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How are you economizing this holiday season? Please share your tips.

This year, I'm making some changes in my holiday food shopping, cooking and entertaining. Do you have any tips for stretching your dollar, while still trying to buy and cook quality foods/meals? How is the weak economy affecting your holiday shopping, cooking and entertaining plans? Please share your opinions and ideas.

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  1. In my store there seems to be a lot going on clearance of half price, it seems whenever there is a holiday or they bring in new stock they always do this. I take advantage and buy a lot of ingredients I would normally buy if I see them on clearance.

    1 Reply
    1. re: BamiaWruz

      Same here- I just bought 4 one-cup individual servings of pork stock (Kitchen Basics) for less than 1/2 price. An unusual item for CT groceries. I don't use it often, but I can never find it when I need it. A good idea to stock up on stuff you need when it's on sale. However, it seems like there are more things on sale, but I'm spending more at the store. The regular price of most food items has gone up significantly, here.

    2. I always pick up pantry items on sale, and look for the best values, but Thanksgiving is a feast, and hopefully will be as I prepare it for up to 17 guests this year.

      3 Replies
      1. re: bayoucook

        Are people bringing side items, or are you cooking everything yourself? I'm glad you are having a huge celebration. Several usual guests of ours are not coming this year b/c they can't take the time off from work. They are young, single people in their 20's, and are worried about taking time off from their jobs. A big change from years past.

        1. re: stuck in Hartford County

          My aunt is baking her wonderful pecan pies, and my cousin is bring the family favorite cornbread dressing. Another cousin is bringing a side dish he hasn't decided on yet.
          All 17 may not show, but I hope they do. I start cooking 3 days in advance. I have a recipe for make-ahead mashed potatoes that people prefer to regular, and there are several items I make ahead. I always make my husband's family dressing that his mom taught me to make 32 years ago. I love every minute of it!

      2. We are fortunate this year in that we had a lot of produce that my daughter grew. In order to have a feast but not spend a bundle we will be using a lot of the "free" produce to make dinner. Besides - it seems appropriate for Thanksgiving!! the biggest cost for me will be a fresh, free range, locally farmed turkey.
        I am also asking guests to bring the wine (one couple has a lot more money than I do and they want to bring something). That saves a bunch of money!

        1. I also stock up on sale items and buy in bulk if the price if right and freeze the items.

          In years gone by people use to go way over the top with food, turkey and a ham, 4 or 5 side dishes, 3 or 4 pies and/or cakes. When my husband and I started hosting family holiday dinners we decided to keep it very simple and this helped in keeping the cost down. We buy what is on sale and it is not always Turkey!

          Last year's dinner was a pork roast with pan gravy, Brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon and garlic rosemary roasted potatoes and when they come out of the oven hit them with some parmesan cheese! For dessert we had individual pecan pies...it pleased the family and it was not over the top and we did not spend a bundle!

          For a Christmas Party this year we are Keeping it simple, on our boat in the boat parade, serving Scallop and bacon chowder with crusty bread and Christmas punch...We can only have about 12 people so it keeps cost down and so does the menu...a tasty chowder and homemade crusty bread!

          1. OK, sad but true, I am inviting less guests, it's just going to be my immediate family versus the extended family. Thanksgiving has always been "my" holiday to host the whole crew, but I don't have a job this time around, and am very busy interviewing, networking, etc. Too much stress to undertake such a large gathering. I will make it up to them next Thanksgiving!

            1 Reply
            1. re: MNLisaB

              Good luck with your interviews! A new job can make for GREAT holidays! :-)

            2. I have done a lot more planning ahead, and have taken advantage of free shipping, etc., from many vendors. I am trying to avoid expensive, last minute shopping. I am making gift baskets for my close friends - I usually do this, but I have purchased almost everything ahead of time. Instead of baskets, I bought cloth grocery bags from my CSA, with money I had left in my CSA account, for $3 each. I bought the Guittard chocolate I use to make my hot fudge sauce from KA Flour, when they had a free shipping deal. I have been picking up canning jars for marmalade and hot fudge sauces as part of my regular shopping, and have all I need already, so it's less of a hit on the December paychecks.

              My goal is to avoid express shipping charges, and last minute gift purchases. That alone will save me a $200 - $300.

              1. Such a timely question, insightful replies so far. I've been thinking about this alot because holiday time is where I don't like to economize. I'd rather be frugal the rest of the year. When I bake, I bake BIG. Side dishes I'm up to 7 for Thanksgiving and 10 for Christmas/New Years. Wine..oh my so many I plan to try. Gifts, always a food gift.

