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How to Serve a Big Meal Without Breaking the Bank

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The holiday season is nearly upon us again, and it’s one of my favorite times of the year.  I love the way our home smells when pies are baking, turkey is roasting or fresh-baked cookies are cooling on the stovetop. I’m blessed that holidays mean getting together with extended family, too. Most of my family lives within an hour’s drive of our home, so Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners are filled with cousins running around the house and aunts, uncles and grandparents helping out in the kitchen.
Holidays also bring new traditions with friends and neighbors. My sister’s family has participated in a neighborhood breakfast for more than a decade: Every Christmas morning, multiple families on her street get together for brunch at one house on their block. There are multiple cooks in the kitchen, and everyone celebrates the season together enjoying a large buffet of breakfast favorites. (From the photos I’ve seen from past neighborhood breakfasts, pajamas are the de facto dress code for this wonderful annual tradition!) I’ve got friends that host a similar New Year’s Day breakfast each year.
Whether your large family get together is a community breakfast or a traditional holiday dinner, the costs of entertaining a larger group of people can quickly escalate. Keeping expenses in check is especially important around the holidays when budgets are already stretched to cover gift-giving and holiday travel.
To save the most at the supermarket around the holidays, it’s important to understand the sales cycles at the grocery store. Certain categories of products go on sale for lower-than-normal prices around the holidays. We also tend to see more coupons for these holiday-themed products in the newspaper and online. Pair the coupons with great sale prices, and you can stock up on your holiday must-haves at the best possible prices.
As the months get cooler, we start to see some of the best sales of the year on baking products. Think cake mixes, pie crusts, sugar, flour and butter. Stock up on these items for the entire season when you see the sales come around.
Once winter’s just around the corner, look for hot beverages to take a dip in price. Coffee, tea and hot cocoa will be at lower prices. Look for good deals on turkey and ham in November, too! Many large supermarkets will have promotions on turkeys such as “Spend $20 on groceries, save $10 on a turkey.” I try to time my turkey purchases around these sales, as it’s likely I’ll reach the spending threshold on the rest of my groceries during the same trip. (Another tip: Small turkeys often sell for around $12-$14 during a good sale. Pair a promotion like this with a small turkey to take it home for a bargain price – then freeze it for a future meal!)
December traditionally brings low sale prices on party platter type foods: Think crackers, cheeses, cold cuts and sausages. Baking products cycle around again in price here, too, so if you didn’t stock up enough (or already “baked through” the supplies you bought in fall!) this is another opportunity to purchase more.
Be mindful of expiration dates – flour, sugar and cake mixes usually have expiration dates that are many months out. I try to estimate how much I’ll be baking through the winter and on to spring, then shop and stock up accordingly.
I’ll leave you with another one of my favorite tips: When one holiday ends, shop clearance sales for next year’s holiday. Right after Thanksgiving, everything from tablecloths to napkins to decorations with fall, harvest and turkey themes will go on clearance. I’ll buy these at a deep discount, then keep them in the pantry for next year’s dinner. After Christmas, I’ll do the same thing, expanding my post-holiday stock-up strategy to things like gift wrap, cards, ornaments and small gifts. After New Year’s, you guessed it – grab party favors, noisemakers and New Year’s décor for the next party … next year.