How I’m Changing My Grocery Budget for the Holidays

updated May 24, 2019
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Welcome to a column from The Financial Diet, one of our very favorite sites, dedicated to money and everything it touches. One of the best ways to take charge of your financial life is through food and cooking. This column from TFD founders Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage will help you be better with money, thanks to the kitchen.

I have a confession to make: I’ve spent a lot of money in the last month. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t regret anything holiday-related that I’ve spent money on so far. I also doubt I’ll regret the things I’ve spent money on but that haven’t happened yet, like going to a holiday concert with a friend, taking my parents to an upcoming light show at the local botanical gardens, or buying a plane ticket to see family at Christmas.

These are all things I planned for, so even though I will have spent close to a thousand dollars on holiday-related events and gifts, none of it is a surprise. (And, to me, it’s all worth it.)

What I didn’t prepare myself for was all the extraneous spending I’d be doing surrounding the holidays. Until Christmas actually gets here and everything goes quiet for a week or so, it’s the busiest time of year work-wise. That means that, on top of planning and attending holiday parties, going Christmas shopping, and baking a boatload of cookies, I’m also dealing with a heavier workload than usual.

So, I’ve started to rely on the old, go-to favorites of my pre-budget-conscious self: takeout, takeout, and more takeout.

There is something really lovely about planning a date night around sharing a bottle of wine and some Chinese food while snuggling up to watch an indulgent period drama. But it’s when I start relying on greasy noodles and pizza for half of my sustenance that I start to feel the effects of it — both on my body and on my wallet. I’ve begun to realize that it’s not my holiday-specific indulgences that do a number on me this time of year; it’s the extraneous indulgences attached to the excuse of the holiday season that do so.

I’m not necessarily worried about my overall financial health, but with several big expenses during the first few months of 2018 — including a move — I’ve realized it’s time to rein it in. I’m not going to restrain from indulging in the holiday celebrations I look forward to the entire rest of the year, but there are certainly ways I can (and should) cool it on the convenience-food front.

Rule #1: Make Soups and Casseroles You Actually Like

First, I’ll be sticking to the rule I adopted when I first learned how to food budget: Make a huge batch of soup or a casserole you actually like, and then eat the leftovers for days on end. I love making huge amounts of food so that I can spend less of my week cooking (especially when I’m busy or — gasp — it’s cold out and I don’t feel like it), but it’s hard if you do this with something you haven’t tried yet, and then it turns out you don’t like it.

I’ll be sticking with making huge recipes I’ve made before and know I love, like tortilla soup and baked ziti with eggplant.

Rule #2: Rely on Frozen Vegetables

Second, I’m going to re-adopt one of the most tried-and-true kitchen materials from my college years: frozen vegetables. I honestly think they’re so underrated, especially since they’re usually already cut up and ready to throw into something. I used to regularly whip up a quick frittata and be covered for lunch for the week.

So this weekend, I’m going to stock up on some frozen staples to use for the rest of this month. It’ll make quick things like pasta, soup, and eggs even quicker, and it’ll help me be much nicer to my bank account and body than I have been lately, at least when it comes to food — without feeling like it took too effort.

Budgeting my money and time around the holidays is a pain, but not so much so that I should constantly be resorting to easy, but more expensive and less healthy, options for my regular meals. And by eliminating my need to overindulge throughout this season, the actually holidays will feel even more special.