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8 Simple Ways to Make a Tasty Holiday Meal Without Breaking the Bank

Whether you’re whipping up a full holiday meal or just nibbles for drop-by guests, holiday food and drink can be costly. Read on for eight tricks to feeding family and friends this season without spending of a ton of money!

Nab Free Turkeys

“Check on store sales and coupons and cash-back websites to score a free bird! I’ve seen deals like: Spend $75 and get a free turkey (usually up to a certain size). And there’s nothing that says you can’t use coupons or cash-back offers with it, so you can essentially get $90 worth of groceries for $75, plus the free turkey. Also, at, we often run exclusive offers — last year’s included free side dishes like corn, gravy and more.” — Lisa Thompson, savings expert at

Offer the Meat, Ask for the Sides

“When my large extended family wants to celebrate over a delicious no-fuss meal, I pick up a few rotisserie chickens (just $5 each at Sam’s Club) then send around a sign-up sheet with suggested sides and appetizers to all my guests and have each pick one to make. That way, all the flavors work together, the burden of having to make the main dish is off of me and it brings everyone in the kitchen to put the meal together, which is fun.” — Carolyn Truett,

DIY the Desserts

“Instead of spending $16 or more on a dozen store-bought baked goods, bake a few dozen plain cupcakes or cookies, then set out nuts, crumbled cookies, M&M’s candies, sprinkles and several colors of frosting and let guests decorate their own. Simply pick up the box mixes and all the toppings at a dollar store — you’ll get twice the amount for half the price!” — Sharon Schweitzer, etiquette expert and founder of

Let a Local Restaurant Do the Cooking

“Many restaurants offer meals-to-go now, and last year, many had holiday specials announced on their social media pages. I snagged a deal from a local restaurant for a sheet-pan meal with sliced turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and dinner rolls for four for just $24. The pan came with heating instructions, and I whipped up some mac-and-cheese and corn — I had enough to feed six!” — Rita Collins, grandmother of four, Des Moines, IA

Shop Your Pantry and Freezer for Apps

“The freezer is your friend when it comes to entertaining. For example, have a bag of frozen mini raviolis? Turn it into toasted ravioli pops and serve with your marinara sauce for dipping. Buying a similar appetizer from a caterer would cost you $20! Another great appetizer? Take 16 slices of regular bread and cut them up into 48 mini toast cups. Fill them with chopped bacon, lettuce, and tomato and you have Mini BLT Cups. The possibilities are endless!” — Eliza Cross, author of Small Bites (Buy on Amazon, $14.99)

Opt for ‘Off-Time’ Get-Togethers

“Timing is everything when it comes to lowering expenses on holiday entertaining. One good idea is to schedule the festivities before, between or after mealtimes so snacks and small portions will suffice. A morning coffee, midday open house, or afternoon tea also allows guests with lots of other events going on to attend numerous gatherings without sacrificing their plans. But best yet, you’ll save so much money serving appetizer-like food and drinks over hosting a sit-down dinner, which can be costly.” — Sharon Schweitzer

Turn Inexpensive Wine Into Fancy Cocktails

“Making punches or sangrias with cheap wine can really stretch your alcohol budget. Just add store-brand fruit juice mixers and sodas and seasonal fruits like citrus or cranberries for flair. You can offer smaller cups to reduce the pace people are consuming or the amount that gets wasted if they don’t finish their drinks.” — Mark Oberle, sommelier and co-founder of

Whip Up What You Find on Sale

“To save a ton on holiday nibbles, here’s a shopping trick I use: Check the clearance section in the grocery store and base your menu on that. It may seem that items are on clearance because they’re nearing their expiration date, but I asked a store employee and he said sometimes it’s just that new packaging is coming out, or a specific flavor is being discontinued. Last year, Walmart had packages of dinner rolls for $1 each, so I stocked up and made holiday sliders for drop-by guests. Another time I found pancake mix for 50 percent off and had a holiday pancake brunch bar, which was so fun! You can save tons by checking the clearance!” — Kendra Bates, mom of two, Houston, TX

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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