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The temperatures are finally cooling in the Northeast United States and the leaves are falling from the trees, which means Thanksgiving is right around the corner!
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It doesn’t involve shopping for presents and worrying about how you’re going to afford it all (start saving early!). There’s no messy dying eggs, finding the perfect Easter basket fillers, or trying to wrestle kids into dressy clothes for church. And there’s no battles over how much candy kids can eat and how long they can stay out trick or treating.
Don’t get me wrong, I love most holidays. But there just seems to be something easier and more wholesome about Thanksgiving. And what’s not to like about an entire day revolving around food?
If you’re hosting Thanksgiving though, it can be stressful. For some, navigating family dynamics can be challenging. For others, the expense of Thanksgiving dinner might cause anxiety.
Unfortunately, I can’t help you with your family, but I can help you save money on Thanksgiving dinner!
Since your biggest expense with Thanksgiving dinner is going to be the food, it makes sense that the fewer people you have over, the more you will save.
If you were planning a wedding or a big party, limiting the guest list would definitely be one of my recommendations.
But Thanksgiving is different. It should be a time of togetherness and welcoming. So if your coworker doesn’t have plans and will be alone, invite him over.
Neighbors’ flight cancelled because of bad weather? Let them know there will be a seat at the table for them.
Your college-aged child has an international roommate with no where to go during the break? Bring her over too!
Don’t let your budget stress you out over who’s coming to dinner. Enjoy the spirit of the holiday by opening your doors and making room at your table. We can find other ways to save money on Thanksgiving dinner!
We don’t need to go crazy decorating for Thanksgiving. In fact, another reason why Thanksgiving is great is because decorations aren’t really expected, at least not like they are for Christmas and Halloween.
Still, you might want to add a few elements to make your house seem a bit more festive.
When you visit the pumpkin patch for Halloween or get you pumpkins at the grocery store or farmers market, buy a few more for decorating. Place them on the front porch, fireplace mantle, kitchen table, or a coffee table.
You could also get some gourds, mini pumpkins, or Indian corn stalks and place them in a basket.
Apples are in season so empty your fruit basket of other fruit, throw in some cinnamon sticks and pine cones and you have a festive (and edible!) decoration.
Get some fall-scented candles and light them before your guests arrive so your house has that cozy fall smell (hint: craft stores often have pillar candles for much cheaper than the mall candle store!).
And if you’re feeling really fancy, you can even get fall-inspired soap pumps.
Go as crazy as you want, but to save money on Thanksgiving dinner, recognize that you really don’t HAVE to do anything at all to decorate.
One place you probably will want to decorate for Thanksgiving is the dinner table. But again, we can do it on the cheap and still have it look great.
I love dressing up our table for holidays. I start with a Thanksgiving tablecloth. For a bit more versatility, go with a fall-colored tablecloth that doesn’t scream Thanksgiving. This way you can use it at other points during the year.
Next I pre-set the table with our fancy china. No worries if you don’t have china. Your regular everyday plates will do fine. If you want to jazz them up a bit, head to the dollar store for chargers.
You do you, but I tend to shy away from paper plates, plastic cutlery, and other disposable items. Not only are they wasteful, they will cost you more than using dishes you already have on hand. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough matching dishes for your guests. Their plates are going to be so full with delicious food they won’t even notice the pattern!
I also love candles on a holiday table. You can get simple, elegant candlesticks very reasonably if you don’t have any. Gold, bronze, orange, red, ivory, or white tapers look lovely for Thanksgiving dinner.
Another thing that really punches up the Thanksgiving table are cloth napkins. For not much more than a pack of fancy paper napkins you can buy at the grocery store, you can buy a set of twelve cloth napkins that you can use for years to come. If you regularly host Thanksgiving and other holidays, you will come out ahead in no time.
And then you can really wow your guests with one of these fancy folding styles.
If that’s too much for you, use a simple napkin ring, or place the napkin in a water glass.
If you do decide to purchase some Thanksgiving decor or items for your table, make sure to check Rakuten (formerly Ebates) to earn cash back on your purchases!
Thanksgiving centerpiece ideas
To save money on Thanksgiving dinner, we’re going to skip the expensive floral arrangement.
