6 Ways to Host Thanksgiving When You’re on a Budget

published Nov 14, 2014
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(Image credit: Michaela Cisney)

Have you ever wondered how you can possibly host a Thanksgiving dinner and still afford all your Christmas gifts? If you just answered yes, I’m here to help. It is totally possible to host a generous, palate-pleasing Thanksgiving feast on a budget. Hey, don’t be so skeptical! The Pilgrims were on a budget — and they helped invent Thanksgiving.

1. Accept help and go potluck.

Are you trying to be the holiday hero, tackling the entire menu? Why mess with the spirit of Thanksgiving? This is a potluck-style holiday at heart, so accept help and get everyone involved. My extended family does a potluck style Thanksgiving like this every year and it’s a great way to cover all the essentials, start a few of your own traditions (we always have oyster stuffing, thanks to a very distant streak of New England heritage), and share costs.

→ Small Household Budget Tip: If you are only cooking for your immediate family, find a friend in the same situation and split your groceries. You save money by getting only the ingredients you need, and you’ll avoid the very American tradition of typing “What do I do with leftover turkey?” into your search engine for three weeks afterwards. It’s a win-win!

2. Stick to your shopping list.

Write out a menu and budget and stick to them. Take your Thanksgiving list along on your regular shopping trips for the month of November and try to pick up non-perishable items during store sales. Bread, for example, is often on sale and you can freeze it until needed and then make your own breadcrumbs.

3. Make your menu from scratch.

Outlaw pre-made items from your shopping list, including special spice packs (if you have spices in your cupboard at home), powdered mashed potatoes, pre-made stuffing, and pre-made pie crusts and pies. You’re usually paying for packaging and end up with a lower-quality product. Instead, buy a bag of potatoes and peel, boil, mash, and butter them by hand. Make your own stuffing with leftover sliced bread, onion, celery (cheap, seasonal produce), seasoning, and broth. Slice sweet potatoes and sprinkle them with brown sugar, salt, and pecans, and broil them in the oven.

You probably won’t feel like you’re saving much with each small choice—but those small choices add up and can really shave dollars off your final bill.

4. Do without the alcohol.

There’s so much food on Thanksgiving, it can be its own soporific! Or, if you simply must have wine with your turkey (and you’re hosting for more than just your immediate family), ask someone else to bring a bottle or two.

5. Prioritize the dishes you love the most.

Who needs 15 side dishes? Pick your priority foods (the absolute must-haves to complete your Thanksgiving tradition) and simply make less.

This brings me back to my first point: If you’re serving fewer dishes, you’ll be less tempted to buy a plethora of cheaper, pre-made options and instead spend more time creating high-quality dishes. And if you’re like me, you’ll buy a pint of heavy whipping cream, whip it up, and totally smother your homemade pumpkin pie with it. (And with that on hand, who really cares about anything else?)

6. Decorate with what you already have.

Buying Thanksgiving-themed decorations can be a slippery slope. Once you start, you just keep going in pursuit of that perfect look. Buy a few quality, versatile pieces that you can bring out each year — avoid the fake leaves, themed napkins, and cheap centerpieces — and use what nature offers (dried grasses, herbs, and decorative gourds). A little goes a long way.

What are your tips for hosting Thanksgiving on a budget?

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