Now that it’s officially Elul, it’s time to start getting ready for the High Holidays. Here on Kosher on a Budget, “geting ready” refers not to selichot and shofar-blowing, but to budgets, menu plans and grocery lists.
September is definitely one of those months when I have to increase our food budget. As you know, my family typically budget between $500 and $600 per month, but in September and April we usually bump that up to $700 – $800 to accommodate the many yomtov meals.
Whether or not you have the wiggle room to increase your budget for September, I wanted to share with you my eight strategies for ensuring that yomtov eating (and hosting!) doesn’t break the bank.
#1. Start with your budget
As always, I encourage everyone to assign a budget to their yomtov plans. If you start with the guest list and the menu plan, the sky will be the limit. Rather, start with what you can reasonably afford to spend. If you typically spend $1000 each month on food, ask yourself: Can I realistically spend another $500? $250? $100?
Remember – when you increase your food budget, you have to DECREASE your budget for something else. It’s a zero-sum equation!
#2. Plan out all your meals
Typically, I menu plan just for dinners and then ‘wing it’ for lunch and breakfast – based loosely on the three or four things my family likes to eat for those meals.
When I participated in the week-long SNAP Food Snap Challenge, I made a menu plan for all 21 of our week’s meals, plus a list of “approved” snack foods. In order to ensure that I could stick to such a tight budget, this “over-planning” was immensely helpful.
If menu planning is new to you in general – I love it! It’s one of the best ways to save money (and sanity). Learn more about the benefits of menu planning here.
#3. What can I bring?
I’m bad about this, but there is definitely no shame in asking your guests to bring something. And most people offer anyway – so just take them up on it. You can still cook the majority of your meal, but crossing off a few side dishes and desserts not only cuts down on your prep time, but also saves you $20 – $40 per meal. Multiply that times twelve and you can see that it adds up quickly.
By the last days of Sukkot, I am usually Burned.Out. Perfect time for a potluck. I like to do this with just one other family, and keep things low key – so one will bring soup, a side, and dessert, and the other will provide a main dish, a salad and challah. (Or however you want to divide things out.) Last year, my friend had the genius idea to do a post-Sukkot left-overs pot-luck.
#5. Plan a few lighter meals
When you are eating like kings for three weeks, it’s really okay if one or two meals aren’t gastronomic feasts. In fact, not only will your wallet thank you – so will your waistline!
One family I know likes to plan at least one soup and salad meal. I often enjoy a lighter meal of bagels, cream cheese and quiche in the sukkah. And this year, I’m planning to have a make-your-own-salad-bar night as well.
#6. Start early
The earlier you start, the more you save. August is definitely not too early to start purchasing your meat and chicken. In fact, the closer we get to Rosh Hashana, the higher the price of meat will go.
Remember, to shop sales for your non-perishables – there’s no point in stocking up when the price isn’t right. If it’s available to you, you can also take advantage of bulk orders. If you won’t go through all the food yourself, ask your neighbors to split it with you. That’s what we do when ordering from the KC Kosher Coop.
#7. Shop from your home
Hopefully by now, you have a nice stockpile of pennies-on-the-dollar food items you were able to purchase by combining sales with coupons. I’m not talking extreme couponing stockpiles, just a deeper pantry than normal, filled at bargain basement prices. Check your stockpile before making your menu plan – and certainly before shopping. The best way to save is to shop from your home!
#8. Serve less meat – and consider the cut
While I personally love vegetarian meals – even on yomtov – I know that for most people, Rosh Hashana wouldn’t be Rosh Hashana without the chicken soup and brisket.
You can still cut costs when serving meat by filling out your guests’ plates with plant-based foods. No one will want to eat half a pound of brisket when they have an array of delicious, beautiful (and yes, frugal) salads and sides. Just do the math: Even costly produce will run you $3/pound while brisket is at least $9/pound (and usually much more).
I’ve also found that using the long-and-low brisket cooking method makes second cuts a better choice than first cuts – at about 25% less expensive. (If you’re looking for a good brisket recipe, I am loyal beyond belief to my Coca-Cola brisket!)