I am a big fan of DIY centerpieces. I can usually throw one together quickly with items I already have at home, so it takes virtually no time and saves me a boatload of money. That’s a win-win! And believe me, I have zero craft skills.
To make your own Thanksgiving centerpiece, look around your house for clear vases, large decorative bowls or platters, Mason jars, or baskets. Think creativity about what you can re-purpose.
If you really don’t have something, you can check out the dollar store or craft store for a simple glass vase or basket. You don’t need anything fancy. We’re going to bring the fancy to it!
Once you have your vessel all you have to do is find something seasonal to put in it. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Mini pumpkins
- Pine cones
- Leaves (pluck that morning so they’re still brightly colored!)
- Cinnamon sticks
- Fall-colored ribbon
- Nuts still in their shells
- Fall colored stones or marbles
- Craft mini pumpkins (if you have the time, add some glitter spray for some extra sparkle)
- Corn husks
- Floating votive candles
Mix and match items until you find the look you like. Who knows? You may unleash your inner Martha Stewart!
The point is to use what you have on hand and not spend a ton of time on your creation. Chances are, once the food comes out the centerpiece gets ditched to make more room on the table!
Let me start by saying that place cards are completely unnecessary. You can easily save money on Thanksgiving by skipping them entirely.
But, if you have young kids, you can have them make place cards for the table. It gives them a fun craft to do, and they will feel an immense set of pride seeing their work on the Thanksgiving table. And it may keep them occupied for a few minutes so you or your partner can work on Thanksgiving prep!
An easy Thanksgiving place cards idea is turkey handprints. You may remember doing this in school! Either trace your kids’ hand on a piece of white paper and have them color the turkeys in, or paint their hands so they can make handprints (brown for the hand and different colors for the feathers).
When they’re done, write one person’s name on each turkey and place one at each place setting. You have an instant personal touch to your Thanksgiving table that family members will treasure.
Here are the ones I saved from Thanksgiving a few years ago!
You can also try these adorable turkey fingerprint place cards or do a Pinterest search for more creative place card ideas.
Save Money on Thanksgiving: The Food
Like I said at the beginning, your biggest Thanksgiving expense is going to be the food.
But there are lots of little tricks that will save money, without feeling deprived.
Let’s talk turkey
Unless you do some really fancy stuffing with seafood or chorizo or something, the turkey is likely going to be your most expensive food item for Thanksgiving dinner.
But you know what? You may be able to score a free bird.
I’ve never paid for a turkey because my husband’s employer provides a free turkey to everyone at the company. It’s a little perk, but it’s so thoughtful and keeping with the spirit of the holiday. I just love it. Plus it saves me a good chunk of change!
If you or your partner’s company offers a free turkey, be sure to sign up (Be sure you’re taking advantage of other money-saving programs your company may offer too!)!
You can also potentially take advantage if one of your guests get a free turkey from their company. If they’re coming to dinner, they’re probably not going to use it themselves so you might as well to save money on Thanksgiving dinner!
Some grocery stores also offer a free turkey if you rack up enough points on their loyalty card, or spend enough in one grocery trip.
Check your local grocery stores to find out what they offer. If the program is tied to a loyalty card, you will likely have to earn a few hundred points in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. You may be able to get your turkey as soon as you qualify or you may earn a coupon to redeem on your next grocery trip. Figure out the details of your store’s program and don’t hesitate to go to customer service if you have questions!
Even if you can’t get a completely free turkey you can likely find a coupon or track sales for the best deal. Even if it means going to a grocery store you don’t usually shop out, taking advantage of a great sale is a surefire way to save money on Thanksgiving dinner.
Only make what you need
Let me know if this sounds familiar:
You spend days cooking for Thanksgiving. The dinner table is piled high with all of the traditional Thanksgiving fixings. Everyone eats until they’re stuffed.
The next day you make turkey sandwiches for lunch and reheat leftovers for dinner. And the next day.
And the next day. Until you can’t eat anymore leftovers. At this point you do one of two things:
- Throw everything away
- Put the leftovers in the freezer so they can die a slow death of freezer burn, only to be discovered and thrown away months later
Food waste is a big problem, and big meals often mean more waste. Besides being environmentally wasteful, food waste is financially wasteful. So pare back a bit on what you make so you don’t have leftovers for days.
