How To Have A Magical Christmas Dinner On A Budget

Fast forward with me for a moment… as Christmas Day is getting closer, the presents are almost wrapped, the stockings are hung by the fire, and it’s time to start thinking about Christmas dinner.

If you have company over for Christmas dinner, then the dinner bill can begin to rack up quick.

Whether you’re short on money or you are on a tight budget, here is how you can make Christmas dinner magical and still stay on a budget this year.

In order to have a magical dinner without overspending, we need to talk about two separate parts: (1) staying on budget for dinner, and (2) fun magical accents that don’t break the bank.

Let’s discuss how to stay on budget first:

Make A Budget And Stretch It

If you are on a tight budget this year, you still need to make a budget for your Christmas dinner.

Knowing how much you have to work with will not just determine how much you have to spend, but also what kind of dinner you will be preparing.

Once you know how much you’ll be making, look for ways to stretch your budget.

Christmas dinner is a big meal, and you want to look for ways to stretch each penny to the limit. Coupons can help you get more food for your buck, and limiting your menu can help you make a few elegant but delicious meals for your feast.

Limit Your Menu

You don’t need to have an extravagant meal in order to have a great Christmas dinner!

Keep your menu simple by limiting your sides and desserts. These items should still compliment your main dish, without crowding the table.

Not only will you save some money, but it will keep the focus on what’s important during the holidays.

Ask For Joint Effort

Now that you’ve decided on the menu, you can further cut the meal cost for everyone by asking your guests to bring something to dinner.

This gives everyone a chance to chip in and bring something they love, and it will save you money!

Everyone loves to pitch in, so chances are they would be bringing something anyway… make it easy for them by asking ahead of time what they’d like to bring, a side or a salad? I promise they will be more than happy to oblige.

And this is especially helpful for the family members who have dietary restrictions (my sister eats non-diary, so it’s always nice when she brings a couple dishes that everyone will enjoy, yet I don’t have to worry that I accidentally included an ingredient she can’t eat).

Just make sure you give your guests plenty of notice, so they aren’t rushing around the last minute to accommodate you.

Cheaper Alternatives

You don’t have to reinvent the entire menu to help cut the cost of Christmas dinner.

Instead, look for more affordable options for the classics… what if, instead of doing a ham or turkey this year, you gave chicken a try?

One year we made pot-pies (my same pie crust recipe with a little sprinkle of Italian seasoning in the crust) and everyone LOVED it!

And you will especially save money if you can make the dishes from scratch and not use store-bought (leading us to my next point).

Make Dishes From Scratch

Store bought pies, sides, and other fixings can cost you double at the store!

Save your money, and make as much as you can from scratch!

You can buy the ingredients you need for less, and while it may be more time consuming, I promise your efforts will pay off! It will taste a lot better, and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.


Shop Your Stock First

Before you hit the store and buy a whole bunch of food, check your pantry and cupboards!

Not only will you get the chance to clear out your pantry, but you might find you have a few of the ingredients you need to put something together.

Wanna know the secret ingredient in my homemade coleslaw? Cilantro! (I hate cilantro in anything else but coleslaw… trust me, it’s delicious) Well, every time I get to the store and buy the bag of shredded cabbage to make coleslaw I think I need another bottle of Celetentro seasoning… but when I get home, I have a bottle (or two) already in my spice cabinet. UGH!

Overbuying is a sure-fire way to bust your budget!

Shop Around

While this may be a given, shopping around for your Christmas dinner essentials can help you save some serious cash!

Different shops and supermarkets will have discounts and sales on everything you need for your Christmas dinner.

You may find one store with the best price on Turkey, and another with the best price for the ingredients to make your side dishes.

Make a list of everything you need for your Christmas dinner, and divide it up by the best store to buy it.

For the ingredients for our Thanksgiving meal, I went to ALDI for canned pumpkin and all my fresh produce. Then I shopped at Costco for the dairy products (half n half, heavy cream and butter). My Mom bought the turkey from Publix. Obviously, we didn’t go to all three stores on the same day, but it helped to split up the list and get the items at the best prices.

Plan For Zero Leftovers

Restaurant portion sizes have given us a skewed perception of what right portion sizes look like. While we may feel obligated to load up our plate on Thanksgiving Day, the truth is that it is probably too much!

Instead of over-serving and ending up with so many leftovers, serve your guests proper portions.

Your waistline and your wallet will thank you later.

Now Let’s Discuss How To Add The Magic:

Christmas Morning “Snowflakes”

WARNING: the hardest part about this project is keeping it from (or actually, not doing it with) from the kids.

About a week before Christmas, start making paper snowflakes. I suggest you make three each night (that’s all my hands could handle with all the cutting).

Then on Christmas Eve, use all the paper snowflakes to decorate around the dining table where you’ll be eating Christmas Dinner.

Hang them from the ceiling, over the table and lay them around on the table… when the kids see it the next morning, it’ll feel magical.

NOTE: If you have a little more time, use some glue and glitter and make them all sparkle. I’m a sucker for some glitter.

The Little Touches Count

When you go to sit down at your Christmas dinner, after a fun day of gift giving and receiving, you want to make everyone feel like the last meal of the day is a special one.

Think about the little details, the extra “touches” that will make the table slightly more special:

  • Do you have special china you could pull out to use? (if you don’t have enough plates for everyone, think of using those pieces for serving food on)
  • Tie ribbon around the silverware to add color to the table
  • Use extra ornaments (and any extra greenery from your Christmas tree) to decorate the table
  • Lay Christmas cookie cutters around the table to decorate
  • Candles always add a magical touch, gather them from around the house and strategically place on the table to add ambiance
  • Play Christmas music in the background

Gifts at the Table

A family tradition that my Mom started years ago was to save out one gift that she placed on everyone’s seat as she was setting the table for dinner. It was like a “bonus” gift when we thought we had no more presents to open.

She would give us small useful (not expensive) items that we could use right away: (useful things you’d find at the dollar store)

  • mini flashlights
  • pencil sets
  • stickers
  • hair ribbons/ties
  • tape measure
  • holiday flavored chapstick

Don’t forget to wrap every single item so that it extends the Christmas unwrapping fun!

Use Personalized Place Cards

Nothing makes a table feel more special than to see your own name written on a place card “reserving” your very own seat.

This year, hand make place cards with names on them to personalize each seat and make your guests feel extra special.

Here are a couple ideas I’ve used in the recent past:

  • Use cardstock, write names in glue, then sprinkle with glitter
  • Glue 3 Candy Canes together to hold the individual name card

Fancy Napkins

I love origami. When I was a teen I learned how to fold a piece of paper into a ball. That was a neat trick I later used when I babysat to keep the kids occupied!

This Christmas test your origami folding skills and fold some napkins into a festive table decorations.


One nice thing is that around the holidays, you can typically find a lot of great deals on everything you need to make your Christmas dinner magical. And don’t pass over the loads of coupons in our coupon database to help you make your Christmas dinner cost a little bit less.

You can still have a delicious (and magical) Christmas dinner even if you’re on a budget!