20 Tips for an Amazing Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

Thanksgiving On a Budget

Being generous at Thanksgiving is good. But spending way more than necessary? Not so much.

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection, spending time with family, and wondering how you will possibly afford this meal and all your holiday shopping without squeezing your budget and dipping into your savings account.

You have a lot to be thankful for this year, but that doesn’t mean you have a bank account the size of a massive turkey leg. Although it might look more like a chicken leg – or even a pheasant.

But never fear. It’s possible to have an incredible, unforgettable Thanksgiving dinner without spending all of your gravy. Read on for tips on how you can turn your Thanksgiving into a Thanksaving!

1. Buy in season

As great as it would be to have a literal cornucopia overflowing with every kind of vegetable you can imagine as your Thanksgiving centerpiece, you’re better off sticking to what’s in season. Sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin should be more affordable, and they’re pretty much as autumn as you can get. Brussel sprouts should also be in season, and despite what you may remember from your childhood, they can actually be quite good.

2. Don’t be afraid to think inside the can

Fresh sounds better, but it can be much more expensive. And when it comes to something like pumpkin pie, how many people will really be able to tell whether the filling originally came from a fresh pumpkin? You can even get the cranberry sauce from a can. We won’t tell. Just make sure to smash it up so it isn’t still shaped like the can before you bring it to the table.

3. Don’t be afraid of frozen vegetables

Pretty much everything we just said about canned goods applies here, but for frozen vegetables. Trust us: Nobody will know if the green beans you put in the casserole were purchased from the frozen section of the grocery store. Most frozen veggies are flash frozen shortly after they’re picked, so it’s cheaper and they likely will hold up much better than if you purchase them fresh and freeze them yourself.

4. Collect those deals for your shopping list

Why shop harder when you can shop smarter? “My number one recommendation for a more affordable Thanksgiving is to shop strategically by collecting or looking up all of the Thanksgiving grocery store circulars the week before Thanksgiving,” said Katie Moseman, food blogger at Recipe For Perfection. “You’ll be able to compare prices between stores on all the items you need, then make a shopping plan to pick up everything at the most affordable price.”

5. Get your phone in on the action

There’s something to be said for the lost art of manually clipping coupons from those pamphlets that appear on your front stoop or in your mailbox. But we also have technology your grandmother’s coupon drawer could only dream about, and there’s nothing wrong with using it. Consider checking out your savings apps so you can get the best prices on all of your Turkey Day provisions. If you’re looking to avoid coupons altogether, you can check out some extra savings tips here.

6. Recipe for success

No doubt you already have a whole collection of classic Thanksgiving recipes, but it doesn’t hurt to learn some more. There are many budget-friendly recipes online just waiting to be found. Moseman even shared two she created herself that shouldn’t too drastically tap into your Thanksgiving meal bank account: southern style squash casserole and foolproof boneless turkey breast.

7. Don’t fear the potluck  

You’re hosting the dinner and presumably preparing most of the food. There’s nothing wrong with asking the guests to do their part. In fact, Andrea Correale, founder and CEO of Elegant Affairs Catering, suggested just that very thing: “Delegate, delegate, and delegate. Ask your guests to contribute to the feast! Let them know what it is you have covered and ask them to bring the rest. Make a list of who is bringing what so you can be sure each person who contributes is bringing something different. Again, it is all about sharing in a delicious meal.” Bonus: You’ll save money too!

8. Skip unnecessary serving stuff

If you’re having more people in your home than you have before, you may think you’ll need to invest in lots of additional serving utensils and dishes. According to Correale, that may not be the case: “It’s fun to present the food in an oven-to-table fashion,  serve the food right from the vessels they were cooked in, and eliminate the mess and space it takes to transfer the food into decorative bowls. I like to place little blackboard menu signs that I purchase at the craft store next to each dish to add a special touch.”

9. Sometimes, more is too much

There’s a tendency to go overboard on the food when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. But making too many different dishes may not only cut into the budget, it may lessen the enjoyment of the later dishes. Here’s what Correale had to say: “Don’t overstuff your guests with a lot of appetizers. Not only do they take up room in your tiny space, but in your guests’ stomachs, as well. We want them nice and hungry for dinner, so they enjoy the fruits of our labor.”

