Christmas Dinner Breakdown: Save or Splurge?

  • An Affordable Feast

    The stockings are hung, the halls are decked and the tree is lit – all that’s left to do is plan that perfect Christmas dinner. But for Americans on a budget, deciding where to trim costs can be a daunting task. After all, no one wants to seem stingy when entertaining guests, but we also don’t want the holidays to put us too far into the red in 2012. How can you plan an affordable meal without looking like a scrooge? MainStreet called on culinary and decorating pros for advice, and asked everyday consumers how they choose to spend money on their Christmas dinner via our Facebook page. Read on for some helpful tips on what’s worth splurging on – and what’s best to buy cheap – when planning your Yuletide feast. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Appetizers: Save
  • Appetizers: Save

    When it comes to appetizers, you can easily buy inexpensive items and still wow your guests. Take the common cheese board, for instance. “Go ahead and choose domestic versions of imported cheeses – they’re often just as good but several dollars less expensive than their fancy foreign counterparts – and dress them up with easy garnishes like a drizzle of honey or a handful of chopped nuts,” suggests Alejandra Ramos, owner of Alejandra Ramos Culinary & Lifestyle, a boutique culinary concierge in New York that offers food education services, workshops and classes. Similarly, vegetable platters don’t have to cost you a lot to look and taste great. “We do not buy [prepared] veggie trays, we buy the veggies whole and prepare them ourselves,” says MainStreet reader Krystyan Lineberry. “The yield is much greater for less cost.” If cash is tight and you need a creative recipe for an appetizer, the website MyFridgeFood.com lets you type in the items you already have in your pantry, then gives you recipe ideas using those items. MainStreet reader Kayleigh Tubbergen uses the site often, and one of her favorite recipes is for freshly baked beer bread. She first discovered the recipe on the website after typing in what was in her kitchen at the time – baking powder, flour, salt, honey and beer. If you’d like to make this yourself, simply cube the beer bread and complement it with an inexpensive dip. Photo Credit: Dinner Series
    Main Course: Splurge on Meat, Save on Sides
  • Main Course: Splurge on Meat, Save on Sides

    Although it’s OK to save on other parts of your meal, our experts say you should never skimp on the main meat dish. “Splurge on one centerpiece item – a spiral ham, a beef tenderloin – that will be the star of your table,” says Ramos. MainStreet reader Kelly M. Giles says that in order to make it possible to spend more money on her favorite main courses such as Amish ham, prime rib or Butterball turkey, she cuts back on other items. “I use coupons to buy the staples – French fried onions, green beans, chicken broth, Cool Whip – and spend the money on the better piece of meat for the main course.” Complement your main dish with inexpensive sides such as salad, corn, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, which can each be had for just a few dollars at the grocery store. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Dessert: Save
  • Dessert: Save

    Our experts agree that dessert is a course you should save on, and the easiest way is to skip the fancy bakery cookies and cakes and bake your own treats instead. “During this season of excess, often a simple, nostalgic treat like homemade chocolate chip cookies, marshmallow cereal treats or even a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with hot fudge and a cherry will delight and go a lot further with guests than an overpriced and sophisticated bakery-bought cake,” says Ramos. For a festive treat the kids will love, consider baking cookies in the shape of gingerbread men, candy canes, stockings and other Christmas symbols. You can buy Betty Crocker’s sugar cookie mix, which makes 36 2-inch cookies, for $1.64 at Walmart, and cut out shapes with Wilton’s seven-piece holiday cookie cutter set, available at Target for $5.99. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Tableware: Save
  • Tableware: Save

    “No need to buy fancy ‘holiday’ platters or plates to display and serve your food,” says Ramos. “Use what you already have, or get plain white items that will serve you all year long.” The same goes for cups and saucers. If you do want to splurge on one festive item in this category though, consider a holiday-themed plate charger, which other plates can be placed on top of. “They’re a great way to ‘beef’ up your table,” says Laura Bianco, co-owner of My Bellissima, a special events company with locations in Manhattan and Morristown, N.J. Bianco says there’s also no need to break the bank with flatware. “You can pick up very cost-effective flatware at HomeGoods, Target or Walmart,” she says. This Better Homes and Gardens Jessica 45-Piece Flatware Set, for instance, is sold at Walmart.com for just $29.97. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Table Linens: Splurge on Tablecloths, Save on Napkins
  • Table Linens: Splurge on Tablecloths, Save on Napkins

