How to Cook a Holiday Meal for $5 Per Person

Budget a little lean this year? Here's how you can cook a holiday meal on the cheap.

Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, Ramadan, Saturnalia or another of the multitude of winter holidays that roll around this time of year, it’s likely your celebration is steeped in family tradition.

From the games you play to the songs you sing and even the foods you eat, tradition is often at the heart of the festivities. Of course, upholding those traditions, particularly when it comes to the food, can be an expensive endeavor, especially if your feast is “big meat” focused. That prime rib, turkey or ham can be a belt and budget buster, especially if you’ve had a lean year or are trying to save money.

Sure, you could put all of your holiday expenses on your credit card and pay it off over time, but unless you have a credit card with 0% interest, that option is going to cost you even more. Go into too much debt and it could end up hurting your credit scores (you can see your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, at

With that in mind, we’ve put together some tasty ideas that can help you get through this holiday season without breaking your budget and possibly even begin a new tradition that will keep your tummy and wallet happy for years to come. (And, yes, we’re talking beyond this delicious 16-cent oatmeal recipe.)

Here are some menu ideas that will let you feed your holiday guests for less than $5 each.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Typically reserved for Christmas Eve, this traditional Italian-American meal (also called The Vigil) features seven separate dishes with seafood in every one. Bon Appetit has a wonderful representative menu with recipes.

Of course, you’re not going to feed everyone all seven of these dishes for $5 each, but you could pick and choose two or three and easily do so. Even better: Assign a course to some or all of your guests. You won’t spend as much money or as much time in the kitchen.

Suggestion: A giant pot of BA’s Best Linguine and Clams (included in the menu above) will cost you about $14 (triple the recipe) and feed as many as 12 people — more if you have more than just the one course. That’s about $1.16 each and leaves you with plenty of budget left to add courses and wine as you wish.


Sticking with the Italian theme, we’re going to suggest the granddaddy of all pastas. Lasagna is a crowd pleaser, is easy to make and can feed large numbers of people for not a lot of money.

Another nice thing about lasagna is how flexible it is. Ricotta or béchamel, vegetables, beef sausage – there are literally hundreds of recipes that let you make it with virtually anything you prefer. One of my personal favorites is this Lasagna Verdi al Forno, featured many years ago in Saveur Magazine. It’s made with a béchamel and a meat sauce, including prosciutto de parma. The ingredients will cost you about $30 and feed up to 12 people. Pair it with some garlic bread and a salad, and you’re still well under $5 each.

Very Veggie

You know when a big roast turkey with all the trimmings doesn’t sound good? When you’re a vegetarian. That’s doubly true when you’re a vegetarian in Australia, where the “winter” holidays fall smack in the middle of summer. You won’t find any chestnuts roasting on an open fire Down Under. What you will find, however, are light meals that are perfect after a day at the beach.

This vegetarian menu from is exactly that — still festive and perfect for celebratory gatherings. And, based on our costing, cheap as chips. The ingredients for this entire four-course meal will run you around $28 and feed six. That’s just $4.66 each.

Pretend It’s Summer

If you really were in Australia, chances are you’d be eating something that came off a grill. While it’s not a tradition in the United States, the Christmas Day barbecue (and any other day, for that matter) is king, and there are plenty of states in warm enough climates that, if you lived in one, you could easily start your own holiday barbecuing tradition.

Throw a couple of chickens on the grill, or some sausages. There are so many inexpensive options available that you’ll be able to satisfy all of your guests without much fuss, even the vegetarians or vegans. Put together a few simple salads or grilled vegetables, and you have a delicious meal that will feed a large group of people for little money (and effort).

Image: SolStock

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7 Ways We Spend Less on Vacation


Our family loves to visit new places. We get asked all the time how we can afford to take our family of nine on a vacation every year. I must admit, it hasn’t been easy, but we have learned a few tips and tricks throughout our 20-year marriage.

Here are seven ways we’ve learned to save.

1. Go Camping

Staying in a campground can save you $100 or more per night off of local hotel prices. When we go camping, a typical night with water and electricity costs between $20-$25 per night at a state or federal campground. While private campgrounds can be a bit more expensive, they often offer more amenities that will keep you busy.

2. Use Hotel Deal Sites

If you must stay in a hotel, consider booking on some of the online discount hotel sites. Keep in mind, though, that you will not always be able to request two beds, so if that is a requirement, you may not be able to book on certain sites.

3. Pack Your Food

Packing your own food helps you to save money and time, especially while you’re traveling. A typical meal that we pack will include a sandwich, chips and a piece of fruit. This is so much cheaper than having everyone go into a popular fast food restaurant and order a large combo. When I was a child, for dinners in hotel rooms, my mom would bring her crockpot and cook up a tasty feast.

4. Find Restaurants Where Kids Eat Free

Since we always travel with children, we often search for the restaurants that advertise that kids eat free. Typically, before we leave on the trip, I will do a search online for the town we will be in that day, followed by the words, “kids eat free.” There are websites that regularly update which restaurants do this. On one of our past vacations, we were able to eat out on a daily basis, due to all of the free food my kids were getting.

5. Subscribe to Restaurant Newsletters for Money-Saving Coupons

About five to seven days before you leave for vacation, visit several of your favorite restaurants’ websites and subscribe to their newsletters. Typically, they will email you a coupon for something free from their restaurant. Sometimes it’s just a dessert, but other times, it’s a full meal. Be sure to do it well before you leave on your trip, because sometimes, you won’t receive your coupon for a few days. Keep in mind that the coupon will often expire within 14 days of the date that they send it to you, so you don’t want to sign up too early.