10. Take good stock of what you already have

Got any old cans in the back of your cabinet that you totally forgot were there? What about frozen vegetables in the back of your freezer? Before you get started on shopping, see what you can make with what you’ve already got lying around. Unless you have a spare turkey lying around, you’ll probably still have to do quite a bit of shopping, but you may as well cut out expenses when you can.

11. Buy in bulk

Not only will you be making a lot of food for Thanksgiving, but you’ll probably be planning to eat again someday. Buying in bulk saves money, and we are sure you’ll find a way to use any leftover ingredients.

12. If you’re traveling, make plans way, way, way in advance

Everyone tries to travel for Thanksgiving, so the price of any airline, train, or bus ticket is way more expensive than most other times of year. Unless you’re driving, you will want to book your travel as early as you possibly can. It can be difficult to know whether you’ll be able to get time off for Thanksgiving, so investigate which airline or bus tickets will allow for a full refund, just in case. We wrote a whole blog post on how to travel for less, so check it out to see which tips might be applicable for your Thanksgiving travel situation. Additional tips can be found here.

13. If you’re serving alcohol, keep the options limited

It might impress your guests to have a fully stocked bar, but if there’s something they really want, they can bring it themselves. If you’re serving the hard stuff, don’t be afraid to go for the cheap option and get some bottles of juice or soda to mix it with it. A few hours in, who’s really going to notice anyway?

14. Figure out your turkey needs and do a little math

Does it make sense to buy a whole bird, or could you settle for some breasts, thighs, and/or drumsticks? Those will also cook a lot faster. Or maybe, just maybe … you don’t need a turkey. We know, we know, that’s bordering on blasphemy, but if you have family or friends who prefer chicken anyway, it could be the cheaper option.

15. Make your own stale bread

You’re not going to buy stale bread, or as they try to call it, “croutons,” from the store, are you? That’s a sucker’s game! Save up your bread for a week or so before Thanksgiving and use that for the stuffing. Just make sure it doesn’t get moldy. Store it in the fridge to help prevent catastrophe.

16. Change up recipes as needed

We already mentioned looking for budget recipes, but you can typically turn almost any recipe into a budget recipe. It might take some experimentation, but since most recipes aren’t necessarily written for the budget conscious, there are likely all sorts of ways you can cut corners and costs. Just find the cheaper substitutions.

17. Minimize the meat

This is probably a given, but meat can be expensive. Unless all your guests are vegetarian or vegan, you might not be able to get away with skipping the turkey. However, there should be more than enough appetizers and sides you can make to avoid spending extra money on meat.

18. Go for dried beans

We already mentioned that canned goods can be cheaper than fresh, but when it comes to beans, dried is usually cheaper than canned. Soak ‘em up or use a slow cooker if you’ve got one. Beans are cheap and filling, and you can have them as a side dish or add them to rice or stuffing.

19. Make your own condiments

Thousand Island dressing? We know you know that’s ketchup and mayo. You can easily make your own Italian dressing, too. Don’t get trapped under the heel of Big Condiment!

20. Remember: It’s about friends and family

Whether you’re having a big turkey or a series of small turkey sandwiches, Thanksgiving is about being with friends and family and appreciating them. And that’s priceless.

With these tips, you’ll turn your Turkey Day into a Turkey Yay! Happy Thanksgiving, from us to you!

This post was updated on October 14, 2019. It originally published November 2, 2017. 


Andrea Correale CroppedAndrea Correale is the founder and CEO of Elegant Affairs based in Glen Cove, New York, and serving New York City, the Hamptons, and the Gold Coast of Long Island. Andrea has catered for some of the most discerning A-List taste buds including Brooke Shields, Mariah Carey, Russell Simmons, P. Diddy, Jimmy Fallon, and Liam Neeson – to name a few! Follow her @AndreaCorreale.
Katie Moseman - Writer, Photographer, Recipe DeveloperKatie Moseman is a freelance writer, photographer, and recipe developer whose work can be found on her blogs, Recipe for Perfection and Magnolia Days, as well as in numerous national publications. She lives in Florida with her family. Follow her @RecipeForPerfec.

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