How To Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner — Even on a Tight Budget

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Roasted turkey garnished with cranberries on a rustic style table decorated with pumpkins, orange, apples and autumn leaf.Roasted turkey garnished with cranberries on a rustic style table decorated with pumpkins, orange, apples and autumn leaf.
 

Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner and before you know it, it will be time to pop your turkey (or tofurkey) in the oven. This will be the first Thanksgiving since the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, making it a special one for families who are able to get together again to celebrate. The only problem? Thanksgiving is an expensive holiday to host (and this year it will be more expensive than ever before).

Fortunately, there are tons of ways to save on Thanksgiving dinner and stick within a tight budget. Here are 18 expert-recommended tips to cut corners on your Thanksgiving spending, without sacrificing the joy.

Make It a Potluck

“One of the easiest ways to cut down on the costs of hosting [Thanksgiving] is by going the potluck route,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews. “As the host, you can offer to handle the main dish, and then have your guests bring the sides and desserts. If you feel like you’d want to include more than just the main dish, opt for things like drinks and disposable dinnerware as these tend to be on the cheaper side of the spectrum (especially if you purchase in bulk).”

Make a List and Stick To It

“Make a Thanksgiving grocery shopping list, check it twice, and stick to it,” said Marisel Salazar, a food writer, cook and recipe developer. “Only plan to purchase what you know you’re going to use for Turkey Day; this way, you don’t end up throwing away a lot of what you buy. You may forget an ingredient in a recipe or spend a lot more than you originally planned if you don’t have a list.”

Start Shopping for Ingredients Early

“This gives you time to compare prices and shop sales,” said budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “Spend some time now thinking about what you want to prepare and write out list of ingredients, checking off items you already have at home. This gives you a sense of what you will need to buy and you can start scoping out deals during regular grocery runs.”

Shop Your Pantry First

“Rather than go on a full-blown shopping trip for Thanksgiving, make sure you check out your kitchen first to help save on money and time,” Salazar said. “After you’ve selected your Thanksgiving recipes, ‘shop’ your pantry by taking stock of what you already have. Check in the back of the cupboards, pantry, fridge and freezer for any hidden items you may be able to use like breadcrumbs for stuffing, sauces, marinades and spices.”

Pay Attention to Grocery Store Sales

“Just like other types of holiday shopping, grocery stores will offer sales during this timeframe with common holiday ingredients on sale,” Ramhold said. “Whether you need the ingredients for pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, or your tried-and-true sausage stuffing, odds are good that grocery stores will have the essentials for these recipes on sale in the days and weeks leading up to the holidays.”

Compare Prices From Your Top 3 Grocery Stores

“After you’ve put together a list of the ingredients you need, take the time to compare prices,” said Guadalupe Sanchez, founder at Budgeting in Blue. “You can use your app or reference the weekly savings ad. Most stores’ weekly ads start on Sundays so make sure you’re prepared to shop on that day.”

Buy Certain Items in Bulk

“Buy in bulk the non-perishable items you can use before and after Thanksgiving,” said Jessica Weaver, a financial expert and author of  “Confessions of a Money Queen.” “Stretch the expensive ingredients by reusing herbs with other side dishes and special cheeses with other pieces of your meal.”

Swap Green Beans for Squash

“Instead of planning a meal around recipes you find online, go to the grocery store and see what’s on sale and in season,” said Brian Nagele, CEO of Restaurant Clicks. “These are likely vegetables like squash, Brussels sprouts and potatoes. Skip the pricey, out-of-season veggies like asparagus or green beans.”

Buy Frozen and/or Canned Veggies — They’re Just as Nutritious!

“In addition to often being cheaper than fresh, frozen veggies are picked and packed at the peak of ripeness, which means they’re loaded with nutrition and flavor,” said Kate Peterson, a registered dietitian and virtual nutrition coach. “Canned vegetables are also a great option for staying within budget.  Just look for low or no sodium added versions of canned produce.”

Skip Premade Foods; DIY It Instead

“To save money, buy whole foods,” Salazar said. “Precut fruits and vegetables are usually more expensive than their whole counterparts. So rather than buy premade cranberry sauce, stuffing or other sides —  buy the individual whole ingredients to make them yourself.”

Consider Fresh Meal Delivery Services That Tout a Discount

“Meal services like Blue Apron, Gobble and HelloFresh are offering Thanksgiving meal kits,” said Vipin Porwal, founder at Smarty. “[They] have promotions for new customers, and first responders/healthcare workers — and military discounts are often offered, too. Gobble is offering a $30 discount on your first box (use code WELCOME30 at checkout).”

Additionally, ButcherBox is giving away free turkeys for new members through Nov. 17.

Buy Exactly the Right Amount of Turkey

“We recommend 1.5 pounds of turkey per person for a generous serving and leftovers,” said Nicole Johnson, director of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. “And don’t forget to protect those leftovers by refrigerating within two hours after serving.”

Skip the Fancy Turkey Pan

“No need to purchase an expensive, fancy pan to cook the turkey this Thanksgiving,” Johnson said. “Try the Turkey Talk-Line’s open pan roasting method that can be done with an inexpensive, aluminum pan purchased from the grocery store and thrown away at the end of the meal. No wire rack? No problem, try Butterball’s foil coil method with one long piece of aluminum foil–if you don’t have a roasting rack, crunch aluminum foil into a coil to keep your turkey off the bottom of the pan.”

Plan Ways You Can Use Leftover Turkey

“In November, you can grab some great deals on turkeys,” said Lisa Thompson, savings expert at Coupons.com. “Why not stock up by buying a few that you can freeze for later, then think ahead: Turkey enchiladas, turkey soup, turkey wraps — the list goes on.”

Order Direct From Wineries

“Looking for wine? Skip the grocery store and check wineries directly for deals they may be running for the holiday if you purchase directly from them,” Thompson said.  “Depending on where you live, shipping might cancel your savings, so watch out for that — but the holiday season is a good time to check. You may also think about joining your favorite label’s wine club.”

Keep Desserts Bite-Sized

“You don’t have to serve up full slices of cake or pies, which can get expensive (and even wasteful, as many guests will be satisfied with small bites of sugary treats),” Thompson said. “Here’s an idea: Set up a milk and cookie bar. Ask guests to bring a dozen of their favorite holiday cookies with the recipe on a card (everyone can take photos to save the recipe), which will make for a fun, easy and inexpensive way to spread the sugary love.”

Use Décor From Nature

Thanksgiving decorations tend to feature autumnal colors. Rather than heading to a store to buy these nature-inspired shades, head to your backyard or to a nearby park.

“You can find great décor in nature: pine cones, acorns, leaves and more,” said Marley Majcher, CEO, The Party Goddess. “Just add some spray paint (gold, silver, white or red and green) and put them in a fun bowl, which you can spray paint as well. It makes for a very inexpensive centerpiece or something for the mantel.”

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