                So, my approach is to shop early, shop sales, multi-task recipes by ingredients and food shop with friends who will share the cost and bounty of say a beef tenderloin, a large produce buy or bulk spices. Next week four of my friends are sharing the cost & bounty of our baking plan. It hurts alot less financial to have partners in food-crime :)

                4 Replies
                1. re: HillJ

                  It sounds to me that you're not only economizing for the holidays, you're going to be enjoying them. Lucky you, to have such friends. : )

                  I live in the burbs, and while I have absolutely no money myself, I see so many people scrambling to maintain the facade of well-to-do. It looks . . . exhausting. It's only my opinion, but it seems to me they'd be so much happier if they'd just say to their friends, you know, times are hard right now, why don't we work together on this? At the very least, then they'd know who their real friends are.

                  You and your friends are acting as sort of a food coop, and that's another idea I have for people here trying to economize. And buying spices in bulk is just smart. For those who don't know where to find them, trying the area in your grocery store where they sell candy in bins. You might be surprised what else they sell there.

                  I wonder, do any of your friends have a Costco card? My husband demo's for them (I used to), and their beef tenderloin, he says, is good and the price not too bad. And I can speak for the safe handling of their foods.

                  Also, I make my own stock and that saves a bundle. There are scads of recipes for it online, and you'd be surprised how simple it is. For veggie broth, I just save the ends and pieces, and for chicken, I save the bones from my weekend suppers. Also, if you troll the meat aisle in the grocery stores, you can find great bones for broth, extremely cheap.

                  I truly admire your practicality. Happy holidays!

                  1. re: miki

                    Thank you for your kind words miki and for sharing a number of great tips! I do have a Costco card and again shopping w/friends can breakdown a good buy at a better discount in the process. I also enjoy making my own stock, freezing them for all sorts of recipes.

                    The freezer really is part of the co-op mentality. My gal pals and I started this shop-share a few years ago, starting with two common items: freezer shopping and our favorite butcher. He really was the inspiration and over time the idea led to produce buys, bulk spice, flower orders, school supplies and so forth. We've benefited by this method in more ways than money and we have a ton of fun shopping together.

                    1. re: miki

                      I bought a huge container of fancy, dried assorted mushrooms for about $6 at Costco- which included 25 dried morels which I had just paid $18 for (for 6!) at another store earlier in the day! Grrrrrrrrrrr. The only thing is that Costco gets a bit crazy around holiday time and I end up making too many impluse buys. Must stick to my list!

                      1. re: stuck in Hartford County

                        I know the mushrooms you mean! One of my husband's sampling "regulars" passed on the container, which he had not cared for. About a year ago, we'd bought another kind that Costco had, and I hadn't liked it. They were chewy, in my opinion. These are so much better. I wanted to fix a quick pasta dish one night, and sauteed chcken breast with garlic, while my husband soaked the mushrooms. He'd found a half packet of mushroom sauce mix in his stash, and suggested adding the water from the mushrooms, rather than stock, to the chicken and mushrooms. Yum.

                  2. A simple thing: cut out or dramatically reduce the budget for alcoholic beverages.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Karl S

                      I'm not a wine expert by any means, but I actually LIKE Little Penguin and Banrock Station, both Australian wines. And we had one of the Australian sparkling wines for New Years, and it was GOOD, dry and not leaving that sugar-hangover that cheap sparkling wine can do.

                      I do think that if people expect a pricey wine/sparkling wine for dinner at somebody's home for the holidays, then maybe they should consider being the ones to supply it. Used to be an insult, I understand, in France, implying that the hostess wouldn't serve a good wine with dinner.

                      I like the Stone Soup moral myself; hardship is lightened and food tastes better, when it's shared. : )

                      1. re: miki

                        Well, one doesn't bring anything to a dinner expecting it to be served at the dinner unless it's a potluck or the host has requested it, because it otherwise does imply the host is incapable of sufficient hospitality. One of the most insulting things you can do is bring a fine wine unbidden and expect it to be served precisely because it screams you have better taste or a bigger wallet than the host.

                        1. re: Karl S

                          Well, well said. Basically, leave your expectations at home and come ready for what's served.

                    2. Hi there SIHC - we aren't really making too many changes because my whole family is pretty frugal. We do things like put $ limits on XMAS presents, we draw names for who we buy gifts for so we spend all our money on one person. When we go to a house for a holiday party, we always help out with the meal. I usually bring apps and a couple desserts to Thanksgiving and I have started bringing cranberries as well. Before the annual XMAS tree hunt, we get together for brunch, which can be pretty inexpensive.

