I am so over Christmas that I actually hate to post yet another Christmas-related column. However, thinking of the cost of food is something that we should be doing year round. I hope 2017 is off to a great start!
Enjoy a Christmas potluck
Ah, the season of over-indulgence! Christmas is a time of excess, where most of us splurge on a few extras to make the holiday special. Whether it’s decadent cream cheese dips and desserts, fancy cheeses and a nice bottle of wine, or the hostess gift that you can’t resist, those little extras can add up to a lot of money and stress before the season ends.
Even those who do their shopping early and stick to a plan can see things get out of hand when it comes to entertaining and attending all the obligatory Christmas parties and celebrations. If you haven’t factored the cost of these events into your Christmas budget, you should. A few cab rides, extra drinks and spur of the moment gift exchanges can quickly sink your budget.
It’s hard to say no at Christmas time. How do you allow your financial constraints to deprive your children of the joyful experiences of Christmas gatherings and traditions? Perhaps you can still host or attend these events but, by adjusting your expectations, make them more affordable for all involved. With careful planning, you can make just as great an impression without spending as much money.
Divide the work and cost
Be considerate. Don’t wait for your host or hostess to admit that they are struggling to put on the usual holiday feast. If a friend or family member has had a decrease in work over the last few years, assume that an offer to bring a dish or beverage to the meal will be well received. As the host, be gracious. Allow your guests to share in the work and expense of the gathering. Not only will you have more time to visit, it’s an opportunity to sample some new delicious food and swap recipes. Of course, if you suspect your guests are struggling as much or more than you are, you might gently refuse their offer or assign them a less costly item to bring.
Budget for meals, too
If you’re getting through the holidays on credit, you must factor the cost of what you are eating into your budget. Even if your prime rib days are long behind you, you can still enjoy wonderful food without going into credit card debt. Watch for in-store deals on turkeys and hams—in fact, watch the grocery flyers for all kinds of deals at this time of year. You might save substantially by shopping at a few different stores if you have the time.
The meat you serve is generally the most expensive dish in any meal. These prices are taken from 3 different local grocery flyers this week: $19.99/lb for a half rack of lamb. Compare that to leg of lamb for $7.99/lb and see how you can save just by altering your cut of meat.
Fresh Atlantic salmon will cost around $14/lb while a spiral sliced honey ham or good old ground beef are both $3.99/lb.
For just a bit more ($5/lb) you can impress your guests with an eye of round beef roast, but at 77cents/lb you really can’t beat the utility turkey. It’s no wonder turkey has long been the centerpiece of the holiday meal!
The point is not to advocate for one meat selection over another, but rather to point out how tweaking your choices at every meal can add up to a big savings in the end.
Delicious and affordable potluck ideas
If you are taking part in a potluck, don’t sweat it that you have to contribute the fanciest, most expensive dish there. Sometimes a simple offering is the biggest hit, particularly for the kids and picky eaters in the group. Consult with your hosts and offer to bring garlic bread or fresh buns, a big pot of whipped potatoes or a casserole.
Pasta salad or coleslaw, fried rice or some homemade baked beans are a treat and not expensive to make. Crackers often go on special and can be served with some meat, cheese and pickles as a tasty appetizer, and don’t forget that a simple cake with icing is a crowd pleaser for dessert. Let good company and conversation be the star of your gathering and stop fussing about who brought the most extravagant food.
The reason for it all
If you think the quality of your holiday season depends on the fancy food you serve or the gifts you give, you’re wrong. Invite someone that might not be getting a Christmas meal this year. Remember the food bank and call men's and women's shelters to see what is needed. Stretch your dollars while also concentrating on the people you want to spend time with. Enjoy the small gestures of the season without worrying about how you will pay for it.