The holiday season is well underway with – seasonal events have kicked off throughout Metro Vancouver and our calendars are filling up with invites to holiday parties and get-togethers.
For most families, entertaining is a big part of the holidays. In fact, based on recent surveys, Canadians will spend between $500 to $600 this holiday season on holiday entertaining, decorating and travel.
This figure, of course, does not include all the gifts on Santa’s list, so add these “other” items to the mandatory presents and your overall spending can quickly get out of control.
So what if you could find creative ways to cut down on costs while still ensuring everyone has a jolly good time? Here are just a few money-smart steps you can take to keep your holiday entertaining spending in check.
Tailor your cooking to your guest list and budget
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you typically have lots of food leftovers after your holiday entertaining each year, you may be overdoing it. The trick is to find the right balance – you don’t want to run out of food, but you also don’t want to churn up enough to feed an army. So, shop and cook according to your guest list. Confirm who will be attending (including children) and then determine a budget based on this. This can then guide your shopping list. Break down the items on your shopping list by approximate cost and tally everything to ensure you stay in your total cost range.
Put together a money-smart menu or meal plan
Take some time to think about what you’ll serve, keeping in mind that you don’t need an elaborate seven-course meal to fill your guests with the holiday spirit. As you put together your menu, think healthy and tasty, but also savings.
For example, you may decide to serve assorted in-season fruits in place of more expensive starter options and offer one main meal instead of several. The holiday meal provides the perfect excuse to splurge on desserts, but you may not need to offer a wide range of selections.
Drinks, especially wine, can hike up your costs, so consider good, but less-expensive options. You may even want to stretch your wine budget by offering wine punch instead of bottled wine.
Be grocery-wise to avoid unnecessary costs
Before you hit the grocery store, do some freezer diving and pantry hunting to see if you have any forgotten items you can strike off your list. Then, plan your shopping to take advantage of discounts, such as coupons, or the customer appreciation day of your favourite grocery store.
If you find them on sale, buy vegetables and other perishables that you can freeze and stock them for your planned event. You can also save by avoiding store-prepared meals and by selecting generic brands that you trust. You’ll notice that most stores charge more for fresh turkey than for a frozen one so save a few dollars by thawing your big bird yourself, ahead of your event.
Too many cooks… help save on costs
One of the best ways to bring down you entertaining costs is to share it with your guests. Ask invitees to bring a favourite dessert, side dish, or starter, and use a system such as evite to share the information among guests so there are no duplications. Be sure to collect this information before you begin planning your meal and grocery shopping, so your menu complements what guests will be bringing.
As an alternative, consider hosting the event jointly with one or two good friends or family members, instead of bearing the costs – and the cooking and cleaning duties – alone.
Go “au naturel” for decorations
Part of holiday entertaining is decking our homes out with seasonal décor that make our spirits a little brighter. However, decorating for the holidays is often overlooked in our budgeting and those wood-fire scented votive candles and lush poinsettias can really add up.
Fortunately, we live in an area with an abundance of pine, fir and cedar trees. This time of year, there are plenty of fallen boughs so a walk in the forest with your family is all you need to gather beautiful winter centerpieces or mantle decorations.
Natural decorations are also a wonderful way to get your kids involved in preparing for the holidays. Remember how much fun it was as a kid to make paper chains and popcorn garlands for the tree?
Whether you’ll be hosting a holiday event or attending one as a guest, I hope you’re over-filled with holiday cheer and enjoy the warm company of family, friends, and loved ones through these festive times. Happy holidays to all!
Kathy McGarrigle is Chief Operating Officer for Coast Capital Savings (www.coastcapitalsavings.com), Canada’s second-largest credit union by membership.