                      Homemade is usually much cheaper than prepared, you can spend $35 on a cake that you can make for 10-20. Apps are very expensive to buy as a prepared dish and you whip together some amazing dishes based on ideas from these boards.

                      I truely think that now is the time to remember that the important thing is to get together and have a good time and that does not take a lot of money. Please also try to remember the friends and families that have been negatively impacted by this economy.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: NE_Elaine

                        This year we are economizing by doing strictly homemade gifts with the in-laws, and scaling back on the gifts for my fam. (We couldn't talk my fam into doing homemade, since the poor things have no creative energy).

                        Another thing I am doing is a joint Thanksgiving with my family and the in-laws for the first time (we'll see how this goes). I'm doing all of the cooking (splitting costs with my mom), and asking the in-laws, who are used to potluck T-day, to bring the "extras", as these are what usually break my bank: drinks, apps, dessert add-ons. The benefits to this are that they get to come with item in hand (which will make them happy), and I get to save $, WHILE ensuring that they stay out of the kitchen for the actual preparation. Score!

                      2. This year Thanksgiving will be more of a *greatest hits* than the overindulgence of years gone by. Ours is an all day event with lots of apps, a later dinner and usually a dessert bar. I have always felt free to add experiments as long as the basics were there, hence our cup running all over the place! This year however I'll be focusing on the basics and thats not a bad thing. We also won't be hosting an open bar but will have some nice wine for dinner and of course BYOB is more than fine. I'm thinking 50s classics w/out the marshmallows and canned goods.

                        For Christmas we always do a tree trimming party, usually lots of extravagant apps and again an open bar with an eye on everyone's faves. This year I'm not calling it a tree trimming as I don't want anyone to feel obligated to bring an ornament or anything. I'm planning on several soups in crock pots, cornbread, homemade rolls, Chex mix, nuts, plenty of popcorn (some for the kids to string) and cookies and/or a crumble for dessert. I'm also thinking of a signature drink or mulled wine. Again keeping it casual. I'm still not sure about Christmas dinner I'll wait and see how the crab season pans out.

                        I live in a very rural area now, about three hours or so from the nearest Costco so none of that for us, but stocking up on sale items is key. I'll be online with Amazon and others at midnight for the Black Friday deals. As far as gifts go on my side it was always the kids get presents or cash and the adults do the white elephant. We would look all year for the bizarre or nostalgic but nothing pricey and its just so much fun to play. My favorite present I got was the key lime and chile jelly(revolting but still fun food). My favorite gift I gave was a 80's boom box with a Naugahyde case of casset tapes, we had such fun listening to all those songs! I'm really looking forward to this year because it gets to be less about perfect and extravagant and more about casual fun.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: just_M

                          We're having a 70's retro Thanksgiving! Everyone has to use a recipe from a 70's cookbook and try to make stuff popular then. So far, we have jello mold w/suspended fruit, cheese fondue, jellied cranberry sauce, sides w/various Campbells soups, and sherbet punch! No fancy, new foods, and we save money! kinda

                          1. re: stuck in Hartford County

                            That sounds so fun! I would love to see what your menu ends up being.

                            1. re: stuck in Hartford County

                              That's kind of hilarious. And great. Are you going to dress 70's, too?

                              I haven't had a jello mold in years. Wow, my mouth is watering. : )

                              1. re: miki

                                I never thought about dressing up! I think I'll hit a second hand shop for something polyester w/piping or a cool Brady mom outfit. Thanks for the idea!

                          2. I am not inviting people who have histories of being sponges. If you show up empty handed year after year you are not coming to my house for the holidays. Planning menus in advance and buying items as I see them on sale is a big help. Also spreads out the cost so it is not such a big hit at once. I will be baking less but in my anti-mooch sentiment not providing baked goods for those who don't reciprocate in some way.

                            1. Here's a wise bit of advice I ran across this morning, and really, I wish I could print it off and hand it out to the stressed out shoppers I see this time of year:


                              1 Reply
                              1. re: miki

                                Those are great, and very realistic (not based on spending huge amounts of time on something to save a little money).

                                If you're like me, you have way too much food in your cupboards. It's one thing to stock up, and another to have stuff that's just sitting there unused; if you don't use something, it doesn't matter how cheap it was, you wasted your money. I'm trying to go through the stocks of food I already have and use them up.That's especially true of the holidays, when I have baking supplies I bought on sale, butter I bought on sale in the freezer, goodies I bought for "when I have company" etc. As a bonus, in the future I may actually be able to put the food away when I come home from shopping!