Hosting Christmas, or another big event, this season? Here's how to not spend more than you did on your entire gift list.
Put Your Budget Ahead of Your Menu
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Whether you're setting aside $100 or $500 to host a holiday meal, figuring out how much to allocate for each component is the best way to make sure you don't spend way more than you wanted to. The biggest chunk (50 percent) will probably go to meat; reserve about 20 percent for appetizers and sides; 15 percent for dessert; and, 15 percent for alcohol, advises consumer and frugal living expert Lauren Greutman. Once you've determined how much money you've got for each component, you can start planning whether you're serving lobster or pigs in a blanket (or both!).
Shop the Cheese Aisle -- and Only the Cheese Aisle
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The cheese and crackers tray may not initially seem costly, but a $20 hunk of Pecorino can quickly put you over budget. Greutman recommends buying cheeses at club stores like Costco, Sam's or BJ's (they're usually 30 percent cheaper than at the local supermarket). She also advises people to skip holiday displays in supermarkets, since popular cheese varieties, such as cheddar, Swiss and goat, tend to be marked up there (you'll usually find lower prices in the store's refrigerated area).
Know the Main-Course Hierarchy
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When it comes to traditional holiday entrées, prime rib is at the top of the list. It also might be the most expensive piece of meat you'll ever cook; supermarkets charge about $200 for a 10-pound roast that'll serve eight to 10 people, while an artisanal butcher's price could be more than $350. Other meats can be just as festive, though, such as the wallet-friendly spiral cut ham, which runs between $60 and $100 for 10 servings (plus leftovers). Jessica Fisher, who has written two budget-oriented cookbooks, likes pork tenderloin: She calls it "the poor man's steak" because it's tender, delicious and affordable. And if there will be kids at your holiday dinner, Greutman suggests chicken Parmesan, since it usually appeals to picky palates and feels decadent but uses inexpensive poultry.
Putting sweet potatoes with apples may seem like sugar overload, but stay with us here, because the ingredients mellow nicely in a hot oven. Plus, the spuds also mingle with heavy cream, butter, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg, giving them, and the fruit, heft and a lightly spiced edge. <br><br> <strong>Get the recipe: <a href="http://www.oprah.com/food/Sweet-Potato-and-Apple-Gratin-Recipe-Wolfgang-Puck-Recipes" target="_blank">Wolfgang Puck's Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin</a></strong>