It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But this holiday season, no doubt family gatherings will be smaller, and budgets tighter. Start with a little gratitude, and then come up with an action plan for making the most of the holiday season while also sticking to a budget. Here are six tips for saving money on meals this holiday season. 

Budget and plan a menu

Estimate how many guests will attend and who will bring a dish (most likely you’ll only be hosting your family plus another family or two). Set a budget and break that down to cost per serving(s). Then you can start looking at recipes to figure out which you can afford.

Improvise!

Don’t buy an expensive ingredient just because a recipe calls for it, especially if you will only use a small amount. Look for a substitute. If a recipe calls for a tablespoon of wine and you won’t drink the rest, diluted vinegar, lemon juice, or even a tart juice can make excellent substitutions. Mayonnaise, sour cream, yogurt, and cream cheese are almost interchangeable, so shop the sales and buy the cheapest. This works for dips, dressings, spreads, quiches, and casseroles.

Review recipes

Review your ingredients before buying. Don’t drain your budget on full-price cheeses, bacon, or other ingredients. If items in a recipe aren’t on sale – move on and find something else to make. There are so many frugal-friendly holiday recipes that will dazzle your guests and not break your budget.

Check your refrigerator, freezer and cabinets

Eggs are inexpensive and can make a hearty, savory quiche, egg pie or bake that is appealing to the eye and can bring together seasonal vegetables. Leftovers reheat well and can be frozen.

Take a look at what you have in the freezer and the back of the cabinet. Frozen broccoli, sausage or cured meats, corn, quinoa, raisins or prunes can taste fantastic in stuffing.

Stick to seasonal vegetables and experiment

Seasonal vegetables don’t have to be shipped as far so they tend to be inexpensive this time of year. We all know about corn, cranberries, and pumpkins, but others include mushrooms, spinach, okra, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale and kohlrabi, and root vegetables like turnips, beets, rutabagas, and parsnips. Experiment with other seasonal ingredients like tomatillos, arugula, or fennel.

Use the money you’ve saved to set up an emergency savings account for 2021 

After an unsettling 2020, who knows what 2021 will bring! An emergency savings account will bring peace of mind into the new year. Track how much you’ve saved this holiday season by sticking to a budget, and divert any extra funds to an emergency bank account!