Written by Jaz Popa

It’s the holiday season! That means delicious food, quality time with friends and family, and stress. A lot of stress. Even if your holidays are smaller this year due to COVID and you’re just celebrating with your household, cooking food, planning parties, and decorating during the holidays can be extremely overwhelming and expensive. It can also be difficult to get creative on how to celebrate with non-household members safely and distanced. With these tips you’ll be able to celebrate safely without breaking the bank or missing out on spending time with your loved ones! 

Social distancing during the holidays can be depressing, but one way you can spread some holiday cheer and bond with your loved ones is by eating together. You can do this safely by all cooking separately and then eating together on a virtual call. If you are COVID free, you can also do a food drop off. Cook as you would normally, but then make a plate for all your loved ones and make a no-contact delivery to their homes. You can then share the meal together virtually. If it is warm enough, you can also enjoy a meal together and celebrate outside and six feet apart. 

When it comes to cooking, for a crowd or just your household, the easiest and most effective thing you can do is shop early and shop sales. Whenever you see a sale, grab the shelf stable products that you know you’ll need for your menu. You can also plan your menu around the grocery store sales. Shopping early will not only save you cash, but it will also save you stress and prevent you from having the dreaded grocery store meltdown when you see that they are out of the most important thing you needed! 

 It’s also worth checking your pantry before you go shopping to see what you already have. This way you won’t wind up with duplicates and wasted money. You can also try planning your menu around what you already have. Always shop your pantry first. 

 Planning your menu around fresh produce that’s in season will also help you save some money since it’s the cheapest option. Fresh seasonal produce always has the best flavor too, so not only will you save money, but you’ll also really impress the people you’re feeding. 

If you have leftovers, don’t throw them away! Get creative with leftover meals or freeze them. This will keep you from wasting money because the most expensive food is food that we throw away.  

If time, and sanity, permits you, make as many dishes from scratch as you can. Cooking homemade is often much cheaper than buying premade since you won’t be paying a convenience fee. Don’t overpay for name brands either. Shop generic when it makes sense and save money for things like higher quality meats or chesses.  

Here are some delicious holiday entrees, sides, and dessert recipes that you can make a full meal with that won’t break the bank! Click each image for the recipe:

Hoppin' John
Rolled Oat and Peanut Butter Cookies

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Sauteed Greens
Herb Roasted Chicken with Vegetables
Cranberry Walnut Coleslaw
Cornbread-Crusted Roasted Chicken
Confetti Pepper Cornbread
Chicken with Apples and Raisins
Holiday Roasted Butternut Squash
Baked Apples
Apple Crisp

See more ideas for cooking on a budget here and here.

Although the holidays this year will look a little different, you can get creative in how you celebrate with friends and family.

Remember, celebrations don’t have to be big to be fun. Celebrating with just your household members will be safe, but also special and intimate. Planning a party for just your household can also help to break up the mundane routine we have all fallen into and make quarantine more exciting! Celebrating virtually is also a very accessible option now as well so you can still safely spend time with your friends and family who do not live in your household this holiday season.  

Even if you are hosting a party for just your household, the first and most important things to do are make a budget and set your priorities. Be realistic in your budget, but also decide what can be excluded if you don’t have much left to spend.   

Everyone appreciates entertainment at parties, even virtual ones. Holiday games are great, but they don’t have to be expensive ones. Instead of a White Elephant style game where you, and everyone else, needs to buy a gift, play free games instead. If you’re having a party for your household, try things like ornament-on-a-spoon races, holiday karaoke, or an ugly sweater contest. You can also play “who am I” type games where guests act as or are labeled as a holiday themed character, and everyone must guess who they are. If you’re hosting a virtual gathering, some fun holiday games you can play are cookie or gingerbread house decorating contests, virtual card exchanges, online holiday trivia, or holiday themed charades! If all virtual party attendees have Netflix, you can even watch a holiday movie together through Netflix Party. This allows everyone to watch the movie at the same time and chat with each other! 

Check out these sites to for even more ideas on virtual party games:

The following sources have additional ideas for entertaining on a budget: Dave Ramsey; The Active Times; and Modern Frugality.

Decorations always make the holidays feel even more festive, especially when your house isn’t filled with all your loved ones. However, decorations that are only used once during the year can seem frivolous and be very expensive. When you are decorating, keep in mind that your entire house does not need to be draped in decorations. Accentuate key places and focus on decorating high impact, high traffic areas like the front door, table, and the mantel.  

When decorating, go for low cost, high impact décor. This includes string twinkle lights, ribbons, candles, and colored burlap. You can also run outside and find some twigs, pinecones, and evergreen branches to arrange. This is very effective and absolutely free! When you’re shopping, remember to try places like thrift stores, consignment shops, and dollar stores first. These are great places to find cheap decorations and cheap materials for DIY decorations.  

Here are some awesome and simple DIY decoration ideas that will make your house very festive all while saving you money! Click each image for the instructions:

Recycled Tin Can Crafts
Using Nature
Orange Garland
Cranberry Evergreen Jars
Mambo Yarn Trees
Scarf Wreath

Pinecone Garland

Photo by Lavender Homefront

Cinnamon Stick Candles

More ideas for decorating on a budget can be found here and here!   

Not only will these tips help keep you safe during the holidays, but they will also make cooking, hosting parties, and decorating realistic when you’re on a budget. Remember, the holidays are about having quality time and creating memories, not about spending money. So, use these tips, relax, and make the most your holiday season! And most importantly, remember to stay safe and follow CDC guidelines for social distancing.