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Holiday budgeting, let alone holiday meal planning, may not be something you have even thought about. Before I started living a debt-free lifestyle, I didn’t think twice about how much I spent on holiday meals. I wrote out my menu, planned the grocery list, and ventured off. What I always failed to do was think ahead, plan for it, and actually budget for it. When I started paying off debt in 2016, I realized that I needed a plan if I was going to make my tiny budget of $120 work for a traditional Christmas Eve dinner for my large family. That’s when I realized that holiday meal planning is just as important as budgeting and planning out my gift list. Let me share some great holiday meal planning tips that will not only save you money, but will save time too.

Why plan for holiday meals in the first place?

Holiday meal budgeting is just as important as creating your monthly zero-based budget. The holidays are hectic and chaotic enough as it is. Throw in family responsibilities, work obligations, and normal day to day living, and it’s easy to see why budgeting in general is not a priority on anyone’s list.

If we manage to set up a budget, we focus on gifts and presents. Budgeting for meals is an afterthought, but it’s most likely your second largest holiday expense. That’s the #1 reason why you need to create a holiday meal budget too. Here are the top 3 reasons why you need to budget for holiday meals:

  1. There’s the extra added pressure to impress your family and friends during the holidays. It’s easy to go overboard and create an expensive, lavish feast that you can’t afford.
  2. Planning out your holiday meals in advance will give you the opportunity to take advantage of sales and deals.
  3. When you physically write out your holiday menu, you’ll be forced to compare your plan to what you can afford. You’ll also see if you have too many dishes planned. If you normally have leftovers for days, you might want to scale back.

Easy steps for Holiday Meal Budgeting

  1. Figure out how much money you plan to spend first. If you’re on a tight budget, it will make it that much easier to choose the tasty budget-friendly dish over the more fancy expensive one. I bet no one will even notice.
  2. Plan out your holiday meals early. Waiting till the last minute causes more chaos and stress to an already hectic schedule. Plus, you’re more likely to purchase more expensive convenience products when you’re pressed for time and stressed out.
  3. Plan out your holiday meal from beginning to end. Don’t forget about the appetizers, desserts, and beverages.
  4. Plan for the amount of guests and family that will be attending. Trim down your meal plans if you have too many choices for the amount of guests planned.
  5. Write out your grocery list while referring to your recipes. Make sure that you’ve included all of the ingredients for each dish. Running back and forth to the grocery store at the last minute is stressful and time-consuming.
  6. Shop your pantry first. Check off the items that you already have on hand. Remember to check the expiration dates.
  7. Estimate the cost of each item, add up your list, and compare it to your budget. If you’re over, consider scaling back your meal, finding cheaper dishes to make, or enlisting others to bring side dishes or desserts.

Holiday Meal Planning Tips

  1. Stick to tried and true recipes. The holidays are stressful enough without adding the extra pressure to make a culinary masterpiece. If you want to try something new, stick to sides or desserts that you have the kitchen gadgets or tools for. If you have to buy something new, it’s just an added expense that you don’t need to spend your money on.
  2. Buy only enough ingredients to feed your guests with a day or two for leftovers at most. It’s easy to fall into the fear of not having enough food, but don’t overdo it.
  3. Plan early and shop the sales. Keep your list with you at all times. Check off items as you buy them.
  4. Avoid pricey convenience items like shredded cheese or diced onions. Shred and dice them yourself to save some serious money. Read this post on kitchen gadgets that save money.
  5. Ask guests to pitch in by bringing side dishes, drinks, or desserts.
  6. Start a holiday meal binder or a holiday meal Pinterest board. You’ll have all of your recipes ready to go when you start cooking. You’ll also save time next year too. I like to keep my favorite recipes in a binder. Trying to avoid spilling or dropping my iPad was just too stressful.
  7. Write down how the meal went and store it away in your holiday meal binder. I know this sounds weird, but trust me it’s a life saver. Believe me, it’s easy to forget what was a hit or a flop. Also, write down helpful hints to yourself for next year. I used to buy five different types of desserts which was a huge waste. When I wrote down that we had too many leftover desserts, it gave me permission to cut down without feeling guilty the next year.
  8. Make dishes from scratch. You’ll save money and time if you stick to simple, traditional recipes.

Final Thoughts on Holiday Meal Planning Tips on a Budget

These holiday meal planning tips on a budget will make your life easier this year. Spend time with families and friends without worrying about how you’ll pay for it all. Most importantly, plan ahead, set a budget, and look out for deals. By taking a little time to budget and plan ahead, you’ll tackle the holidays confident in the fact that you paid for it all with cash. Most importantly, it will be a memorable holiday meal that everyone will enjoy and cherish. After all, your family and friends will appreciate a simple well-cooked meal with a gracious welcoming host.

Check out this blog post, 7 Easy Steps to a Debt-Free Christmas, which includes tips and tricks on how to plan, budget, and stick to your Christmas budget. There’s a free printable for Christmas meals which can be used for any holiday.

If you enjoyed this blog post, don’t forget to share it on Facebook and pin it to Pinterest. Don’t forget to sign up for my weekly newsletter in the sign-up box below. You’ll be signed up to my email list, so you’ll know first when new articles are available. You’ll also get some insider tips on how to live a fulfilled debt-free life on a budget!

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