Damaris Karanja, MA, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension
As the holiday season approaches, many of us have holiday parties and gatherings to plan, which means we face the daunting task of keeping our family traditions without breaking our budget. Saving money does not have to mean missing out on all the fun. With some creativity and planning ahead, you can still make this season fun and memorable.
Most of your budget may be spent on purchasing food for Thanksgiving, Christmas or other holidays. The following budget-friendly tips can help you save money and have fun at the same time.
- Establish your budget and how much you can afford to spend. Design a menu around your budget and what is seasonal or on sale at the grocery store. Next, write a list of who will be invited. Your budget will guide you on the number of guests you can comfortably invite.
- Keep a grocery list so you’re less likely to make an impulse purchase. A list should also prevent you from making extra trips to the store. Stick to your list for added savings, but stay flexible if you encounter a sale.
- Plan ahead for how to use leftovers. We lose money when we toss food because it spoiled. If leftovers go bad because they’re left out too long, we’re putting money into the garbage can.
- Use coupons! In most cases, grocery stores have great sales on holiday staples like turkeys and hams. Their goal is to get you into the store with the hope that you will purchase lots of other products that are not on sale. Use this to your advantage, but only buy items you need. Check for online coupons as well. Start with the website of the store where you shop or of products you use. Shopping on double or triple coupon days can save you a lot of money.
- Buy in bulk. If the price is right and the larger size fits your criteria, go for it! Prices can be deceiving though — bigger is not always cheaper — so pay attention to unit prices to ensure you are getting the best deal. And make sure you will use the food while it is still good.
- Save on store brands. Buy generic and you could save up to 40 percent a year on your grocery bill. In taste tests, most consumers cannot identify the difference between generic and store brands.
- Shop high and low. Bargains are usually on the top or bottom shelves. The worst deals are at eye level.
- Pay attention at the checkout. Don’t lose out on a great deal because an item scans incorrectly.
- Ask for help with meal preparation if you are hosting a holiday gathering. This will help relieve some of the financial burden. Contact everyone on your holiday guest list and see who can bring a dish to share. Guests traveling from out of town may not be able to bring perishable items, but they can grab some non-perishables on their way in. Make sure you coordinate who’s bringing what to avoid overlap.
- Include a variety of meatless dishes — these are often cheaper and, as a bonus, generally healthier, too.
- Help others. How about serving some homemade food or giving a grocery store gift certificate to a family in need? This is the greatest investment you can make for your money during the holiday season.