I’m a Financial Expert — Here’s How I Save Money on Groceries During the Holidays

updated Nov 20, 2019
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There’s no arguing — the holiday season is expensive. But while most of you blame gift shopping and travel fees for whittling away your budget, these aren’t the only expenses draining your bank account this time of year. There are a slew of other seasonal costs that can creep up and cause you to overspend. For me, this often includes food.

Over the years, I’ve noticed how quickly our grocery bill racks up during the holiday season, thanks to the never-ending rotation of out-of-town guests — for whom we feel obligated to keep a stocked pantry and refrigerator, and cook elaborate meals. We also enjoy hosting holiday parties, decorating cookies and gingerbread houses with our kids, and will never show up to a friend or family member’s home over the holidays without a sweet treat or bottle of wine in hand. Then, there are those nights when we get too busy to cook and find it much easier to pick up pre-made meals from our favorite food stores. (Hello, Whole Foods!)

Although we could cut our grocery bill by scaling back on the festivities, we’re not going to because that’s the part of the holiday season we love most — being with loved ones. So instead, we’ve found other ways to trim our grocery spending, which means we don’t have to sacrifice the spirit of the season for the sake of saving money.

Here are seven grocery shopping tricks I use to save money on groceries during the holidays.

Credit: Kunal Mehta

1. I stock up during sales.

Just like you see a spike in airfare prices around the holidays (due to the increased demand for flights), certain baking and cooking ingredients get costlier this time of year, too. So I try to stock up on certain things — like butter, sugar, and flour — in advance. Ideally when they’re on sale or when I have a coupon. The hidden bonus is that I then have everything I need on hand for last-minute baking projects.

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2. I stick to generic brands for basics.

When it comes to grocery basics, store brands are often similar in quality and taste to their name-brand counterparts. That’s why I also reach for the generic brands of holiday cooking essentials (like spices, seasoning, baking supplies, olive oil, and bread), saving me anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of my total grocery bill. And, because store brands often go on sale, I look out for discounts through my local grocer’s loyalty program to save even more.

Credit: Kelli Foster

3. I keep the menu simple with dishes that use the same ingredients.

My husband loves to cook and he’s good at it. He’s naturally talented and I often play sous chef, tasting his amazing dishes along the way. Because he’s known in our extended family as a master meal creator, we often feel pressure to serve elaborate holiday meals. We’ve learned, however, that with complicated dishes often comes expensive ingredients and longer grocery lists. Not to mention, more time in the kitchen and less time socializing with our guests. That’s why we’ve made a rule to keep our menus simple, with perhaps one appetizer or dish that’s new and unique. We also try to stick to dishes that use overlapping ingredients in order to cut down on food waste. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. I cook in bulk.

On a regular day, I am constantly trying to keep my life in order — you know, between work, taking care of my kids, and all those never-ending chores. So when the holiday season rolls around and throws a whole new set of events and to-dos to tackle, I often feel burnt out before the day has even started. And by the time dinner is supposed to be served, I find myself scrambling to order something quick from a favorite restaurant or grab a prepared meal from the nearest supermarket.

While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional to-go dinner or restaurant outing, breaking the habit for me was important because I don’t want to spend our hard-earned dollars this way. This doesn’t mean I have to succumb to the stress of whipping up a meal at the last minute, though. Instead, I now prepare ahead of the busy holiday season and cook meals in bulk that I can freeze (think: lasagna and beef stew). Stocking my freezer with these types of dishes means we have lunch or dinner options that can be quickly reheated with a single zap of the microwave, particularly on busy weeknights.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. I bake my own sweets.

Most people don’t realize that baked goods have the highest markup of nearly any other item in the grocery store, sometimes as high as 300 percent. And, although the lure of (professionally) decorated treats and convenience is hard to resist, baking my own sweets is something that saves me money and is fun to do with my kids. If time is tight, I opt for a box of brownie, cake, or cookie mix, which makes baking even easier and still a lot cheaper. In fact, I often pick up a few of our favorite brands when I see them on sale so I have them in my pantry when I want to bake something to bring to a party or put out for guests.

Read more: These (Stress-Free) Shortcut Cookies All Start with a Box of Cake Mix

Credit: Kelli Foster

6. I buy frozen produce.

Whether baking a pie or whipping up blueberry pancakes for breakfast, our holiday menus usually call for fruits and vegetables. Because some of the produce I like to include are out of season (read: more expensive), I save money by buying them from the freezer section, with savings of 20 to 30 percent compared to the fresh options. Knowing that frozen fruit and vegetables are flash frozen at peak ripeness, I feel confident that this option still provides my family with the same healthy nutrients I seek to feed them, while also keeping our grocery spending under control. Not to mention, having bags of our favorite produce in the freezer alleviates the worry of it going bad and ensures we always have it on hand for last-minute cooking and baking needs.

Credit: Lauren Volo

7. I get creative with leftovers.

I grew up on leftovers and could eat the same dish for days (thanks to my Ukrainian grandparents, to whom frugality was a way of life!), but my husband was raised differently and wanted nothing to do with yesterday’s dinner. It used to drive me bananas when he wouldn’t just eat what we had in the refrigerator, but there was no changing his ways. Instead of fighting about it, I learned how to work around it and now focus on turning leftovers into new dishes. With a little creativity, I found it’s easy to reinvent holiday meals. For instance, turkey and stuffing can be used in a quiche!

Related: The Thanksgiving Leftovers Recipes Our Editors Love Best

How do save money on groceries this time of year? Leave your tips in the comments below!