How To: Save on Your Thanksgiving Feast

Dreaming of a plentiful Thanksgiving spread? Let's talk about the easiest ways to make your festive feast on a tight budget.

It’s almost time to give thanks, overeat, and spend some good ol’ quality time with loved ones. But first, you have some shopping to do.

Thanksgiving is one meal that doesn’t usually come cheap. That’s mostly because it’s an easy time of year to overspend. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tried and true tricks for savvy shopping with Turkey Day in mind.

Go With a Store Brand Turkey

The turkey is typically the centerpiece of any Thanksgiving feast, and it’s usually the most expensive part. As it turns out, around 40 percent of the cost of the entire meal goes into the turkey. But there are ways around overspending.

Thanksgiving Celebration Tradition Family Dinner
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According to American Financial Solutions, a name-brand 16-pound turkey might cost $20 or $30 dollars alone, but you still have stuffing, sides, desserts, and beverages to think about. So instead of going with one of the big names, save a significant chunk of change by purchasing a store-brand turkey (and use a coupon if you can). If you can find one that’s frozen, even better. Generic brands will always be less expensive than a popular big-name brand, but they’ll taste just the same.

Just be sure you allow the bird time to thaw. The rule of thumb is one day in the fridge for every five pounds.

Go With One Meat

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For many families, turkey is the obligatory meat choice on Thanksgiving. But lots of families throw ham, lamb, roasted chicken, and prime rib into the mix. The truth is, you can save money by choosing between turkey or another type of meat for your big feast. It might sound like going against the grain, but it’s really just smart shopping.

If you and your family prefer ham over turkey, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that! And it might be way cheaper.

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk will always help you save money, especially around the holidays. For instance, potatoes are way cheaper by the bag. If you’re worried you can’t use the whole thing, split it with a friend or family member who’s also on a budget. After all, you’re not the only one who could benefit from saving on Turkey day!

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Also, consider buying things in bulk that you know will last a while. Generally, herbs are cheaper when you find them in bulk bins, and you’ll be able to purchase small amounts if you wish.

Think of the things you’ll likely need the most of. It’s probably wise to buy your butter, eggs, sugar, and flour at bulk shopping stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. Split the packages with friends and you’ll all have something to be thankful for.

Don’t Overlook Specials

‘Tis the season for sales specials. And overlooking these great deals would be a big mistake. Keep your eyes peeled for store coupons and weekly specials.

woman buy vegetables and fruits in supermarket
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During the holidays, retailers are doing their best to pull people into the stores. Keep an eye out for special coupons and promotions around Thanksgiving. Some stores even offer a free turkey if you spend a certain amount. ShopRite, for instance, is famous for giving out free turkeys or hams to customers who spend more than $300 between Oct. 14 and Nov. 22.

Frozen Foods

Frozen ingredients will always cost way less than fresh ones. And if there are some things that require fresh ingredients (or you just have your heart set on it), you’ll have more money to get the best of the fresh if you go with frozen goods when and how you can.

Stick to Your List

Above all else, go to the store with a list and stick to it. As we’ve all learned the hard way, impulse buys add up quickly. And when it comes to shopping for a special day or holiday, it’s that much easier to overspend. So make a list that notes exactly how much you’ll need, and do your best to stick with it.

Keep it Simple

Oftentimes, less is more. This is true when you’re cooking in the kitchen as well. You can create an incredible spread with dazzling options without breaking the bank. First things first, look to your pantry for help.

Young woman and mother in white aprons stand at large brown wooden kitchen table and prepare tasty dinner.
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Chefs and cooking sites alike tend to agree, you should stick to recipes that use everyday ingredients. Therefore, you’ll already have a lot of what you need in the pantry. And while you might have the urge to make extravagant and decadent dishes, time is of the essence. Stick to the basics.

Whipping up a crowd-pleasing bowl of mashed potatoes will be cheaper and less time-consuming than cooking a six-layer sweet potato casserole. If you really want to go all out, pick one big dish that you have time to make extra special, but keep the rest simple, for your own sake.

Price Match Policies

There’s never been a better time to familiarize yourself with price match policies. So do your research first. Find out if any stores around you are willing to match advertised prices from competitors. You might be surprised by just how many are willing to do this. When someone says they offer price matching, this is the place to do the bulk of your Thanksgiving shopping, if possible.

