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Frugal Festivities

Dec 18 2016 13:11
Anna Trapido

Christmas can be costly, especially when it comes to festive food. But with a bit of savvy shopping and cooking, you don’t have to go into debt to pay for dinner.

Of course, organised people think ahead. They buy non-perishable dry goods, assorted sweet nibbles, cooldrinks and alcohol over the preceding year and then hide them until Christmas Day. The paragons of planning not only spread their costs, but avoid December price hikes.

They get to relax as all they have to do is shop for fresh produce on the last few days before Christmas. But let’s face it, if you’re reading this article, that is probably not you.

Here are some thrifty tips for lesser mortals who forgot to plan but still want frugal festivities…


1. Don’t confuse December 25 with the zombie apocalypse. The world will carry on after Christmas Day. Be realistic about how many tins of biscuits and boxes of instant custard you need.

Panic bulk-buying results in wasted money. The shops are only closed for one day; sometimes not even that. Buy exactly what you know you are going to cook and eat. Then stop.

2. Before you buy, check your cupboards. Chances are, 2015’s zombie apocalypse anxiety purchases are still there in the form of half-eaten packets of nuts, dried fruit and bottles of brandy left over from last year.

3. The easiest way to save is dull but effective menu planning. Plan what you’ll be eating and how many people you’ll have to feed. Then make a list and stick to it.

4. Shopping online makes it easier to follow the list, but the paragons of planning will have booked up all the prime delivery slots. However, you can still go online to compare prices.

5. Never, ever shop with children. Pester power is almost impossible to resist at Christmas and even if you say no, the little buggers will fill the trolley while you aren’t looking.

6. Supermarkets exploit our Christmas exhaustion, but you really don’t need those pricey pre-prepared vegetables and salad packs. There will always be at least one volunteer to peel potatoes and wash lettuces.

7. Know what kind of person you are, and buy quantities accordingly. If you’re disciplined about using up leftovers, you could make your turkey stretch to several other meals and it is often cheaper per kilogram to buy a larger bird.

If you fall asleep and leave the half-eaten turkey on the table – after which the dog jumps up and grabs it – you will be better off buying only what you need. Large packets of snacks, such as nuts, biscuits or chips, last longer and work out cheaper than buying small ones. But once opened, they must be stored in airtight containers.

8. Don’t be too much of a snob or too shy to ask for scraps. Humble ingredients can make for majestic dining. Supermarket fish counters often sell smoked salmon trimmings and off-cuts at half price. But they tend to be a bit saltier than the more expensive slices. Blending with creme fraîche counteracts this – whisk it all up into a superstylish smoked salmon pâté.

9. Don’t assume that supermarkets are the cheapest choice. Consider supporting small farmers. Even town dwellers can do so, given that urban farmers are everywhere. Seasonal produce direct from the farm not only tastes better, but also cuts out middlemen. And, it minimises transport costs and saves you money.


1. Don’t think that you have to have a turkey just because US sitcom characters have them. Traditional South African dishes such as tshotlho (slow-cooked pulled beef) use cheap yet flavoursome cuts such as beef shin. Lamb neck and beef cheek (which is just posh-nosh speak for inhloko) can be deliciously festive.

2. If you’re baking, remember that toasting nuts in the oven for 10 minutes before using them is an easy way to deepen their flavour and saves you having to use pricey liqueurs and extracts. If you are using dried fruit, soak it in tea to plump it up.

3. Baking projects can be fun, but without decent equipment they fail. A good electronic scale (mechanical ones are often imprecise), and accurate teaspoon and tablespoon measures, will save you money and frustration. By investing in an oven thermometer you’ll ensure your oven is telling the truth about temperature. A burnt or raw cake is no cake at all.

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