Expert Money-Saving Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner

Savings expert Jeanette Pavini talks about ways to save up to 40 percent on your holiday meal
Expert Money-Saving Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner

Take advantage of sales, coupons, and rain checks to save big on Thanksgiving dinner this year.

If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner, you know that buying a turkey and all of the ingredients necessary to make everyone’s favorite side dish can get expensive. Add a few premade appetizers and a couple of nice bottles of wine and your bill for one dinner can easily rival that of an entire week’s groceries. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to save on Thanksgiving dinner without sacrificing taste or tradition.

We talked to savings expert Jeanette Pavini (who has written more than 10,000 articles chock-full of money-saving tips) about ways to save money this holiday season.

What are the most expensive items on the Thanksgiving table and how can you save money on them?
There are two things on the Thanksgiving dinner table that are major expenses; one is the turkey and one is the wine.

When it comes to turkey, people feel like they have to buy enough to send everyone home with leftovers but, in reality, you just need enough for dinner. I recommend using an online meat calculator; it will tell you exactly how much you need to get. And, if you’re having a small group for Thanksgiving, you don’t have to roast an entire turkey; just cook a turkey breast — it will save you a lot of money.

There are some great, inexpensive wines. California wines are going to be more expensive this year because of the draught so look for wines from South America instead. Or, buy less expensive bottles of wine and pour them into a decanter.

What should someone that’s cooking on a budget include on his or her shopping list?
There are a few things that are standard, like turkey, gravy, and stuffing, so you should include those things (but watch the circulars and stock up on those items when they’re on sale). Budget shoppers should also throw in a few extra vegetable side dishes. You can get great deals on vegetables and they can be prepared in a number of ways. Stock up on sale items and get creative; if your store has a great sale on potatoes, for example, you could make mashed potatoes, but you could also make a potato gratin or twice-baked potatoes.

Are there any items that are worth the splurge?
Every family has at least one item that’s part of a family tradition (in my family it’s the green Jell-O dish with walnuts and cream cheese — grandma made it and we grew up with it). Even if the ingredients for that dish were expensive, we’d still buy them. If there’s a special family tradition, it’s likely worth whatever amount of money you’ll need to spend on it.

What are your top three money-saving tips when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner?
1. Build your menu around what’s on sale and find coupons to go along with it. As an example, my store had a sale on turkey; it was regularly $32 but on sale for $15. Then, I went to and found a coupon for another three dollars off. I saved $20 on the turkey; that’s a significant savings. also has coupon codes for both food and wine and coupons that can be sent directly to your store loyalty card (no more forgetting to bring your coupons!).

2. Check to see if your store will price match. Many stores will match their competitor’s price if you show them the advertisement.

3. If something that you need for your Thanksgiving dinner is on a great sale and your store is out of stock, ask for a rain check. Then, you can come back later and get the item for the same great price.

Anything else we should know about cooking Thanksgiving dinner on a budget?
It’s so doable. The amount of money that you spend on Thanksgiving dinner is up to you; there are a lot of ways to bring the cost down. If you take a half an hour to look at store circulars, find coupons, and plan a menu, you can save 30 to 40 percent on your grocery bill. Everyone is so busy during the holidays but if you think about your hourly wage and the amount of money you can save, you’ll likely find it’s worth your time.

Jeanette Pavini is an award-winning savings expert who has contributed to the blog, The Wall Street Journal, and Market Watch. Her 30-minute Emmy-nominated show, The Daily Real, ran for 10 years on CBS and NBC and has received eight Press Club Awards for Best Program. Jeanette has also been featured as a guest on the TODAY Show and Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family Show.


Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.