monster. Because it’s a traditional meal, everyone is coming with expectations of eating their favorite seasonal foods and because it’s Christmas, even those family members who typically beg out of most gatherings will be there. That likely means 10 to 15 relatives all looking to you to give them a good meal and a good time, so the cost can soar it you let it.

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With that in mind, here are seven tips on how to keep your Christmas dinner costs under control:

Get a head count, check it twice.

You don’t need to send out fancy cards like you would for a wedding, but using a service like Evite or even Facebook to get people to RSVP can really help. And since it’s family and/or close friends, don’t be afraid to enlist the help of guests to determine who’s actually coming. Knowing the number of people is going to be the most important thing in determining your budget, because you’ll know how much food you need.

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Make a list and stick to it.

Why? Most of the time when people overspend, it’s on impulse items, so if you remain steadfast and only go for what’s on the list, you’ll be far less likely to get sticker shock at the register. A list is also very helpful because it will keep you from forgetting something and having to trek back to the store later. And if you know exactly what you’re getting, you can do some research and budget for each item. Which brings us to…

Seek out sales.

How are you going to budget for all of those items? By looking at grocery store ads. And since you’re already looking, you might as well keep an eye on the sales prices and jump on anything if it seems like a great deal. You can always buy ingredients in advance and freeze them. And paper ads are fine, but make sure you head to stores’ websites as well, because you can sign up to receive coupons in your email.

‘Tis the season.

Family likes fruits and veggies with their dinner? The best way to keep your costs down on this fresh fare is to buy foods that are in season. This will vary from region to region, but it’s worth it to your pocketbook even if you end up missing out on something one of your guests wanted. Tell them you wanted to try something new… or say that you chose in-season foods because they’re fresher and therefore taste better. If you can come up with several great recipes for fruits and veggies, you’ll probably even be able to cut down on the amount of meat you buy, which will definitely save money!

BYOB… or dish.

One great way to lower your costs is to ask your guests to bring their favorite drink with them to share. This way, you’re completely avoiding one of the biggest costs of the dinner – alcohol – and making guests feel like they are a part of the dinner preparation (and thus can take credit) by bringing something. This is doubly true if you go the potluck route and have people bring their own dishes. If you worry that it starts to seem like you’re shirking your duty, choose a specific course for guests to contribute – dessert, for example. It will seem less like you’re trying to avoid paying for more food, but you’ll still get to save money… and likely enjoy a bunch of different dessert options!

Use body heat.

Most people aren’t thinking about their energy bill when it comes to hosting Christmas dinner, but anywhere that you can cut costs helps, and with 10 to 20 people in the same room for dinner, all that body heat is probably already going to make the room pretty toasty. Turn the heater down or off for a while; chances are, your guests will appreciate not sweating during their meal. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re turning off lights and appliances when no one is using them – you can even unplug things like the TV and say it’s a way to get the family to actually spend time together.

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Save leftovers… and actually use them.

Chances are you’re going to have a decent amount of leftovers. Your first instinct after hosting this exhausting meal might be to just toss the food, but don’t do it. Plan ahead and get some bread for turkey or ham sandwiches, or just reheat the food for lunch and dinner throughout the week. If you start to tire of the same food, freeze it to use later.

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