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Holidays on a Budget: Gifts

Jennifer C, Flickr
Jennifer C, Flickr

We’re on a budget this year.  With a truck we had to half finance / half pay for and a surgery that was unexpected, money is tight this year.  I’m pretty creative when it comes to the budget and I also understand most people don’t start shopping for Christmas presents in July (like, um, I do).  So, we’re tightening the belt at our house this Christmas and thought we would share some great ideas on how we conserve money, time and resources to still have a great holiday.

With this, always remember:  YOUR TIME AND YOUR PRESENCE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR PRESENTS. . . . .ALWAYS.

Today, we’ll focus on the BUDGET of COOKING for the holidays.  The goal here is to keep you at home more, not panic buying at the grocery store and planning your meals and extra baking and fun so it will fit into and not crash your budget.

PLAN NOW, COOK LATER

Download an app to keep you focused at the grocery store and on your budget.  We have used several.  My favorite right now is Food Planner App available for any device.  It gives you the ability to plan your weekly menu, add all those items to your grocery list and keep track of what you are spending.  You can even import recipes from online websites like allrecipes.com and it will automatically give you all the ingredients, instructions and add it to your meal lists.  Pretty cool.  In the last 12 months, we have saved about $1800 on grocery budget just by having a plan.  It reduces your stress if you know what you’re having for dinner all week long and you can easily budget in the extra pumpkin breads and turkeys you will need.

BUY STUFF NOW — NOT AT THE LAST MINUTE

One of the benefits of planning is you can buy all the canned pumpkin you need when it is on sale and in a different pay cycle than the week of Thanksgiving or Christmas.  Tomorrow, I’m buying 3 cans of pumpkin (they are on sale) and nuts (sale sale sale).  I have already stocked up on cream cheese from a sale about two weeks ago and I’ve stocked up on flour, sugar and other staples for the last month or so.  I’m ready for my favorites:  pumpkin roll x 6 (this is my most requested baked good), carrot cake (for gramps), sweet potato pie (for my mother in law) and special Arabic bread (making it this weekend and storing in the freezer till Christmas morning).  I’ve also stocked up on Butter when it is on sale and it works nicely in the freezer, too.  I’m not sure how we go through so much butter in our house — but I never seem to have enough.

PLAN FOR LEFTOVERS IN YOUR MEAL PLANNING

We are not hosting Thanksgiving this year so we won’t have a half a turkey to reuse, but if you do, plan for that and make sure you have everything needed for a few days of using those leftovers to have more meals.  One turkey for thanksgiving last year gave us this:  thanksgiving dinner for 8, turkey pot pie for Saturday, turkey sandwiches for 2 days, turkey stock for the next two months of soups, turkey quesadillas (yum).  That’s a lot of meals for one bird — and saved us a ton of money after Thanksgiving.

CUT THE MENU

It’s hard to do, but cutting your menu will help you save money, time, effort and peace of mind.  Turkey, stuffing (or dressing if you are from Texas), green bean side, something orange like sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes (becuase it is required) and two desserts.  That’s all you really need.  Cranberries around the world are angry here but if they don’t eat it normally, don’t bother.  A good meal doesn’t have to be an ENORMOUS meal.  For desserts, I usually do a pie of some kind and cookies.  That satisfies both adults and kids and I’ll also throw in some vanilla ice cream for the picky ones.

BAKING

Before I got smart, I would spend a week at a time in the kitchen baking things and by Christmas eve, I barely had energy for the Christmas Cookies that Santa requires.  There are a lot of things you can do, freeze, thaw and eat that are just as good (if not better sometimes) done in advance.  Christmas cookie cutout dough can easily be frozen.  Make it in early December and then all you need is the rolling, cutting, baking and decorating.  Many custard pies don’t freeze well, but many cakes do.  Almost any time of dense cake (think pound cake, pumpkin bread) freeze and thaw beautifully.  Candies like fudge even freeze nicely.  Spread out your baking times so you enjoy them. We always have a baking Saturday in our family where all those who love to bake bring stuff to our kitchen and we do a fun day of cookies, bars and more in our big kitchen.  THAT is priceless.

WATCH THE SALES — AND DON’T BE AFRAID OF GENERIC

There are some things you just can’t buy generic.  Some things, though — are just fine.  Generic sugar is never an issue, for instance.  My rule of thumb:  if it is used in preparation for something (like an ingredient in a cake) you can probably use generic.  Circulars usually come out on Wednesday and are almost always online at the newspaper website or for the store’s website.

LIMIT YOUR IMPULSE BUYS

That really is about making a plan in the beginning.  If it is not in the plan, you don’t need to buy it.  That is where most of our extra grocery money was doing in the beginning.  Plans eliminate chaos (as I tell my kid every day when he is doing his homework).

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