Thanksgiving can be expensive, especially if you’re hosting. It’s supposed to be a day to celebrate friends, family, and everything you’re thankful for. Still, it’s challenging to get into the spirit of the holiday when you’re stressed about how much it’s going to cost to make dinner and decorate.
Use these 11 strategies to have a Thanksgiving with all the trimmings, without dipping into your Christmas savings!
1. Make a Guest List
Before you make a plan, you’ve got to know how many people you’re going to feed! List everyone in your household and everyone you’re expecting. If you’re going to have overnight guests, remember to include the other meals they’ll eat at your house in your expenses.
2. Create a Detailed Plan
Before doing any shopping, create a detailed plan:
- Make a list of the side dishes, desserts, drinks, and appetizers you plan to serve, and figure out roughly how much everything will cost.
- Use the formula of 1.5 pounds per person to figure out how much bird you need.
- Once you’ve calculated how big your turkey needs to be, check prices at several stores before finalizing your purchase.
3. Figure Out Your Budget
After you have an idea of what you want to make and how many people you’ll be serving, you can price ingredients and come up with an estimated cost. If this fits into your budget, you’re all set! If your imagined Thanksgiving feast is a bit out of range for your bank account, you’ll need a plan B.
If you want to afford a few extras for your celebration, you can either cut back on another area of your budget or find a way to earn some additional cash. Consider some extra side gigs in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Easy online work, like selling unwanted items on eBay or taking online surveys for money or gift cards can help fill the gap.
A side hustle may be just the thing to help you get through the holidays without overspending.
4. Keep it Simple
You may want to serve your guests a feast of gourmet foods, but that doesn’t mean your wallet can handle it. Sticking to simple, traditional side dishes and desserts will keep costs down and prevent you from having any new-recipe-gone-wrong disasters.
As a general rule, it’s a bad idea to experiment with a new recipe when you’re hosting a meal, and this is especially true if it’s a gourmet recipe that requires pricey ingredients. Most people are thrilled with a Thanksgiving dinner that includes the traditional sides; roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pie. Keep it simple, and it will be less expensive.
5. Accept Some Help
If guests ask if there’s anything they can bring, assign them a dish. People generally love to contribute, and if everyone chips in, it will substantially lower the cost of the meal. Out of town guests may find it too challenging to bring ready-made food, but if a local relative asks if they should whip up their specialty, give yourself a break and let them chip in!
Better yet, plan a completely pot-luck Thanksgiving. You provide the turkey, and the rest of the guests bring the trimmings. Naturally, this only works if everyone is on board, but for close-knit families and friends, it’s one way to spread out the high costs of food and allow everyone to have a meaningful part in the holiday preparations.
6. Make a Shopping List
It would be best if you never went grocery shopping without a list, but doubly so at Thanksgiving. If you enter the store without a plan, you’ll end up stressed, buy a lot of extra things you don’t need, and probably forget a few items you can’t do without. That means another trip to the store later.
Making a list also allows you to keep track of which stores have the best prices, which works well with our next tip:
7. Shop at Multiple Stores
While one store may have a great sale on baking supplies, it may have a higher price per pound for turkey. Going to multiple stores means you can take advantage of the best prices at each to have your perfect Thanksgiving dinner for the least expense.
Begin assembling sales flyers for your local supermarkets in the weeks before Thanksgiving and circle the best deals at each. Provided you don’t have to travel far, you can save a pile of dough. Consider discount warehouses like Sam’s Club or Costco, too. If you are cooking for a crowd, you can often find bulk items for much cheaper than you can at regular grocers.
8. Buy Ingredients Early
Sales tend to happen in six-week patterns. There are lots of things that can be purchased months ahead of time and kept until Thanksgiving. Baking supplies, canned goods, and condiments will keep if you find them on sale in the summer, so start stocking up when you see a reasonable price.
Don’t wait until the last minute for Thanksgiving-specific groceries, either. Cheaper, generic brands sell out faster than name brand items. This means you may end up paying full price for items like cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin. Proper planning will keep more cash in your wallet.
9. Ask Guests to BYOB
Alcohol significantly increases the cost of hosting a meal. If you feel you must include it on the menu, consider hosting a BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) holiday where guests bring their drink of choice. You can buy a few bottles of wine to have on hand, but you won’t have to shell out the cash it takes to keep everyone in your family tipsy.
If asking guests to BYOB is out of the question, shop in advance during the year and purchase alcohol when it’s on sale. Combining coupons and rebates on beverages is another way to save some cash. Of course, you can always forego spirits altogether and have an alcohol-free holiday. It’s a trend that’s catching on.
10. Save on Travel
Travel is expensive, and if there was ever a time to skip it, it’s during a pandemic. Consider staying at home and using Skype, Zoom, or another free video calling app to stay in touch with relatives and loved ones.
If you’re unwilling to forego an in-person holiday visit, at least try to plan ahead to save on travel costs. Booking flights early is one way of saving, and so is being flexible with flight dates. Thanksgiving day itself is one of the cheapest days to fly. If you reschedule the Thursday feast and arrange to have your holiday meal on a different day during the weekend, you can take advantage of these low fares.
If you need to stay at a hotel, consider using Airbnb. Sometimes you can rent a whole apartment or house for the same cost as a hotel room. A full kitchen could even allow you to celebrate Thanksgiving at your rental property.
11. Use Cheap or Free Decorations
Pumpkins, apples, dried corn, dried grasses, acorns, and pine cones are great decor items that can be found free or cheap this time of year. Check your backyard for natural materials. You might be surprised what you find there!
Thrift and dollar stores have seasonal tablecloths, centerpieces, and baskets for next to nothing that will make your house look festive.
With a little planning ahead and some creative thinking, it’s possible to have a memorable holiday without overextending your budget. Using the strategies above, you can have a fantastic and meaningful Thanksgiving without emptying your wallet.