The Holiday Season is fast approaching, which usually means one thing – your money is fast departing!
Too often when we plan and budget for the holidays, we think in terms of gifts and decorations. Food is so much part of our daily life, we often don’t notice how many food-related holiday events are involved.
As we get closer to the holidays, the “real” sales and the good coupons will become fewer. Because the stores know the closer it gets to Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the other winter holidays, the more likely it is you will buy – whatever the price.
Think about it. If Thanksgiving is this Thursday (which it is!) and green bean casserole is a family tradition, you’re not going to leave that can of fried onions sitting on the shelf, just because it’s not on sale.
Also, in the weeks before the holidays, the stores start playing pricing games. They’ll begin to artificially raise the prices of everything from canned cranberries to wine. Then, just before the big holiday, they will put these items on “sale” at or near the original retail price!
To throw a final spanner into the works, many holiday recipes are ones we don’t cook year-round. The holidays are a time to indulge, and that may mean recipes that require a bit more work or recipes that are a bit more caloric or less healthy than we typically eat. For example, we may eat baked sweet potatoes all year round, but most of us don’t bake sweet potato casseroles year round. So we forget what ingredients we may need, and wind up making last minute runs to the grocery store, paying premium prices for those french fried onions or chopped pecans or pumpkin pie spice.
How to cope?
First, sit down with a pen and paper, and think about these questions.
What holidays will you be celebrating? The big occasions – Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner – will probably pop into your mind first. (Although there are many other winter holidays – Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Festivus and New Years Eve and New Years Day! Plus you may have a family member with a November or December birthday.)
What dishes do you plan to serve? Sketch out a list of family favorites.
And, are you having just one celebration, or will you have two (or more)? For example, you may have one huge Thanksgiving dinner for your entire extended family, but maybe later that weekend you have another, quieter one with just your spouse. Or maybe yours is a blended family and you’ll have one celebration on Christmas day, and another the next weekend when the stepkids come to celebrate. Will you have enough leftovers, or do you need to buy enough supplies to make two sweet potato casseroles or two pumpkin pies?
Do you plan to host a Christmas party for your friends? What kind of party? Cocktail, buffet, sit-down dinner or potluck? What do you plan to serve?
Will you be invited to holiday parties? What will you take? A bottle of vegan wine? Homemade hummus?
How many parties do you expect to be invited to? If you’re only going to a few parties, you may want to splurge on that special standout recipe. But if you are invited to many parties, you may want to choose recipes that are less expensive to make.
Will your work or church be hosting a potluck? What will you bring?
Who will be attending the parties and potlucks? Will it be mostly omnivores or will there be other vegetarians or vegans? If you might be the lone vegan, plan to bring something substantial so you’ll have something to eat. (Also, if you haven’t figured it out already, always eat a little something before you leave home for a party – unless you are partying with other vegans.)
Do you plan to do any vegan holiday baking – fruitcakes, maybe?
Will you participate in a cookie exchange?
Are there special, seasonal foods you enjoy eating during the season? Eggnog, spiced hot chocolate, nuts n bolts?
Are you giving food as gifts? This is often touted in women’s magazines as a way to save money. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.
Will you be making your own food or picking up food from a restaurant or catering service? This can be a great time saver (and a boon to the not very experienced cook!) In Charlotte, supermarket chains Earthfare and Whole Foods will be offering vegan Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and sides for pre-order. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants like Bean Vegan Cuisine and Fern, Flavors from the Garden will also have special holiday items available for pre-order – as well as Eco-Licious and Nourish. There are deadlines for ordering, so you’ll want to figure out your menu and your budget ahead of time!
You don’t have to write down every detail, but do write enough so that you have a clear picture of the part food will play in your holiday season. You’ll probably find you have more food related events than you thought!
Next, briefly think about each recipe, and what ingredients it requires. Again, don’t drive yourself crazy writing down everything! Just make notes of any ingredients that you’re going to need a lot of, or are less likely to have stocked, so you’ll know to start looking for sales and coupons!
Here’s a few examples from my own life.
I never use frozen fruit juice concentrate – EXCEPT for when I make punch. Last year I held two holiday parties. So when I saw store brand frozen fruit juice concentrate on sale for half off, I picked up enough for several bowls of punch.
I also normally don’t buy soft drinks or chips. However, those are useful things to have at a party, so I keep my eyes open for “doorbuster” and “loss leader” deals. A recent one: litre bottles of soft drinks for $.50 for Veteran’s Day. Here’s a tip: Drugstores (CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens) often have the best prices on soft drinks, chips, and candy!
Along the same lines, we also usually don’t buy vegan sour cream or cream cheese. (And it’s not fair that they should cost so much more than their non-dairy counterparts!) But again, they are useful for dips such as this Seven Layer Bean Dip, or Olive Cream Cheese spread. So I’ll keep on alert for sales, and stock up if the expiration date is good.
I have several varieties of flavored hummus that have become my trademark, my go-to whenever I need to create a party dish – quickly. Last year, Harris Teeter had regular canned chickpeas on sale for $.50, and organic chickpeas for $.30 off. Made sense to stock up. And I spotted pita chips on sale for buy one, get one free. I picked up a few packages – after first checking online to see if I can find a coupon, of course! (And I could.)
For the next few weeks there will be major sales and coupons for baking supplies – flour, unrefined sugar, agave nectar, corn starch, spices, chopped nuts. I’ll be checking to see what baking goods I may need, then see what coupons are available and try to combine a coupon with a sale. Last year I bought pure vanilla extract and a number of McCormick’s spices for free! (Another tip – if you have an Indian grocery nearby, check out their spices. You will not believe the variety and low price – for holiday must-haves like cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, etc.)
And since I plan to amuse myself this holiday season by veganizing old family holiday recipes, I’ll also be looking for some unusual ingredients and creative substitutions – ingredients I don’t use in my everyday cooking.
You see how this works. Don’t worry about finding the absolute BEST price – on that road lies madness. Just look for a good price! Save a few dollars here, five dollars there, ten dollars there, four dollars there – it all adds up!
Now – you may be feeling overwhelmed right now, and crossing some items off your list! You may be revising your holiday menu. But that’s a good thing! It means you and your wallet will stress less this holiday season.
We all fancy ourselves as Martha Stewart this time of year – but always remember, Martha Stewart has more money than most of us can imagine and only needs four hours of sleep per night!
A few final tips – for the sake of sanity, I usually recommend everyone concentrate on just one or two grocery stores and drug stores. However, in the Holiday Season you may be visiting different shopping centers and areas of town that you don’t normally go to. So go ahead and check out that Food Lion that’s right behind that Best Buy, or check the grocery section of Target.
Happy Holidays to all of my readers. Eat, drink, and be merry.