Friday, November 14, 2014

Tips to Stretch a Holiday Budget for Food Shopping

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 tricks I've learned to save significant money can just as easily be applied to stretch any special dinner budget.

Invite Guests To Contribute
 
In early November, I send out small, personalized cards via the USPS asking confirmed guests to bring an item to Thanksgiving dinner. I refuse to use email or social media in this case, as it's simply too impersonal. Instead of requesting something vague, like 'an appetizer', I will specifically ask Great Aunt Ernestine to supply her world-famous Creton, and if possible, to share the recipe. My brother brings artisan breads, my sisters bring wine, and my mother tends to bring what she feels like. This way, the meal isn't completely drawn from my wallet as the host, and the table is re-imagined each year with a wondrous mix of new flavors.

Budget For Food
 
save money on holiday meals When the personalized cards are in the mail, I list what items are needed to fill in the gaps (on the back of an used envelope because that's the way I roll), and determine what dollar amount fits my budget. Next to each item on the list, I jot down what I 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 I will pay the exact amount or lower, never more. This is a great idea for visualizing actual per item, and total, realized savings during my trip. Once the bill is tallied, I will divide that number by the total place settings to know exactly how much I spent per place setting. For me, I aim for around $10 per person.On the same note, I 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 the host, I always provide the poultry and meat dishes, my grandmother's recipe for baked-from-scratch rolls, and a desert. For selecting the turkey, I 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 per pound. For hams, this process can be a bit more difficult, as I'm not about to buy a whole pig (though I could). Spiral cuts are always pricey, so for the table this year, I went with a cheaper Hormel Canned Ham that I'll brown up and bake with my own canned McIntosh apples.


Buy Local
 
local butcher When ever possible, I support my local food growers by purchasing directly from them - whether at the farmer's market or straight off the farm. This simple act reduces my carbon footprint by cutting out the processing and retail middle-man, as well as transportation costs, and puts my spending dollar back into the local community. The food is always fresh, and by building a relationship with the
farmers, I often realize a better price as a repeat customer.


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 my local market for .99/lbs, and I use at least ten pounds of my own in various dishes. Fresh green beans and peas price around the same, and I can't forget to add in the various expensive tomatoes, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and choves. A great deal of my 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.

Have a wonderful and safe holiday!