6. Find Things You Can Do for Free

With a family of nine, we typically cannot afford to spend money on all of the attractions that you see others spending money on. Instead, we usually pick out one major activity that we want to do, and the rest are activities found by searching the web for free or cheap things to do in that area. We have had many adventures relying on these free (or cheap) activities, including at our regular vacation stop, Branson, Missouri.

7. Drive, Instead of Fly

Most of the time, if you are traveling with a family, it will be much less expensive to drive, instead of fly. We like to research where the cheapest gas prices will be and fill up in those locations. We have also researched how to save money on gasoline and have implemented many of these tactics while traveling.

Hopefully, these ideas can also help you to stretch your vacation dollars while still enjoying fun activities.

[Editor’s note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on]

Image: kate_sept2004

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5 Steps That Let Me Quit the Cubicle


I recently quit my job. I didn’t quit working. I just quit working for someone else. It’s been more than a month now and my husband and business partner, David, and I feel as good about our decision today as the day I left. One of the best parts about quitting my traditional job is watching the cycle of emotions our friends and family go through when we tell them that I quit my job to focus on our own business, Debt Free Guys.

It starts when their eyes open wide after they hear the not-too-surprising news that I quit the cubicle. This is quickly followed by an attempt to contain a wince, as they consider the loss of steady income, health and life insurance. Then, almost as if on cue, they drift into a daydream as they ponder, “Could I quit my job?”

The fact is they can and so can you. Here are five keys that helped us take another step closer to our dream of geographic and financial independence.

1. We’re Using What We Know

The No. 1 reason why people say they can’t start their own business, whether as a side-hustle or a full-time job, is that they don’t know what to do. They’re thinking too hard.

What do you do now that you enjoy or even love? This could be something you do at your current job or as a hobby. Do you feel the universe pulling you in a certain direction?

We were both in finance for a total of 15 years when we first met. Despite this, we had a combined total of $51,000 in credit card debt. We then applied our theoretical knowledge and gained practical experience by paying off our debt and turning our net worth into a net positive nearing $500,000.

We enjoy personal finance, investing and financial planning. Because of our experiences and our love of helping others with their money, we turned our passion into our business.

We’ve put ourselves out as writers, speakers, podcasters and experts on personal finance and we’re now helping others achieve their financial dreams. Me quitting the cubicle puts us one step closer to achieving our dreams. When our business becomes our primary source of income and David quits the cubicle, too, our dreams will come true.

2. We Saved Money

While our passion is our guide, it won’t be our demise. When we decided to turn our side-hustle into our hustle, we added an additional $10,000 to our emergency savings. We did this by cutting back on non-essential spending and putting it in our emergency savings account with no bells or whistles.

We keep our emergency savings in an account with no check writing or debit card features, which makes accessing these funds inconvenient. This minimizes urges to spend this money on whims.

We, also, benefit from being partners in both life and business. David is now the primary breadwinner and we can live comfortably, though not extravagantly, on his salary.

This means we’re implementing what we did to pay off our debt, such as only buying groceries that are either on sale or for which we have coupons. We cook at home rather than dine out. Boxed wine has replaced bottled wine because it’s cheaper per bottle and stores longer.

All of this is temporary and we know we can live frugally today to grow our business because we lived frugally yesterday to pay off our debt.

3. We’re Working Hard

Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

We embraced hard work and we knew it wouldn’t be easy. We wake at 4:30 in the morning and are frequently up until midnight balancing a combination of David’s job and our business. Weekends aren’t to kick back and relax but to roll up our sleeves and put in back-to-back 12-hour days.

In the past, we wondered if it was worth it. As we took this big step toward our dream, we realized it is.

4. We Prepared

There were steps we took to prepare for me quitting. One such step included transferring my health insurance coverage to David’s health insurance plan through his current employer. Another was me acquiring life insurance, as I’m no longer covered under an employer.

I’ve initiated a rollover from my former employer’s 401K plan into my existing IRA Rollover account. I’ve elected for a direct rollover because this is the best way to ensure that I won’t pay taxes or penalty for my rollover. An indirect rollover risks me paying taxes at our current income rate and a 10% penalty if I don’t complete the indirect rollover within 60 days.

Talk with your accountant to determine the best option for you.

5. We Leapt

Finally, we leapt. Many struggle to make big life changes because they’re waiting for the perfect time. There’s never a perfect time.

In fact, I delayed my original termination date by 90 days because my employer asked me to complete a project on which my team was working. We considered delaying my termination again because the economy showed signs of weakness.

Some people might say we should’ve saved more than our $10,000 cushion. Others might say we should’ve waited until after the upcoming presidential election ended. Still more might say leaving any job is foolish.

Despite all the reasons we could’ve mustered, we decided now was the time to take one more step toward our dream. If you dream to quit the cubicle, too, our five-step plan may help you.

[Editor’s note: If you dream of being your own boss it’s not only a good idea to make sure you have adequate emergency savings and minimal debt, but also that your credit is in good standing as poor credit can end up costing you more in higher interest rates. You can start shoring up your credit using’s free credit report card, which gives you two free credit scores, updated monthly, plus an action plan to help you manage your credit.]

Image: Geber86

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