In some ways, it can feel a little sacrilegious to talk about paring down Thanksgiving. After all, it’s a holiday all about celebrating the abundance in our lives. But the truth of the matter is that planning an enormous meal for a horde of guests is an expensive prospect, particularly if you follow the dining-room-table-is-groaning-under-the-weight-of-food model of traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Here are five ways you can lower your Thanksgiving costs without sacrificing anything you are truly thankful for:
Decide What Sides are Most Important
One Thanksgiving many years ago, my aunt decided to just skip the cranberry sauce. She told us that she’d been eating it at Thanksgiving for decades and throwing away a sinful amount of leftover cranberry sauce each year before she realized that she truly hated the stuff. So no more cranberry sauce on her Thanksgiving table, since apparently no one really liked it.
We all have a vision of what Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to look like, but that doesn’t necessarily correspond with what you really want to eat. In addition to the turkey, plan on no more than three Thanksgiving side dishes. You only really need your favorites, anyway. Chances are, there’s something you usually put on your table that you end up throwing out later.
Let Your Guests Bring Something
Most Thanksgiving guests are thrilled to avoid the bulk of the cooking and are willing to whip up their famous pumpkin pie or bring the wine to the group celebration. If you spread out your dish requests among all of your guests, the cost of the meal becomes much more manageable.
Cherry Pick the Grocery Stores
Even if you never pay any attention to grocery circulars the rest of the year, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to do so. Each store offers loss leaders of the typical Thanksgiving fare. If you are willing to do a little driving, you can pick up most of your ingredients at the best price available.
Don’t Decorate with Store-Bought Trinkets
In my lifetime, Thanksgiving has gone from a holiday about food and family to one that you must have cutesy décor for. Even if you’re hosting the in-laws for the first time, there is no need to buy turkey-themed hand towels and napkins. Have the kids pick out some beautiful fall foliage for a centerpiece, and they can make their own hand-traced turkey place mats. Setting a beautiful table does not have to cost money.
Plan out Leftovers in AdvanceTurkey fatigue can set in pretty quickly after the holiday, and it can be tempting to just throw the rest of the bird away. But even frozen supermarket turkeys (which are the cheapest Thanksgiving turkey option) cost at least a dollar per pound. Are you willing to throw all those dollars away? Instead, peruse cookbooks and cooking websites for turkey recipes you can make the week after all your guests have gone home, and make your meal plan for the last week in November at the same time you’re planning your Thanksgiving. Using up every scrap of leftovers is not only frugal, it’s also better for the environment.
The Bottom Line
Hosting Thanksgiving doesn’t have to kill your budget. Planning ahead, asking for help, and knowing what’s most important are all ways to make sure your holiday is fun, meaningful, and memorable—without giving you a spending hangover.
Emily Guy Birken
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