Picture this: it’s five days until Thanksgiving. You have to find out which family members are coming in for the big meal. You’re starting to really stress out—you still have to plan out the meal and seating arrangements, and then buy decorations, food and drinks. On top of all of this, you have to try to find some time in your busy schedule to detail and clean the house.
Living like this isn’t just bad for your sanity, it’s also bad for your checking account.
Chances are good that you’ll now end up spending over $300 for one day’s worth of festivities. By using these tips to plan ahead of time, you’ll come out spending less and you’ll be able to call yourself a Thanksgiving pro (whether or not that’s résumé material is up for debate).
Create a budget
You shouldn’t start doing anything before you create a budget. Without a budget, you’re definitely going to overspend. We all have an idea in our mind for how much we’re comfortable spending anyway.
If you only have $100 to spend with no wiggle room, that’s completely fine; you can totally make that work. The most important part is to know what that budget is before moving on to any other planning.
Get an accurate attendee list and plan for that
If you’re only having 5-6 people over, do you really need a 25 pound turkey, six sides, three different desserts AND rolls?
No. A million times, no.
Ask your family and friends (if you’re doing friends-giving instead) if they would like to come for Thanksgiving. Set a deadline for answers, and once you get your RSVPs, use this as your baseline for planning out the food.
Do a potluck and assign dishes
After you get those RSVPs in, assign some people dishes that others won’t really miss if they forget to bring the food.
We all have that one friend or family member who can’t really cook; get them to bring the rolls. And guess what? If there are no rolls, it’s not your fault, and definitely not a big deal.
By doing the potluck, you take some of the work off of your plate (sorry, terrible pun), and get to keep to your budget.
Do a pantry assessment, y’all
If you already have green beans in your pantry, why are you buying some just for the Thanksgiving meal? Use what you already have, and if you need more, then buy it later when you need it.
I always look at my meal plan for Thanksgiving, then I make the shopping list. I go to my pantry and scratch off the ingredients that I already have.
Not only will this help you save money on your Thanksgiving meal, but it gives you a chance to go through some of those foods you haven’t gotten around to using yet.
I’m begging you, only cook what people eat
How many times have you been to a Thanksgiving meal, only to see that one dish that nobody touches?
For me, it’s always the cranberry sauce.
I see this purple, jelly-like Thanksgiving staple every year, but nobody really eats it. I mean, I’ll take a bite if I’m feeling it that day, but beyond that it just sits there.
That’s not benefiting anyone, and it certainly isn’t helping your budget by buying something nobody’s eating.
I’ll say it one more time: if nobody eats the cranberry sauce, DON’T BUY THE CRANBERRY SAUCE.
Start shopping for food earlier than normal to get deals
If you haven’t started shopping, start now. You can usually find the best deals on food weeks before Thanksgiving happens.
Grocery stores will usually throw in a turkey when you buy groceries, so look through your stores’ weekly ads. Don’t forget to look for coupons for everything on your list too!
If you buy a frozen turkey, you can leave it in your freezer. Just remember to give it time to thaw—most turkeys take about 2-3 days to defrost in the fridge.
Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry
I tell people this all the time. I even have to remind myself before I go grocery shopping with my wife (pork skins are my poison of choice). When you’re out shopping when you’re hungry, you’ll buy a LOT more food.
Before you head out to go grocery shopping, eat a snack or something to hold you over.
Seriously, I’ve spent a lot of extra money buying junk I don’t need just because I’m hungry. I really don’t recommend it.
By making sure you’re full before shopping, it will help you buy only what you need and not much more.
Don’t buy name brand ingredients
Here’s something real: I’ve never heard anyone say, “Wow this stuffing is delicious! What brand of chicken broth did you use?”
Who really cares what name brand you used when creating the food? Not the kind of people I want to invite to my Thanksgiving, to be honest.
Most people just want to eat some good food. Save yourself some extra dollars and use generic, off-brand ingredients in the dish.
Do something simple for dessert
Do you really have to bake a pie with organic apples hand-picked in the Himalayas?
Okay, okay, that might be a little exaggerative, but you get the point. Keep dessert simple and you’ll keep your wallet much happier.
Buy a frozen pie or pie crust and make that work. What people really want is something sweet after eating all of that savory food. Simpler ingredients are simple savings.
Get creative with decorations
So many decorations, so many dollars, so little time.
This is where a lot of people tend to go overboard. After you’ve saved money on the food, you can start to think about your décor.
When it comes to Thanksgiving decorations, try getting creative and DIY-ing the whole shebang. Here are some ideas to spark your creativity:
- Shop for and use some fabric instead of a tablecloth. It’s cheaper at <$3.00 per yard, and it’ll look much different than the regular old tablecloths at the store.
- Grab some pinecones from outside and throw those suckers in a bowl. You can rinse them off to get the dirt off, but it gives a natural feel without having to spend $20.00 for fake pinecones.
- Press some leaves in a book and put them on the table. What says “fall” more than leaves? Pick the prettiest leaves you can find, flatten them and use them to add flair to your table.
- Dip some acorns in paint and use them to decorate. Dip them in shades of orange, red and yellow paint and hang them on a string or place them on a dish with some candles.
- Put some acorns in a candleholder and put a candle inside. Don’t feel like spending the time painting the acorns? Toss those things in a candleholder with a dollar store candle and call it a day.
Get your drink on (a budget)
After all this hard work and good food, people are going to want something to loosen up.
If your family prefers wine, there are lots of options for great wine under $20. You can also grab yourself a bottle of your favorite liquor and a couple of 2-liters to mix it up! See what I did there? Okay, I’ll stop.
You can also skip the alcohol altogether and opt for a case of bubbly—bubbly, sparkling juice or cider that is! You can usually find a pack of 6 for around $6.00, which isn’t too bad on the budget.
TIP: Get inspired with our budget Thanksgiving decorating board on Pinterest!
What kind of savings tips do you have for people hosting Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments below!
Lover of writing, learning and teaching others about new things. Proud foodie. Sometimes I mix all of these subjects together.