Enjoy Food

How To Set A Budget For Holiday Food Shopping

Aly Walansky  |  November 11, 2021

There’s probably still a bowl of Halloween candy out on your table right now, but it’s already time to start thinking about the rest of the holiday season.

There’s a great many expenses wrapped up (pun intended!) in the holiday season, from presents and decorations to clothes for holiday parties and travel costs to visit family and friends. But perhaps one of the biggest expenses we encounter every year is holiday food. From the Thanksgiving turkey dinner to celebrations throughout Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and so much more, it seems the entire stretch from late November to early January is all about spending a ton of money on food and drink.

So, the question is, how do we find a balance between the necessary (and fun!) expenses this time of year, and reigning in our expenses as much as we can? First and foremost, we need to make a plan and stick to it. (In other words, make a list and check it twice!)

Grocery Pickup and Delivery 

Plenty of supermarket chains and grocery stores are now offering curbside pickup and car-loading services – and one store found in many of our backyards, Walmart, is one of them. “Walmart’s grocery pickup and delivery system  is a great way to not only save time and avoid long supermarket lines, but also to save money on your holiday groceries using eligible online coupons,” says Brenda Raftlova, shopping expert at Offers.com. It’s also a way to get more bang for your buck. “If you’re trying Walmart curbside pickup for the first time, you can get $15 off any order over $50 when you refer a friend or save 20% off your first order over $50,” says Raftlova. 

Shop Dollar Stores For Non-Traditional Items 

When we’re buying for a special occasion, it may seem easier to just pick everything up at our local grocery store. But they don’t always have the best deals. Sometimes, local dollar stores have a produce or fresh food section, which can offer some incredible prices on the basics. “Selection may vary and the exact item you need might not be there, so the strategy is to get creative and plan a meal around what’s available,” says Raftlova. The same goes for budget stores like Aldi. 

Another good bet is to take a look at Walmart’s and Target’s weekly ads as well as the weekly flyer from your grocery store. “Buying things that are on BOGO pricing and freezing them if possible can save you money on next week’s grocery run, if not this week’s,” says Raftlova. 

Plan Ahead

It may seem like the best thing to do is to buy everything when you need it, and do all your prepping as your big day of celebration approaches. But that’s not necessarily the best way to budget your grocery expenses  — or your time. “Grocery stores often price items that are nearing their expiration date to sell quickly,” sys Raftlova. Bagged greens and meats are prime examples. So zero in on these items, cook in batches and freeze what you cooked for later. This also means you won’t have to make the entire holiday dinner at the last minute. That’s a win-win!

This involves shopping smart for non-perishable items as well. “Plan your Thanksgiving dinner recipes ahead and buy non-perishable items when they are on sale,” says Nicole Johnson, director of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. Stock up on those cans of cranberry sauce or green beans when they aren’t the most coveted items in the store, and you’ll save big. 

Pick Vegetables Wisely

Frozen and canned vegetables can often be more affordable than the fresh varieties and still offer the same nutritional value. “If you do need to purchase fresh produce, select vegetables that are in season, such as squash and sweet potatoes, which are often less expensive,” says Johnson.

Cook From Your Pantry

Sometimes the smartest grocery shopping you can do is avoiding shopping at all. Very often when updating our wardrobes for the season, we’re told to shop our closets. In the same sense, we can shop in our pantry. “Selecting recipes that utilize ingredients already in your pantry, spice rack or refrigerator is also a smart way to save,” says Johnson.

Have Your Guests Help (Really!) 

Some of the most fun dinners I’ve ever been to are potlucks. Whether this means everyone bringing their beloved specialty or just contributing a unique side or dessert, it takes the pressure — and the financial burden — off the host. “Consider asking your guests to bring a side dish or dessert. This allows each guest to share a bit of their traditions as well as save the host some money,” says Johnson. (Non-cooks can bring wine, flowers, or a store-bought side or dessert, as they wish.) 

Turn One Meal Into Many

We love avoiding waste whenever possible. If you find you made too much food, do not toss what’s left. Find new life for the leftovers! “Purchasing a frozen whole turkey is an economical option and choosing a slightly larger turkey ensures plenty of leftovers for recipes,” says Johnson.


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