How to Host Thanksgiving on a Budget

You can’t put it off another year. It’s your turn to host Thanksgiving, but you’ve got to do it on a budget, or you may end up doing severe damage to your bank account. Don’t fret. It’s possible to have an excellent Thanksgiving dinner without emptying your wallet.


How Should I Budget for Thanksgiving Dinner?

The costs of Thanksgiving dinner can vary depending on the type of event you’re hosting. A Thanksgiving feast for 15 people will look different than a dinner for four. The first thing you should do is determine how many people will be attending. Next, come up with your overall budget, then divide that by the number of people you’ll be hosting. That number is how much you’ll have to spend per person.

Next up? Plan your Thanksgiving menu — which is where staying on a tight budget is important, especially if you’re drawn toward fancier recipes. But how do you actually save money when it comes to cooking Thanksgiving dinner? These five time-tested tips can help you stay financially fit for the rest of the holiday season.


1. Keep it Simple 

For starters, step away from what’s trending on Pinterest. Those gourmet recipes and cocktails are enticing, but they take a lot of work to pull off and often contain expensive, hard-to-find ingredients. If you’re on a budget, this isn’t the time to serve ribeye instead of turkey.

Save the fancy feast for a year when you’ve got more financial wiggle room and stick to the classics. You can put together a wonderful menu full of cheap thanksgiving recipes if you plan ahead. So, prepare your meal plan — and your guest list — early.

A classic, budget-friendly Thanksgiving dinner menu might look something like this:

  • Whole turkey The Food Network recommends 1 1/2 pounds per guest)
  • Turkey gravy
  • Stuffing
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • A vegetable side, like green bean casserole or Brussels sprouts
  • Bread, like dinner rolls or cornbread
  • 1-2 appetizers for people to snack on before dinner
  • 1-2 desserts (like pecan or pumpkin pie) depending on the number of guests

Need more inspiration? Check out Allrecipes’ list of affordable Thanksgiving dishes.

Keeping your guest list small can also help you save money. Why not prepare an intimate holiday meal for just six people or a nice Thanksgiving dinner for two this year instead of inviting everyone you know?

 2. Shop Early, Shop Smart 

How do you shop for and cook a cheap Thanksgiving dinner? That’s the big question.

We’ve all done that last-minute holiday dash, pinging frantically from one crowded parking lot to the next to fight for an overpriced can of cranberry sauce. But that’s one of the quickest ways to go over your Thanksgiving budget and cause yourself unnecessary stress at the same time. Here are a few Thanksgiving shopping tips we swear by:

  • Create a Thanksgiving budget and shopping list before heading to the store
  • Shop a few weeks prior to the holiday to take advantage of sales
  • Start checking the local newspapers for any special promotions or coupons
  • Buy perishable items early and freeze them until a day or two before Thanksgiving
  • Compare prices at the store to ensure you’re getting the best deal
  • Buy generic when possible

Some stores offer free pickup or delivery, which can take a lot of stress out of the shopping process and allow you to easily compare food costs online from the comfort of your own home. For example, Walmart, Target, as well as some major grocery stores offer a free pickup service via their mobile app or website, that lets you order ahead and gets your groceries delivered directly to your car in the parking lot. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

3. Shop Your Pantry Before the Store 

Who hasn’t bought garlic salt or a new bottle of olive oil, only to find that ingredient sitting on the shelf while putting the fresh groceries away? Or maybe you have a few cans of green beans in the back of your pantry that don’t expire until 2025.

Before heading to the grocery store, make a shopping list of what you need to buy, and see if you have some in your kitchen already. You might even uncover some canned pumpkin in there from last year. Anything that isn’t expired is perfectly fine to use.

If you want to take this tip to the next level, ask family or close friends if they have any ingredients you need. You may find they have a partially used box of brown sugar, nutmeg and other ingredients they aren’t planning to utilize.

Alternatively, if you or your family members find extra items you don’t plan on using, consider donating those to your local food bank for Thanksgiving. You’ll be getting your kitchen organized while also helping another family celebrate the holiday. Find your local food banks here.

4. Ask for Help 

Thanksgiving is about togetherness, so don’t feel like you have to go it alone. You might find that it’s more fun to have others in the kitchen helping you prepare for the big day. Or you may want to ask your friends and family to pitch in potluck-style by bringing a favorite appetizer, side dish, drink or dessert.

Apps like PotluckHub can help you easily plan the dinner and coordinate what each guest is contributing. Within such apps, you can make a list of the items you still need, and your invitees can claim what they’re bringing.

If any of your guests have special dietary restrictions, apps are also a great way to ensure everyone can partake in the Thanksgiving meal. So go ahead and ask Cousin Kate to bring her special gluten-free dinner rolls or vegan casserole.

5. Get Creative with the Presentation 

You can set a gorgeous Thanksgiving dinner table on a limited budget — you just need to be creative. Pull out your grandmother’s best silver, your parents’ fine china or that set of ramekins you got as a housewarming gift three years ago and never thought you’d use.

You can also hit your local consignment or thrift shops, which often have an array of funky, vintage, budget-friendly dinnerware if that’s more your style.

Prefer disposables? Consider buying a pack of bamboo or palm leaf dinnerware. These products are eco-friendly, biodegradable and add a touch of class for not much money. Plus, it means way less cleanup!

Experts recommend keeping brand names off the table. Instead of setting a mustard bottle out, put some into a ramekin, and set that on the table instead. Experts also say that you should match the color of your napkins and tablecloth to really tie the room together.

Finally, don’t forget to make use of whatever fall decorations you’ve already got on hand. Grab your decorative gourds, dust off that pumpkin spice candle, pull your autumn wreath out of storage and you’ll be all set for the main event.


 How Can I Save Money on Thanksgiving?

Keep it simple, get organized and stick to your plan. Doing so can help you serve a delightful Thanksgiving on a budget and ensure you have extra funds for the rest of the holiday season.


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