But don’t forget to bring those coupons!

It’s All About Balance

To get the most out of what you spend, balance your side dishes and desserts as much as possible. For every labor-intensive dish you make, be sure you’re serving more bountiful amounts of the essentials(green beans, stuffing, and cranberry sauce). But go lighter on more expensive dishes requiring several ingredients.

family having a happy thanksgiving lunch
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Obviously, dessert is just as crucial to any Thanksgiving meal as the main dishes. Thankfully, things like pumpkin pie, chocolate mousse pies, sweet potato souffle, and Thanksgiving-themed cookies are always crowd-pleasers, and they’re inexpensive to bake.

You just need to buy your ingredients ASAP, and don’t overlook or underestimate the canned goods aisle.

Shop Early For Canned Goods

Frankly, you should be shopping early for whatever you can, but can goods are an easy and logical place to start.

 Grocery store shelf with cans of Libby's brand pumpkin puree. Ready for upcoming Thanksgiving
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Like with frozen foods, they’re typically cheaper all the way around. And when it comes to all those canned goods that nobody tends to buy until the Thanksgiving season. For example, you should buy canned cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie filling the week before Thanksgiving when sales are typically at their best.

Beverages

It’s time to get the most bang for your buck with beverages. If you’re incorporating alcohol into the mix, go to a wholesale liquor store and make the most out of those sales. But for the non-alcoholic Thanksgiving meals, consider serving coffee, tea, fruit-infused water, and cider, which are typically cheaper (and better for you) than serving soda. For the kids, Kool-Aid is always a cheap and kid-approved go-to.

DIY Decor

If you’re planning to host a Thanksgiving dinner, chances are, you’ll inevitably want to decorate as well. But control any urges to splurge on decor. It’s never necessary. Instead, try to make use of everyday items you already have lying around, and then go on a shopping spree at the dollar store.

One smart and stylish decor trick is to use drink glasses or mason jars as candle or flower holders (turn the glasses upside down for candles). You can also easily dress up a pitcher with a cloth napkin. Truthfully, as long as you’re including colors that feel like autumn, you don’t have to do very much to create the perfect atmosphere.

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll inevitably want to decorate. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to splurge on decor. Instead, make use of everyday items in your home or shop at the dollar store.  Consider using drinking glasses as candle holders (turn the glasses upside down), or dress up a pitcher with a simple cloth napkin. Also, go outside. There are plenty of things to do with all the red and orange leaves and acorns in your backyard.  Metallic pumpkins are another inexpensive decoration. Buy a few pumpkins at your local pumpkin patch, and spray them with metallic paint.
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Go outside to find inspiration and supplies. From the red and orange leaves to brown pine cones and acorns, there’s something in your backyard that could easily become DIY decoration, for free.

Also, if you’ve been on Etsy, you’ve already seen metallic pumpkins everywhere. These are a festive, yet inexpensive option as well. Buy a few from your local pumpkin patch and spray them with the paint of your choice to add a little pizazz to your pumpkin motif.

Split The Cost

What’s most important during Thanksgiving is the quality time we get with loved ones. Whether you’re having a traditional Thanksgiving feast with family or a “Friendsgiving,” consider making it a potluck this year.

Even if you’re throwing a more traditional Thanksgiving, asking friends and family to bring a dish is a fun and festive way to mix things up. And if you’re the host, chances are those who are coming will be happy to relieve you of some of the meal’s financial burden and work.

Group of young friends having traditional dinner on Thanksgiving Day
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To make it fun for everyone and organized, consider asking your guests to bring a type of dish, rather than a specific dish. For instance, you could suggest that some people bring appetizers, while others can contribute a side dish, dessert, or maybe extra napkins. And obviously, if someone coming makes a world-class berry cobbler, there’s no shame in asking them to bring it. Chances are, they’ll be flattered.

Splitting the cost at Thanksgiving is a wonderful way to bring down the big feast budget while sharing the fruits of your labor with loved ones. You’ll be able to put a little less energy (and money) into preparing every dish and put way more into relaxing, togetherness, and going back for seconds, maybe even thirds if you can.

Now that’s something to be thankful for.

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