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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 halfeaten 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 (slow­cooked pulled beef) use cheap yet flavour­some cuts such as beef shin. Lamb neck and beef cheek (which is just posh­nosh 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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