Six Tips to Save on Thanksgiving Costs

Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for many Americans, especially those who love a good meal and a long weekend. Unfortunately, in part due to rising food prices, many are finding themselves strapped for cash to host their Thanksgiving feasts.

How much does a Thanksgiving dinner cost on average? According to the Farm Bureau, in 2021, a Thanksgiving meal for ten costs about $53. That’s about a 14% increase from 2019. And remember – it’s just dinner. This does not include drinks, decorations and other expenses associated with accommodation.

Here are six tips that can help you host Thanksgiving on a budget, even if there are a lot of people gathering around your table.

Start shopping early

Last year, shoppers began gathering their Thanksgiving produce earlier than usual due to food shortages. Although the supply chain has improved, it’s never a bad idea to move forward. If you don’t want to run out at the last minute to compete with everyone (and their brother) and probably pay more than you want for your Thanksgiving necessities, start now.

Shopping early doesn’t just guarantee you’ll get your pumpkin pie filling. It can also help you save money. Since retailers are starting to sell Thanksgiving staples early, keeping an eye on prices from different companies can help you find the best advertised deal. If you have flexibility in your menu, you can plan your menu around these offerings.

Stick to your list and your budget

Taking the time to create a Thanksgiving dinner shopping list and budget is well worth the money it can save you — as long as you stick to your plan. Otherwise, you might find yourself buying more food than your guests can eat, wasting food and money.

When creating your shopping list, be sure to consider everything you will need to entertain your guests, from food to accommodation essentials! Some often overlooked expenses include:

  • Crockery (plates, napkins, glasses, cutlery, etc.)
  • Beverages
  • Kitchen essentials (meat thermometer, roasting pans, etc.)
  • Seats for each guest
  • Decor and centerpieces
  • Storing leftover food
  • Additional utility costs (propane, water, natural gas, etc.)

If you’re going to spend money on hosting, you might as well earn credit card rewards on those purchases. The best credit cards can bring in hundreds of dollars in cash each year, and many even offer premium rates on grocery purchases. Just make sure you have a solid plan in place to pay off your purchases at the end of the month, otherwise the interest you pay will outweigh the rewards you earn.

Monitor grocery sales and coupons

Thanksgiving is an expensive meal to plan. However, if you do it right, you can save big. To get started, keep an eye out for sales flyers from your local grocery stores. The few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving will likely have the best sales on staples like cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, stuffing, and whatever else your family loves.

Also, stick to generic products rather than brand names. According to Consumer Reports, these generic store brand names cost 20-25% less than brand names. So if you are not married to a particular brand, go with the store brand.

Finally, Thanksgiving is a great time to take advantage of price matching policies offered by companies. Target is a prime example. They have a list of competitors on their site, and if you find an item cheaper at one of the stores, Target will refund you the difference. While Walmart is a bit more stingy about their price matching, they also have a policy worth checking out.

Ask guests to participate

While some hosts pride themselves on providing all the food for Thanksgiving, it’s not always economical. If your Thanksgiving budget is tight, you might want to consider asking your guests to participate by bringing their favorite side dishes to your celebration. Not only will this spread the cost of dinner across the entire crowd, but it will also help you save time in the kitchen. Plus, you can even help people with food sensitivities and allergies get something to eat at the table.

If you like to stick to tradition, you might want to ask your guests to bring one (or more) of the most popular Thanksgiving sides, according to Google Trends data gathered by Newsweek, namely:

  • Padding
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Green bean casserole
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Little bread

It’s no surprise that stuffing tops the list of side dishes, with an estimated 40 million boxes of Stove Top Stuffing sold between October and December each year. And whatever you do, don’t forget the cranberry sauce! According to OceanSpray, 80 million pounds of cranberries are consumed by Americans during Thanksgiving week.

Enjoy the Versatility of Turkey

The turkey is the star of most people’s family Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, Butterball’s Thanksgiving Outlook Report found that 85% of those hosting the holiday in 2022 plan to serve it. However, it tends to be one of – if not the most expensive – parts of a Thanksgiving meal, and prices are on the rise.

The USDA reports that the average turkey cost (as of September 30, 2022) is $1.39 per pound, up slightly from the 2021 average of $1.36 per pound. When you consider that many people buy Thanksgiving turkeys that weigh in the double digits, that can be a lot of money for the Thanksgiving turkey.

One of the best ways to fit turkey into your budget is to use it as the main ingredient in meals after Thanksgiving Day and give up some of your normal food budget. You can turn leftovers into dishes like turkey soup (save the turkey bones for this) or turkey sandwiches. If you have more turkey than you can eat, try freezing it for easy meals in the future.

If the price of turkey is out of your budget and you’re willing to break with tradition, chicken ($1.28 per pound on average) may be a more economical option.

Plan your trip wisely

If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving this year, you’re in good company. A September 2022 Bankrate survey found that 43% of American adults plan to travel this holiday season. Unfortunately, nearly 8 in 10 of these travelers say inflation and rising prices are forcing them to change their plans, such as traveling shorter distances or driving instead of flying.

If you have to fly for your Thanksgiving celebration, you can often save money by traveling on slower travel days. AAA suggests that you avoid traveling on the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving and stick to Monday instead. As for when to book the flight itself, AAA says that around two weeks before Thanksgiving you’ll get the best deals. Be aware, however, that waiting until the last few minutes increases the risk of not being able to catch a flight.

The bottom line

Achieving Thanksgiving on a limited budget requires preparation. By creating a menu, budget and shopping list and planning your trip strategically, you can stay organized and prevent yourself from giving in to expensive upsells. Ultimately, you’ll end up with less stress and a bank account that doesn’t feel the holiday hangover.

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