christmas dinner on a budget
Updated September 19, 2023

How to Do Christmas Dinner on a Budget with These 7 Useful Tips

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Food is an important part of this season, as friends and family traditionally come together to spend the holidays together and share a delicious Christmas meal.

Very often, people spend significant sums to ensure everything will be perfect. They cook a range of meats, prepare several sides, and bake multiple dessert options.

In an effort to impress, spending can quickly spiral out of control.

If you have limited funds, you may worry about whether you can create a delicious Christmas dinner on a budget.

The truth is that a tasty holiday meal doesn’t have to break the bank.

If you use the tips outlined in this article, you can create a splendid meal and still save some money for the new year.

Christmas Is About the Company, Not the Food

Spending time with loved ones is what Christmas is really all about.

If you think about it, you probably remember last Christmas’ dinner because of the flowing conversation and excellent company, not because of the food you had.

You can’t put a price on these experiences. Keep this aspect of the season in mind as you look for cheap Christmas dinner ideas.

Don’t feel pressured to purchase the finest cuts of meat or the most expensive cheeses for the cheese board. Stay within your limits and make the most of a cheap Christmas meal.

Contrary to what you may believe, it is possible to have a magical and exciting Christmas without going overboard and spending all your money.

Before we get into how to prepare Christmas dinner on a budget, let’s look at some tips for saving money all season long.

How to Ensure That You Stick to Your Christmas Budget

Whether money is a bit tight at the moment or you are generally trying to make better financial decisions and to save more, sticking to a budget during Christmas is difficult.

However, you need to commit to it to avoid regretting your decisions later when the festivities are over.

Here are some tips to help you create and stick to the budget:

Make Every Dollar Count

Every single coin that you spend during the holidays should count for something.

Ensure that you only buy things that you will need, as opposed to merely spending because you can.

Track your spending and never use more than you intended to since that means that you probably bought something that wasn’t in your budget.

Be Careful with Offers and Discounts

Many people are tempted to buy items on sale because they may seem cheaper than if they bought them at full price.

While that is generally the case, it only really counts for things that you were going to purchase.

If you weren’t going to buy it at full price, don’t buy it at 50% off. You would be spending money you weren’t supposed to.

Carry Just Enough Money

Do not carry more cash than what you intend to use since that will tempt you to spend more.

If you are using a credit card, you may want to use one with a strict limit so that you can ensure that you spend up to a certain amount.

Avoid Going Shopping with Children

Children may sometimes convince you to buy something for them that you didn’t plan to get.

As a result, you may end up buying a lot of unnecessary things.

Involve the Whole Family

Tell everyone in your household that money will be tight this time around.

That way, they know not to expect anything extravagant if you usually go all out.

This will be a great way to get them to help you track how much you are spending. It can also encourage them to adjust their spending accordingly.

Stick to Your Guns

It may seem quite challenging to do a Christmas dinner on a budget, but it is actually quite simple if you plan ahead and stick to your plan.

Keep your goals in mind as you head to the markets and stores.

You have fewer things to worry about and if the whole family is involved, as you don’t have to struggle alone.

Your family will also know to limit their expectations.

The best thing about reducing your expenditure is that your finances will not be strained the following year. You will not start the new year in debt.

How to Prepare a Christmas Dinner on a Budget

Follow the steps below and draw on your creativity to put together a splendid feast even as you control your spending.

1. Set a Budget, Write It Down and Stick to it

There is something about writing down what you want.

It makes it seem serious, you get to see your plans in black and white and that, in turn, allows you to be more objective.

You have to be honest about how much you can actually afford to spend for Christmas dinner on a tight budget. Write down the figure.

Next, come up with a list of everything you would like to have on the menu and write that down.

Estimate how much your desired ingredients would cost.

Eliminate things off your list of “wants” until you are actually within your budget.

You can start by canceling out things that you can do without.

Maybe you can get by with fewer bottles of wine and you don’t need three cakes or six salads.

2. Take Stock of What You Already Have at Home

Don’t panic when you begin to plan your list of cheap Christmas meals.

The first thing you should do before you go shopping for food is to determine how you can use what you already have.

Many people want the best of everything during the Christmas season. They do not even buy the brands of food products that they use every day.

That also means that what is in the pantry stays there until after the festivities.

That is extravagant and unnecessary. Instead, you should plan some meals with what you have, then buy anything else that you may need.

Be sure to separate your wants from your needs. You don’t need a seven-course meal for you and your family.

Research Recipes Early On

Simply research cheap Christmas dinner ideas and choose the ones you like. You can still ensure that your family is well fed even though you don’t have a lot of money.

Use your usual ingredients in different ways to add a fresh touch that will not cost you much.

All you need to do is research some new recipes ahead of time and try them out so that you don’t mess it up on Christmas Day.

Consider using what you have in your pantry to make lots of appetizers. If guests have lots to eat before sitting down for the main meal, they may not be very hungry.

You can, therefore, reduce how much you spend on entrees. Offer your guests a tasty piece of meat and large portions of inexpensive sides and salads.

If food is still left over, pack it away carefully and use it the next day. Don’t let anything go to waste.

