6 Ways to Save Money on Holiday Meals

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The cost of food over the holiday season may be among your biggest expenses through the end of the year. As you get busy making plans to entertain your guests and put together that holiday food shopping list, don't overlook opportunities to pare down some costs of that grocery bill. There's still time to find great deals on specialty ingredients, baking items and other holiday recipe must-haves.

Here are six ways you can save some money on holiday meals.

1. Plan around seasonal ingredients. Whether you're cooking up casseroles or whipping up a few baked goods, make sure the majority of the recipes you choose use in-season ingredients. Sweet potatoes, zucchini, winter squash, pumpkin and cranberries are some of the most versatile ingredients you can cook and bake with over the holidays. Incorporate them into your sweet and savory dishes to save money on the cost of core ingredients for those much-loved holiday recipes. You could also make these dishes well ahead of time and freeze them to save on meal preparation time later.

2. Stock up on nonperishables. Avoid running out of essential items when stores close early around the holidays or run out completely as holiday event planning gets underway. You can stock up on nonperishable items that you plan to use this year and also for your regular recipes after the holidays are over. Shop your grocery store for specials, and make a trip out to a warehouse club to buy bulk items such as flour, sugar, canned goods, chocolate, candy and other foods you can keep in the pantry for at least a few months.

3. Schedule your turkey pickup at the right time. Paul Socia, CEO and president of Miramar Federal Credit Union, suggests postponing the turkey pickup until closer to holiday meal time because turkey can be found at a discounted price around Thanksgiving Day. However, if you're worried that your local store might run out, consider buying turkey and other meat well ahead of time – even as early as a few weeks before – and freezing them for holiday meal prep.

4. Take advantage of in-store holiday deals. Whether you're in charge of baking large batches of Christmas cookies this year or preparing the entire holiday meal, start checking store flyers and circulars each week for the best prices on all those holiday recipe must-haves. Stock up right when a store is running a promotion, and take advantage of in-store coupons. Socia also suggests stocking up on holiday pantry staples that you can use for a few months, pointing out that cranberry sauce, black olives and pureed pumpkin "will be just as welcome at Christmas and New Year's." Shopping for these items around Thanksgiving may be the perfect time to take advantage of buy one, get one free specials, manufacturer's coupons and other discounts.

5. Do your holiday baking from scratch. As convenient as it may be to buy pre-made cookie dough, cake mixes and other baking necessities for your holiday baking productions, you will pay a premium for store-bought foods. When you outline the cost of baking ingredients such as flour, sugar, butter and cocoa powder – especially when you buy in bulk – you will find that the total cost of making those tasty treats is significantly less than any pre-made dough. Lifestyle blogger Kristy Howard of Kristy's Cottage blog points out how it costs just 41 cents to prepare yellow cake mix versus spending $1 to $2 or more for a cake mix from a grocery store.

Make a master plan for your holiday baking so you can calculate exactly how much of each ingredient you will be using. Estimate the costs to break down the price of each recipe so you can see how much you are saving.

6. Host a holiday potluck. Take some of the pressure of food buying off your shoulders by asking guests to pitch in by bringing a meal to share. You can create a master menu and have guests choose a dish they want to bring, or brainstorm some ideas with guests beforehand to delegate dishes for the holiday gathering. Taking care of the turkey or main meal, and then having guests bring side dishes, desserts and drinks can help you offset some of the costs of a traditional holiday spread.

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