What helped me determine how much food to prepare for Thanksgiving was when I realized I planned on making enough food so everyone had full servings of the turkey and all the sides. But think about it for a moment: how many side dishes do you have for a typical dinner, and how many sides do you have for Thanksgiving dinner?
It’s probably a big difference, right? For example, I typically have two, maybe three, sides for a normal dinner. For Thanksgiving, I usually have mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, a vegetable, stuffing, rolls, and maybe a few other items. I prepare at least double the amount of sides for Thanksgiving than I would for a regular meal. So what that means is that everyone takes just a little bit of each side so they have room to try it all.
An easy way to save money on Thanksgiving dinner is to plan for half portions of all the sides rather than full portions. Not only will you buy less (and save money!) you’ll have less waste.
Speaking of sides
Another way to save money on Thanksgiving dinner is by skipping a few side dishes all together.
I’m not talking about traditional Thanksgiving favorites like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or cranberry sauce.
Instead, think about the everyday sides you might make, like corn, applesauce, rolls, salad, etc.
Ditch a couple of these and save a few bucks on your Thanksgiving dinner.
Besides, who really wants to eat a garden salad on Thanksgiving??
Make it yourself
Cooking from scratch is nearly a guaranteed way to save money on Thanksgiving dinner.
Make your own gravy rather than buying jarred.
Skip the canned cranberry sauce and make your own (it’s so easy, and so much better!).
Instead of a box of instant mashed potatoes, buy a bag of fresh potatoes and get peeling.
Don’t head to the bakery for dessert. Try your hand at baking a pumpkin pie yourself!
Even if you don’t have time or the energy to make everything from scratch (because it is a lot!), just picking a few sides to make yourself will save money.
When I first started hosting dinner parties and holidays, I always declined people’s offer to bring things.
What was I thinking???
Having your guests pitch in saves time and money, and greatly reduces your own stress. Plus, guests often like to feel like they’re contributing to the dinner.
So if guests ask if they can bring anything say yes!
To keep control of your dinner menu, I usually make suggestions on what people can bring if they ask.
For my non-cookers, I usually suggest that they bring a veggie tray, dessert, or bottle of wine.
For those that are a bit more skilled in the kitchen, I might ask that they bring an appetizer or simple side.
I rely a bit more heavily on my parents and in-laws. When they offer to bring something, I might outsource the sweet potatoes or other family favorites.
To make things easier on my guests and to be sure I have my bases covered, I plan on covering the turkey and the fixings. But pretty much else is fair game.
So if your guests ask what they can bring to Thanksgiving dinner, graciously accept that help. It will save you money and reduce your stress level!
Shopping for Thanksgiving Dinner
The guests are invited, the menu is planned. Now it’s time to get shopping!
Actually, to save money on Thanksgiving dinner, start shopping early. Beginning in the summer, keep your eye on sales for the nonperishable or long shelf life items you need for Thanksgiving. When you see something on sale, go ahead and grab it. Here are some things to look for:
- Canned/frozen vegetables
- Jarred gravy
- Baking supplies like flour, sugar, spices, pie mix, cake mix, etc.
- Cooking staples like oil, salt, and pepper
- Butter and cream cheese (freeze it until you need it!)
- Maraschino cherries
Of course, your specific menu may call for other items, but the point is to get what you can on sale. Besides, stocking up early will help you avoid the frantic trip to the grocery store, or at least minimize them!
It’s also a good idea to shop early for things like candles and other Thanksgiving decor. You know the prices are going to go up in the fall, so shop early. Even better, after Thanksgiving this year, get whatever you will need for next year while it’s on clearance! Just don’t forget where you store it in the meantime!
Plan to Save Money on Thanksgiving
I hope I’ve shown you how easy it is to save money on Thanksgiving. By thinking through your menu, shopping early, and shopping smart, you can easily save a pretty penny on Thanksgiving dinner. Do what makes sense for you and your family, and have a lovely, warm, and happy Thanksgiving!
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