Don’t feel pressured to make only traditional Christmas meals.

You will want to have a couple seasonal favorites but don’t go into debt trying to recreate a past Christmas meal.

If you can’t afford a turkey, serve chicken. If you can’t afford a ham, make some tasty pork chops. Who knows, you may start a new tradition in your family.

For some affordable and very and tasty meal ideas, try some of our recommended keto recipes on a budget!

3. Plan to Make Inexpensive Christmas Dishes You Can Cook in Advance

Christmas grocery shopping often involves one massive shopping trip.

While it may seem like a good idea to get everything in one go, it results in a large financial outlay.

You can balance your budget a lot easier if you spread your spending out over a period of time in relation to your income.

If you plan your menu well in advance, you can begin purchasing ingredients over several weeks.

You can also begin preparing some stews, casseroles, and desserts in the days leading up to Christmas.

When the big day comes, there will be less to do. You can relax and enjoy the company of your family and friends.

You won’t be stuck in the kitchen hoping everything turns out the way you intended.

4. Plan to Make Meals You Can Cook in Bulk

Another way to save money on your Christmas dinner budget is to buy ingredients in bulk.

This allows you to make large batches of food. Stews and casseroles easily lend themselves to this.

If some of your guests are staying with you for a few days, this can help you feed them.

Alternatively, you can portion out meals, freeze them, and take them to work in the coming days.

You can also prepare drinks that can be made in huge batches, such as punch and iced tea.

Preparing a Christmas dinner on a budget isn’t only about spending as little as possible when you go to the market. You also need to ensure you get as much as possible out of the ingredients you buy.

Get your family onboard to ensure nothing goes to waste. Put your ingenuity to work and come up with exciting variations on leftovers.

5. Limit the Number of Perishables You Purchase

While buying some items in bulk is a good idea, don’t get carried away.

If you buy too many perishable items ahead of your Christmas dinner, you may end up having to throw them away.

Breads, dairy products, and some fruits and vegetables will not last very long and not all stand up well to freezing.

There’s also the possibility that you bought items you don’t normally eat and you have no use for them if they are left over.

This is why it makes more sense to plan your meals carefully and not try to be too extravagant.

Purchase foods that your family will eat if there are leftovers. It is wasteful to buy foods simply to impress others when you have no use for them.

You should also match your grocery purchases to the number of people you expect to have over for dinner. While one or two of your guests may bring unexpected dates, don’t cook for an extra five people.

6. Don’t Get Caught in the Brand Name Trap

No one will know if you’re using cheaper ingredients (at least most of the time). You certainly won’t have the jars and packages on display.

Besides, sometimes cheaper foods actually taste better than brand name ones.

Christmas is about spending time with loved ones and enjoying their company, not impressing them.

You don’t want to be struggling to pay your bills in January because you refused to buy store brands in December.

If you end up buying groceries close to Christmas day, don’t be ashamed to buy those that are discounted because the expiry date is approaching. You’ll be cooking them soon anyway.

If you’re buying wines, whiskeys or other types of alcohol, the same caution applies. Buy what you can afford or ask guests to bring their own drinks.

7. Turn Christmas Dinner into a Potluck Meal

Speaking of asking guests to bring items, why not turn the dinner into a huge potluck at your home?

Sure, this isn’t the traditional way to do a Christmas dinner but it certainly is cost-effective.

If you really want to host a Christmas dinner on a budget, this is the best way to go. It’s also hassle-free.

You could prepare the main dish but ask everyone else to bring what they can.

If your aunt loves baking, ask her to bring dessert.

If your brother is known for his secret marinade, let him bring a meat dish.

If your cousin is always experimenting with salads, ask her to bring an extra special one.

You can even ask someone who is always purchasing housewares to bring the crockery, glassware or tablecloths. Make it a true family effort.

Going this route splits the cost among attendees and everyone can purchase the ingredients they can afford.

It also means you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen preparing several dishes.

Additional Tips for Saving During the Holidays

If you’re watching your spending on groceries, you are also likely looking to save money in other areas. You should try to grab any sensible deals that you can.

If you are on a budget, then you need to make use of any resource that you have.

Make sure that you have identified all the stores with deals and discounts. Look for those unused gift cards and put them to good use.

Consult with your friends and find out those stores with great deals both online and offline.

You may only save a couple of bucks here and there but in the end, it will all add up.

Remember to stick to your budget when shopping. You can visit multiple stores for deals but make sure you aren’t actually wasting money on gas by driving from store to store.

For things that are almost immediately going to the trash such paper towels or plastic wrap, you don’t need to buy the most expensive ones. In fact, you should spend the least amount of money on them.

Buy insignificant items at the dollar store and use your creativity to make them look chic and festive.

Shop for what you need and leave the rest for when you have extra money that you can spend.

If you do a good job of sticking to your budget, you will more than likely have some money left to spoil yourself a little in the new year.

Are you sticking to a budget this Christmas? What tips will you be using to do a Christmas dinner on a budget?

Let us know in a comment below!


Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA and founder of Choice Tax Relief and Money Done Right. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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