How to Serve the Ultimate Holiday Feast on an Intelligent Budget

More than presents, decorating, carols or any other festivity, my favorite part of the holiday season has always been gathering with family and friends over delicious food. Some of my best childhood memories are tied to sweet potato casserole, strawberry rhubarb pie, my grandma’s baked beans or my mom’s special spaghetti sauce.

Although as a child these foods seemed to magically appear on the table, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that is not the case. My wallet has realized it, too — even though making food at home is often less expensive than eating at a restaurant, it can still put a sizeable dent in your budget.

We shouldn’t feel guilty for spending quality time with friends and family over a nice meal. Fortunately, there are ways to make a dinner party less financially painful. Keep all of the joy, and keep some extra cash, too, by trying a few of these tips.

1. Always make it a potluck. This is a no-brainer. Guests will probably ask if there’s anything they can bring, so take them up on it! And be specific: Don’t be afraid to assign specific dishes or categories, so you have everything covered. Extend the “potluck” idea to alcohol, as well. Suggest B.Y.O.B. to your friends, or even write it on the invitation or e-vite. You can be extra festive by making potluck part of the theme — everyone bring their favorite childhood holiday dish, etc.

2. Suggest a dinner alternative. Dinner is frequently the most expensive meal of the day, so don’t limit yourself to dinner for plans. Would everyone like to do a brunch? (Eggs and pancakes are much less pricey than traditional “dinner” foods). Could you move the party later and just do desserts and drinks? Both keep the fun, but ditch the higher price-tag and consequent guilt.

3. Stick to these foods. Learn a few tricks of the trade and make a hearty meal to satisfy any foodie. They won’t even miss the beef tenderloin.

As you plan to chow down in holiday celebration, remember there are ways to keep both your belly and your wallet full.

How do you plan to spend wisely when it comes to your holiday family feast?

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About Maria LaMagna

Maria LaMagna is a recent graduate of Northwestern University where she served as editor-in-chief of the university’s award-winning daily newspaper and studied for five months in Argentina. Before joining Money Under 30, Maria worked as a reporter for CNN and the Indianapolis Business Journal. Follow Maria on Twitter @MCLaMagna.


  1. Potatoes are also a great, popular way to save some cash. I like the idea of having a potluck style dinner, especially with alcohol. Bottles of wine and the like can be very expensive if, as a host, you have to buy it all for yourself.

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