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Buying holiday foods puts pinch on budgets
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Food bills are an often hidden but substantial holiday expense, and families should shop carefully and stick to budgets to keep spending from getting out of hand.
Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said food costs rose 7 percent in 2008. Families typically spend an average of 12 percent to 15 percent of their budget on food.
“Families can easily spend as much money on extra food from Thanksgiving through the Christmas holidays as they do on food for a typical month,” Shaffett said. “To prepare for this extra expense, spend less on food before the holidays, budget a little extra for this time and then enforce your own spending limits.”
Shaffett suggested two ways consumers can keep themselves accountable for their spending. One way is to use cash only and stop spending when the cash is gone. Those who use debit or credit cards can wrap an index card around the bank card and write on it a spending limit or stopping point. Each time the card is used, write down how much was spent.
“Figure out how much you can afford, and then stop spending when you reach that point,” Shaffett said. “Consumers have to control their spending.”
Mary Linda Moore, Extension family resource management area agent in Alcorn County, said one way to control spending is to include the cost of extra groceries in the holiday budget.
“The holiday meals can cost a lot, especially when you add in the expense of all the snacks bought and dishes prepared for other gatherings during the holiday season,” Moore said.
She suggested families look at their overall holiday budget and decide how much of it can be spent on food. Then make a list of all the foods typically bought for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's meals.
“We want to do what we've always done for these holidays, but this year we may need to cut back,” Moore said. “If the holiday meal always includes turkey and ham and choices for each side dish, it may be time to eliminate some of these to save some money for other things.”
Buying for recipes that call for many ingredients can run up the grocery bill. Convenience foods, whether pre-packaged frozen dishes or deli-fresh items, typically cost more than the same dishes made at home.
“The more processed the food is and the more steps it has gone through, the more it usually costs,” Moore said. “Consumers pay for the convenience and time savings.”
Before going shopping, take a list of just foods needed. Use sales advertisements to find the best deals, refer to the price per unit listed on store shelves with the food to find the least expensive item, and consider using generic rather than name-brand goods.
“While I insist on buying a certain brand for some items, most times I simply can't tell the difference between the store brand and the national brand,” Moore said.
It is not too early to start planning ahead and buying dry or frozen goods that can be stored for holiday meals. Buying a few things at a time can spread out the expense and make it easier to integrate these expenses into the normal food budget.