How To host Thanksgiving on a budget 

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Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to scale down on Thanksgiving. You can still host a memorable holiday and stick to your budget goals. Some of the best Thanksgiving classics, like mashed potatoes and stuffing, are low-cost fillers. Here’s how to prepare Thanksgiving on a budget and wow your guests:

Planning Thanksgiving dinner on a budget

If you want to do Thanksgiving on a budget, you’ll have to plan ahead, make your budget and stick to it. Set a budget and then make a plan with these tried-and-true tips to reach your Thanksgiving dinner budget goals. 

Plan ahead

The most important step to plan Thanksgiving dinner on a budget is to have a plan. You’ll need to know:

  1. How many people are coming?
  2. Who is bringing what? It is traditional at many Thanksgiving gatherings for the guests to bring a side dish, dessert, or drinks.
  3. What do you need for decorations?
  4. What do you plan to make?

With this information in hand, you can choose your recipes and make your grocery list. The earlier you start, the better. That way, when items on your list go on sale you can pick them up at a discounted price. This will save you from a last-minute rush and will save on total costs. 

You can also plan ahead for decorating for thanksgiving on a budget. For example, plan to DIY decorations with leaves and branches you find outside. If you have children, involve them in planning the decorations. Some simple wreaths, colorful branches with leaves set in vases, or bowls filled with fall fruit all make wonderful Thanksgiving centerpieces.

Come up with a budget – and stick to it! 

Now you need to set a budget and stick to it. For that, you’ll need to plan out Thanksgiving dinner, divide responsibilities with your guests, and select your recipes.

If the average cost per person for a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner is just under $5, that gives you a starting point for your budget. You’ll need to adjust based on the number of guests and the dishes you plan to serve. Real budget pros will tell you that you can create a memorable Thanksgiving dinner for $2 per person or less. The goal is not to go as cheap as possible; it is to set a budget that meets your needs. 

Have guests bring one dish each

This is common at many Thanksgiving celebrations. You can assign one dish to each guest, or ask them to suggest their favorite Thanksgiving dish. If you have three other families joining you for Thanksgiving, one could bring the desserts, another the vegetable side dishes, and a third could bring stuffing and rolls, the drinks, or a second main dish. 

Look for specials

If you are a flexible cook, look for food on sale and holiday specials and plan your meals around that. If canned pumpkin is a great price, stock up and make extra pies, along with a pumpkin stuffing. For certain items like potatoes, you can exchange one type for another and choose the least expensive. 

Try a turkey-free dinner

Remember, the average Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people costs $46.90. Of that, $21, or nearly half, is the cost of the turkey. Since turkey is so costly, you can opt for chicken, fish, or vegetarian options. While it is not as traditional, it can be just as delicious. Consider a vegetarian nut loaf, even shaped like a turkey. You can also get cut turkey breast for less than a whole turkey.  

Skip the meat

The next most expensive menu item at Thanksgiving dinner? Red meat or game. If your Thanksgiving dinner plans include prime rib, roast beef, roast duck, or other meat options, consider skipping it this year. You can opt for cheaper alternatives like sausage or add more vegetarian options. If you have guests who cannot imagine Thanksgiving without meat, they might be happy to provide the turkey or meat and leave you to prepare the vegetable sides. 

Buy store brand 

Most ingredients are available with the same quality but in the store brands. This includes everything from pumpkin pie filling to cranberries, stuffing mix, and even the turkey or prepared sides. Store brands are almost always less expensive than brand names, giving you the same quality for less. 

Buy in-season foods

In-season produce is much cheaper, and better for the environment considering it isn’t shipped across the country or world. Depending on your locality, in-season produce includes pumpkins, squash, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cranberries, apples, pears, as well as potatoes and sweet potatoes. All of these are healthy, delicious, and can make a low-cost Thanksgiving feast. 

Opt for frozen, canned, or dried food where you can

Frozen, canned, and dried food is usually cheaper, and easier to prepare. Guests will never know if a pumpkin pie filling or green beans came from a can. Some prefer it actually! Since these foods save both in total cost and time, they can be a gift for time-crunched cooks on a budget.

Make everything from scratch

If you really want to save, the best way to do this is to make everything from scratch. Make your own pie crust with flour and butter; make croutons from saving your bread or use day-old bakery bread; homemade dressing, stuffing and rolls. The more you cook from scratch, the more you’ll save. For example, a medium whole butternut squash makes the equivalent of 2-3 cans of pumpkin for about half the cost.

Buy in bulk 

If you are cooking for a crowd, you can buy items in bulk at Costco, Sam’s Club, or other warehouse discount stores. Many grocery stores also have bulk bins to purchase even a small amount at a lower cost. For high-price items like pecans or nuts, get exactly the amount you need from the bulk bins. You’ll save on total cost and avoid waste. 

Thrifty baking dishes

Need more baking dishes to prepare the meal? Check out your local thrift or goodwill on their special deals days and snag some glass or ceramic dishes for cheap! Even on regular days, you can usually purchase baking dishes at deep discounts from thrift stores. This is also a great way to pick up vases, wreath forms, or bowls for decorations. 

Don’t go overboard 

You don’t need to serve everything and the kitchen sink. Scale back to the Thanksgiving basics: Turkey or main course, a couple vegetable side dishes, and a dessert. Don’t feel obligated to have a bunch of appetizers, cheeses, or desserts. With guests bringing dishes, you’ll have more than enough. 

Just because stuffing ourselves with an absurd amount of food has become a national tradition, doesn’t mean you need to provide a ridiculous amount of food. Guests will appreciate a few thoughtfully prepared dishes and that does not leave them over-stuffed. 

Create the most memorable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner on a budget can be full of warm memories and rich food. Emphasize the vegetarian side dishes, flush out the meal with local in-season produce, and fill in the gaps with frozen, canned, and dried food that you got on sale when possible.

A cheap Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to feel cheap. You can have all your favorites and more. With some festive decorations and everyone bringing a dish, the abundance of this day of gratitude will fill you. If you’re worried about paying for Thanksgiving dinner or need a little extra to cover the difference, we’re here to help. Instacash gives you the cash you need, when you need it. Get up to $1000 with 0% interest to cover groceries or as a holiday cushion for your family. 

FAQs

What is the average cost for making Thanksgiving dinner?

The average cost to make Thanksgiving dinner is $46.90 for 10 people. 

How much should I budget for Thanksgiving?

That is up to you, your family, and your budget. $5 per person is a good budget, if you can afford it. If guests are bringing dishes, you opt for a vegetarian Thanksgiving, or you have a larger group, you could set your budget considerably less. 

What is the average cost of a turkey?

The average cost of a turkey is $1.21 per pound. For a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner the average cost of the turkey is about $20.

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