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Thanksgiving is a great time to gather with loved ones, but it can certainly come with a steep price tag. Maybe you’re flying home for the holiday. Or perhaps you’re staying behind on campus and cooking with friends, or hosting at your first-ever apartment. No matter where the turkey is roasting, it will involve considerable time, effort, and cash.
Especially this year, with inflation still going strong and turkey prices forecast to hit new heights. But that doesn’t mean you have to go into debt putting out a delicious spread and making some awesome memories.
To avoid overspending just a few weeks before gift-giving season, read on. We’ve got 37 ways to keep your Thanksgiving costs under control and still have an incredible meal with your favorite people.
Thanksgiving on a Budget: How to Save
Here are some simple strategies for doing Thanksgiving inexpensively this year, whether you’re heading to your parents’ place (hello, peak-season plane tickets!) or doing Friendsgiving at your place. Bonus: These tips can also help you save time — and stress.
1. Stocking Up as Stuff Goes on Sale
Throughout November, stores typically have different Thanksgiving dinner items on sale. Grabbing nonperishables whenever you see them on discount can save a bundle, and also help spread out the cost of the meal.
2. Keeping the Stuffing Simple
Think twice before you shell out for roasted chestnuts or special sage sausage to add to your stuffing. That will send the cost skyward. (A single jar of ready-to-use chestnuts can easily cost $15.) The plain old bag or boxed variety from the supermarket is pretty darn good, and once there’s cranberry sauce and gravy on top, no one will be complaining. If you feel the urge to dress it up, add a chopped apple and/or fresh herbs.
3. Making It a Potluck
Whether you’re celebrating with family or friends, you can make Thanksgiving inexpensive by asking your guests to each contribute a dish. You can coordinate who is bringing what in advance to make sure there are no overlaps or gaps.
4. Going Big for Dessert
If your budget is tight but you want to invite a crowd, consider having a simple feast for your nearest and dearest, and then invite a larger crew for coffee and pie later in the day. Apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies from the supermarket are usually affordable and delicious. This tactic can let you welcome dozens without going broke.
5. Checking Coupon Sites
6. Going to Manufacturers’ Websites
7. Stretching What’s Left
This tip isn’t about saving money on what you buy; it’s about putting your leftovers to work. Sometimes, you may feel so exhausted and stuffed after your holiday feast that you just want the leftovers to go away, whether that means sending everything packing with guests or trashing it. But don’t: Save some food and use it over the holiday weekend so you don’t spend any more money grabbing takeout when you get hungry.
8. Getting Your Grocery Store’s App
Many supermarkets have apps that offer coupons and deals. Sometimes you can get a reward just for signing up. Download one or two, and see how much you can save.
9. Hitting More Than One Store
Going to just one supermarket is obviously more convenient. But if you check the circulars, you may see different items on sale at different stores. Going to a couple of different grocery stores could lead to significant savings.
10. Skipping Appetizers
When hosting, you may be tempted to splash out on a fancy cheese plate or other hors d’oeuvres to start with. In a word: Don’t. It’s expensive, and it’ll just dampen appetites for the main event.
11. Buying a Store-Brand Frozen Turkey
Typically, a turkey makes up a big part of your budget for the Thanksgiving meal, and this year, turkeys will perhaps be at their most expensive ever due to inflation’s impact and other factors. Opting for a store-brand frozen bird, rather than a fresh one, can significantly lower your total outlay for the meal.
12. Splitting the Costs
You may want to consider teaming up with your bff, a sibling, or another family member to co-host this year’s gathering. That way you can split all of the costs, rather than foot the entire bill.
13. Buying Basics in Bulk
Buying staples like flour, potatoes, eggs, cream, and butter from a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club can help you spend a lot less on food, as long as you’re not buying more than you need or will use up after Thanksgiving.
14. Going Generic
Many times, generic or store-brand products are just as good as the brand-name version, and the only real difference is price. It’s cheaper for the generic products, since they spend less on package design, marketing, and other costs.
15. Watching Where You Shop
Sometimes, it’s better to shop at your local chain supermarket or warehouse club vs. the cute gourmet store in your neighborhood. The latter probably has all kinds of beautiful herb-covered cheeses and foil-wrapped chocolate turkeys that can trigger impulsive or compulsive spending. Avoid the temptation, and you may well save some cash.
16. Asking Guests to BYOB
Wine, beer, and other alcohol can add up quickly. One easy way to save money is to ask your guests to bring their favorite beverage. That way, everyone will get to sip something they love, and you won’t have to shell out all that extra money.
17. Sticking With Seasonal Produce
Vegetables that are in season in November, such as sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, and white potatoes, will typically cost a lot less than out-of-season picks, such as corn, asparagus, and green beans.
18. Opting For Frozen Veggies
If you want to use veggies that aren’t in season, you may want to choose the frozen versions, which are generally much cheaper than fresh but are still likely to work well in your holiday recipes.
