How to Host a Swanky Christmas Dinner on a Budget

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Christmas dinner should be one of the most decadent, elaborate, and straight-up JOYFUL meals of the year for both the chef and the dinner guests. And for most of us, a big part of being JOYFUL is not spending too much money! After all, we’re currently experiencing record levels of inflation, and money is tight for many of us.

I have good news for you, though: preparing a super-decadent Christmas dinner doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, Christmas dinner on a budget can be as delicious and easy as if you were to spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on the menu! In this post, I’ll go through 6 easy-to-implement tips that will help you organize a budget Christmas dinner that would make Saint Nick himself salivate while also making Scrooge proud of your fiscal prudence.

6 Tips for a Swanky Christmas Dinner on a Budget

The Christmas season is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s also the busiest, though, so let’s get right into our tips for organizing a nice Christmas dinner without spending too much.

1. Create a Budget

Before you even start planning a menu, draw up a budget that dictates exactly how much you’re willing to spend. To start, come up with an amount that is the total you can pay for the food. Then, divide that total up five ways to account for each of the five parts of a truly swanky Christmas dinner. The five parts are:

  • Meat (pork/beef/chicken/turkey) is the main event of a Christmas dinner.
  • Starch (potatoes/pasta/bread/rice/stuffing). Foods containing starch give you that warm, full feeling that you want at Christmastime.
  • Vegetables (green beans/cauliflower/squash) are important so you don’t feel too bloated while eating.
  • Drinks (champagne/wine/cranberry juice) are essential at any get-together.
  • Dessert (Pies/cakes/Christmas cookies) are a perfect way to wrap up the holiday.

You might need to rebalance the five figures over the course of your planning, but having a solid ballpark figure for each course will keep you from going overboard on your spending.

2. Skip the High-End Meat

You’d be surprised how much good-quality meat you can get for rock-bottom prices if you shop in bulk at a warehouse shopping location like Costco or even Walmart. The quality probably won’t be quite as good as the $23/pound stuff you’d buy at a gourmet grocery, but it’s probably going to be 95% as good and will cost 30% as much.

Let the inexpensive meat selection you find guide your menu. People often think of a specific meat dish they want to make and then just buy the meat for that dish afterwards. If you see what meat is cheapest first and then brainstorm what dishes you could make with it, you’ll spend a lot less, especially since the meat dish is often the most expensive part of Christmas dinner.

3. Delegate

You may have noticed that cookware is not included in the five-part budget I laid out earlier, and actually buying your own will destroy your budget in a heartbeat. So don’t be afraid to ask your guests if you can borrow their cookware if you need anything that you don’t have. After all, the Christmas spirit is all about friends helping friends!

To make sure everything goes smoothly on Christmas day, draw up your list of required cookware below your five-part budget plan. Make sure everything is accounted for and that you won’t have to add to the budget by buying any of the cookware. If you absolutely need to, you can deduct the cost of cookware you’ll buy from one of your course budgets.

Another helpful tip: ask guests to bring dishes! Whether it’s a side, a dessert, or an appetizer, it’s one less thing you have to make or budget for.

4. Shop with a List

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go shopping for ingredients without a list of exactly what you’ll need, a list that specifies every single ingredient you’ll need. And once you’re at the store, DON’T DEVIATE FROM YOUR LIST!

The Christmas season has a way of getting people to buy table trimmings they don’t need, from candy canes for the guests to Christmas-themed decorations for the table. Buying those kinds of impulse items will interfere with your budget, so don’t give into the temptation! When shopping for Christmas dinner on a budget, you should become a machine with one objective: stick to your list!

TIP: If it’s available in your area, online shopping is a good resource to take advantage of. Because you don’t have to pass by aisles full of tempting items, it’s much easier to stick to a list. Make sure the online shopping outlet isn’t overpriced and offers free shipping, though!

5. Keep your Menu Concise

A decadent dinner doesn’t have to have a bunch of little sides and add-ons. In fact, people like when the menu for a dinner is straightforward and doesn’t offer a bunch of options, because it means they don’t have to pick and choose what to eat. If they can try everything, they won’t have to experience the FOMO that comes with not sampling a particular dish.

Keeping the menu concise will also make it a lot easier to stick to a budget. It will make shopping simpler. You won’t need to obtain the ingredients for as many dishes, and it will make it less likely that you end the night with a huge pile of uneaten food. Even if you do, having only a few leftover items will make storage easier, and you may be eating free lunches for the next week!

6. Have a Potluck

If you follow the steps above, you should end up with a small and concise menu that, while decadent, provides reasonable portions. So to give the dinner that bountiful vibe that the Christmas season is known for, you can ask your guests to each bring a little something extra! Even if that only means a few extra additions, it will give the dinner a feeling of variety that will transform it into a fancy-feeling event.

This tip is cost-effective. But it also makes the party feel more in keeping with the giving spirit when everyone contributes.

Christmas Dinner on a Budget FAQ

What are the top budget Christmas dinner foods?

• Prime rib – This meat can be very expensive. But you can find it for a good price if you buy in bulk and look for it under its alias, “roast beef.” Pro-tip, serve it with horseradish.
• Cranberry apple pork chops – Pork is even more affordable than roast beef. And health-conscious diners will probably appreciate pork chops more. Don’t forget the gravy!
• Stuffing – I think stuffing has a higher ratio of people who absolutely love it than any other food. Even if you’re not making a turkey to stuff, making stuffing is a must.
• Christmas salad – Most Christmas foods are very heavy. But a salad that includes bleu cheese, candied nuts, and pomegranate seeds is a good way to lighten things up.
• Brussel sprout bake – Most recipes involve baking brussel sprouts with cheese, cream, and bread crumbs. It’s creamy, it warms the stomach, and it’s not actually that bad for you.
• Roasted butternut squash with cheese – Vegetables and cheese are just a very good combination.
• PiesApple, pumpkin, and pecan are the most popular flavors.

What can I cook instead of Christmas dinner?

Don’t want to go with the traditional Christmas dinner foods? Feel free to think outside of the box for your menu. If you’re still aiming to capture the Christmas spirit, though, you’ll probably want to go with hearty, moist foods. The kind that seamlessly blend in flavors of sweetness and umami. Also, try and stick to the meat-starch-vegetable-drinks-dessert menu plan I laid out.

Last Christmas, I prepared a buttery garlic shrimp with rice dish, sweet biscuits with gravy, a green bean and squash casserole, Christmas cocktails, and a selection of gingerbread cakes. It was a huge success!

Is Santa real?


Have a Swanky Christmas!

Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but everyone can get into the holiday spirit. Friends, laughter, making memories, and filling your belly are the things this end-of-year celebration is all about. If you can pull it off without breaking the bank, well, that’s a bonus.

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