Holiday dinner ideas: How to host on a budget

The holiday season can be a great time to get together with friends and family, especially around the dinner table for a festive meal. But if you’re the host of a holiday dinner, you may start to wonder about the costs for items like food, drinks and decorations.

Fortunately, it’s possible to save money and have a fantastic event. Keep reading for some tips on how to host a holiday dinner on a budget. 

Key takeaways

  • You can host a special holiday dinner while also staying within your budget.
  • Consider keeping the options for each course of the meal to a minimum to save money.
  • You may want to do things like limiting your guest list and repurposing decorations to host a cost-effective holiday meal. 

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Budget-friendly holiday dinner ideas

As you’re planning your holiday dinner, it can be helpful to make a list and budget by breaking it down by category. Consider what drinks, appetizers, main course, sides and desserts you want to serve, and go from there.

Think about the holiday you’re celebrating and what your guests may enjoy. Search for recipes and ideas that use ingredients already in your house or that don’t call for many ingredients. And be sure to consider any food allergies your guests may have.


When it comes to the drinks, it can be less overwhelming—and less costly—to offer no more than two or three options. Some holiday favorites include sangria and eggnog. Consider this sangria flora recipe from Food & Wine. For a quick eggnog, you can find premade options at the store and then sprinkle seasonal spices like cinnamon and nutmeg on top.

As a holiday punch idea, take a cider you love and add warm spices like cinnamon and citrus flavors like orange and lime. And if you want to step it up a notch, top it with some fresh ginger shavings.


Simplicity is key for having appetizers on a budget too, so you may want to have just one or two options. If you’re looking for an appetizer that doesn’t require a lot of ingredients and can impress your guests, consider making fondue and serving pieces of French bread or fruit to dip into the gooey cheese.

Not a fan of cheese or looking for a lighter option? You could also chop up some raw veggies—or buy precut ones at the store—and arrange them in holiday shapes, like a turkey for Thanksgiving. Check out some of these holiday veggie tray ideas from Mom to Mom Nutrition.


For the main course, it’s a good idea to stick to one option for ease and affordability. Turkey, pot roast or roasted chicken could be cost-effective and festive options. Consider this slow cooker pot roast recipe from Brooklyn Farm Girl or this roasted chicken recipe from Allrecipes.

Keep the side dishes to two or three options to help stay within your budget. For a classic comfort food item, check out this baked mac and cheese recipe from RecipeTin Eats. And for a traditional side with added flavor, consider this recipe for garlic Parmesan green beans from Southern Living.


One or two dessert options should be plenty for the grand finale of your holiday dinner—especially for a dinner with multiple courses.

Your favorite holiday cookies can be a safe bet, or for something new, try this recipe for Mexican wedding cakes. You could also take your pick from one of these six indulgent dessert recipes, including a s’mores shake and a strawberry sorbet.

Other holiday dinner hosting tips

Besides limiting the options for each course to one or two things, there are even more ways you can make your holiday dinner special while still staying within your budget. Here are a few tips to consider.

Keep the guest list small

One way to keep your holiday dinner under budget is to have a smaller, more intimate gathering. You won’t need to buy as much food, but you’ll also likely be able to visit more with each of your guests if there’s a smaller group. Prioritize the loved ones you’d really like to see for this holiday dinner and maybe invite the others to a future event.

Repurpose decorations

Using items you already have—or can easily get for free—can make for a cost-effective holiday dinner, but you can still make it special too.

For example, you could gather leaves or pine cones outside to use as decorations for your dinner table. Paper towel rolls can be cut and decorated for easy and environmentally friendly napkin rings. You might also put round Christmas tree ornaments into a vase or hurricane glass for a festive centerpiece.

Shop thrift stores and other places to save

If you’re looking for some different items for your holiday dinner, you may want to check out thrift stores. There you could find decorations, plates, serving dishes, table runners or napkin holders at affordable prices.

You could also consider shopping for items at discount stores or with Capital One Shopping to find deals on items for your festive meal.

Host a potluck

One way to cut the costs for your holiday meal is to host a potluck. You could provide the drinks and main course, for example, and ask your guests to bring an appetizer, side dish or dessert. It can be a fun way for everyone to contribute to the meal and show off their culinary skills. Just make sure you have a list or way to communicate what everyone is bringing or you could end up with too many desserts.

Hosting a holiday dinner in a nutshell

If you’re hosting a holiday dinner, it’s possible to make it special and stay within your budget. With some planning, keeping each course to a few options and doing things like repurposing decorations, you can find ways to save.

And as you’re shopping for the holidays, consider using Capital One Shopping to find deals or a cash back rewards card.

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