19. Baking Your Own Bread
Baking bread can be fun, and it typically involves spending a lot less than buying rolls or loaves at a bakery. After all, many recipes require just flour, yeast, water, and maybe a dash of salt and/or sugar. You can also make bread ahead of time and stick it in the freezer until the big day.
20. Going Simple with Sides
It can be tempting to try a new gourmet recipe you saw online or in your favorite food magazine, but fancy recipes often require specialty ingredients — and can end up costing a lot to make.
21. Not Going Overboard
You may love the idea of giving your guests a cornucopia of options, especially when it comes to appetizers and sides. But making a lot of different dishes can lead to a much longer and costlier grocery bill. And, much of that food may end up going to waste. Seriously, you don’t need three different kinds of potatoes on the table.
22. Getting a Bigger Turkey Than You Need
Yes, this sounds like a way to increase costs. Going with a larger bird, however, can pay off by giving you several additional meals, like turkey sandwiches and turkey pot pies, you can make later without going back to the store or spending another dime.
23. Considering Pre-Made Dishes
Sometimes store-made dishes and desserts can actually be cheaper than buying all of the ingredients and making these things yourself. It can be worth doing some quick math at the store. This move can also save you time as well as stress.
24. Shopping Your Pantry
You may already have quite a few shelf-stable items in your pantry (maybe even from last Thanksgiving) that you need this year. It can be well worth the time and effort to give your cabinets a once-over before you head to the market. Cornmeal? Check. Cranberry sauce? All set.
25. Watching a Movie at Home
Though many people have a tradition of going out to the movies on Thanksgiving, theater tickets and concessions can be pricey. Instead, you may want to consider renting a movie from a streaming service (or finding a free one) that everyone can watch together on Thanksgiving night.
26. Not Going to the Mall
Nearly 155 million Americans went shopping on last year’s Black Friday. Yes, there are deals to be had, and this can be a good time to buy if you’ve done your research and have a budget for it. But if not, cruising around a mall full of sale signs could lead to debt. How about a hike instead?
27. Using Up Airline Points
If you need to travel by plane over Thanksgiving, you may want to consider using any points you’ve racked up with the airlines or on your credit card to score a free or discounted ticket.
28. Going on a Staycation
While taking a vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday can be fun, it could add up to thousands of dollars between the flights, hotels, and rental car, depending on where you go. You may want to consider staying home and planning a series of local adventures instead.
29. Staying in an Airbnb
If you normally stay in a hotel when you visit family or friends over Thanksgiving, you may be able to save by going with an Airbnb instead, especially if you can share it with other people who are coming in from out of town.
30. Checking Warehouse Clubs for Travel Deals
Before you book any Thanksgiving travel, you may want to check for deals offered by your local warehouse club. If you are a member, you may be able to access discounts on hotels, rental cars, vacation packages, and more.
31. Asking for Travel Discounts
Whether you’re renting a car or staying in a hotel over Thanksgiving, it can be a good idea to ask if you are eligible for any discounts when you book. You may be able to score a lower price if you’re a AAA member, a student, a resident of the state, a member of the military, or over age 55.
32. Making a Budget
Whether you’re hosting or heading out of town, it can be a wise idea to make a simple budget. Come up with a total amount you can afford to spend on Thanksgiving. You can then make a list of expected expenses, and determine how much you can realistically spend on each item.
33. Going DIY with Decor
A fun way to save money on Thanksgiving is to recruit the kids in the family to create your decorations. They could collect and paint pine cones, create cut-out turkeys (tracing their hands as a template), or make a craft paper tablecloth where everyone can write or draw what they are thankful for.
34. Handing the Reins to Someone Else
Hosting can be fun and rewarding, but if you need a reprieve from the work — and expense — you may want to see if someone else wants to step up this year. You can offer to bring your famous balsamic roasted Brussels sprouts and smashed potatoes to make the host’s job easier.
35. Forgoing Flowers
Yes, stores are filled with pretty arrangements of flowers in shades of red, orange, and yellow. And yes, they make a table extra festive. But you’ll save a chunk of change if you don’t purchase them. After all, your table is likely to be packed with dishes to dig into; you don’t really need a bouquet to fill any empty space.
36. Going Out to Eat
Local restaurants may be offering Thanksgiving specials to bring in customers. You could save big if you go out to eat (and split the tab) rather than host everyone at your home.
37. Volunteering for the Holiday
Helping out at a local soup kitchen can be a great way to get into the holiday spirit and have a chance to focus on giving back, rather than spending.
You can enjoy Thanksgiving (and the upcoming December holidays) without running up expensive credit card debt that you may struggle to pay back.
One great way to keep your holiday costs under control is to set up a simple budget and then make sure you stick to it by keeping track of your expenses as you go.
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