    Go ahead, splurge on that holiday tablecloth. “You can use it every year and it will never go out of ‘holiday style,’” says Bianco. “If you get solids like a nice red color, you can use it all year round. Think: Red cloth and aqua napkins in the summer, red cloth with deep purple napkins for fall, and the red tablecloth also works for Valentine’s Day.” When it comes to napkins, though, it’s best to buy them cheap. Bianco says HomeGoods, Target and Walmart offer many varieties of napkins and napkin rings that will give you lots of bang for your buck. Or if you’re feeling creative, you can make your own napkin rings using simple satin colored ribbon, Bianco suggests. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Table Décor: Save
  • Table Décor: Save

    You don’t have to shell out a lot of cash to give your Christmas table panache. “A store like HomeGoods should be your go-to location for all things holiday,” says Bianco. One must for your table is candles. “First things first, candles go a long way, whether you want to go with classic white and ivories or ‘pops’ of holiday color,” says Bianco. “Use various sizes and cluster them to give the table texture.” Mirrored glass tiles are another beautiful way to enliven your table. “You can pick up very inexpensive mirrored tiles – 12-inch by 12-inch in size – at any local hardware store and create a simple glass runner,” says Bianco. “Place your candles going down the table in various heights and sizes. The mirrors make your table sparkle twice as much.” For an extra festive touch, look for inexpensive apothecary jars and fill them with pine cones, colored ornaments and even candy. “This can be the center of your table, with votive candles placed around them, or can be displayed on an area such as a fireplace mantel,” says Bianco. Place cards are also a great addition to any Christmas dinner with friends and relatives, and are easy to create yourself out of simple items. “Make place cards out of pine cones, jingle bells and/or a holiday cookie cutter – which not only decorate your table but also gives it a more personalized look,” says Bianco. “Attach them to your napkin or place them at the top of your setting.” Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Alcohol: Save
  • Alcohol: Save

    A good libation is a great way to get any party started, but again, you don’t have to spend a bundle to impress your guests. “There are plenty of good sparkling wines and proseccos available for around $10 a bottle that are perfect when entertaining a crowd or making champagne cocktails,” says Ramos. A good low-cost choice, for instance, is the Mionetto Prosecco Brut. Looking for something a bit more creative? “One great inexpensive way to entertain is my favorite signature holiday drink – the pomegranate champagne cocktail,” says Sekita Ekrek, who writes the food blog KikaEats.com. “Trader Joe’s makes an excellent sparkling pomegranate juice for under $3 a bottle. Get some nice Spanish cava like Cristalino, which is around $8 a bottle, and throw in a few pomegranate seeds in your fluted glasses. Mix about 1/3 juice and 2/3 cava and voila! It’s gorgeous, festive and people love them.” Photo Credit: crownwineandspirits.com
    Other Holiday Savings Tips
  • Other Holiday Savings Tips

    In addition to the tips already mentioned, there are a variety of other ways to save on your Christmas feast this year. MainStreet reader Dani Combs suggests planning your meal in advance so you can shop around for the best deals and avoid making impulse buys at the last minute. “I try to buy things a little bit ahead of time when I see them on sale, and use coupons,” she says. “It’s all about planning smart and planning ahead.” For MainStreet reader Connie Scott’s holiday dinners, which in the past have consisted of at least 10 people, she has asked guests to each bring a dish for the table. “If I assign dishes, we have a bountiful table and it does not cost everyone – especially me – an arm and a leg,” she says. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Gifts for Boomers
  • Gifts for Boomers

    You still have a few days to wrap up your holiday shopping before Christmas is officially here. If you’re not sure what to buy the older members of your family, check out this roundup for 10 great gift suggestions for baby boomers! Photo Credit: Amazon.com
     
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    Kristin Colella is a writer/editor for MainStreet. You can follow her on Twitter at @KrisColella. And if you haven't already, now is a great time to follow MainStreet itself on Twitter. You'll get all of our most important stories, right as they publish. Follow us @mainstr! Photo Credit: clevercupcakes
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