Hosting Thanksgiving dinner, even for a small group, can be a nerve-wracking experience. And if you're on a tight budget, all of this stress can be amplified by the sticker shock. Thankfully, there are some easy ways to save money and stay on budget while doing your Turkey Day grocery shopping.
Thanksgiving is all about showing love and appreciation for your loved ones, so it’s easy to go overboard with extra additions and trimmings. But having one less variety of pie doesn’t mean you love your friends and family less. Set aside a specific amount of money and stick to it. You can cut back on dishes or ask your Thanksgiving attendees to pitch in. And don’t feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses or recreate the lavish spread in a magazine. The average American Thanksgiving meal for 10 costs $48.90, or less than $5.00 per person, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Give yourself at least a week to plan your menu. Figure out how much food you’re going to need to feed the number of people attending and whether they have any food allergies, dietary restrictions or strong preferences. Planning the menu with guests’ palates and preferences in mind will help you avoid eating time and money. Coordinate with your guests about bringing dishes of their own, and give yourself plenty of time to shop and prepare any Thanksgiving dishes in advance. This way, you'll be able to only buy precisely what you need.
For every pricey side dish you serve, make sure you have one or two more inexpensive options. Cranberry sauce, roasted squash, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes and gravy are classics that all come in around $1 or less per serving. These dishes can also be filling, so guests will eat smaller portions of pricier dishes like pecan pie.
In November, many supermarkets offer free or heavily discounted turkeys ahead of the holiday as a way to lure in customers to buy the rest of their Thanksgiving fixings at their stores. Some stores offer free birds with a minimum purchase amount or in tandem with certain items, but don’t overspend or buy things you don’t need. Hy-Vee stores offer a free turkey if you buy a ham, which you can easily freeze for Christmas. The average price for holiday turkey is $1.36 per pound, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, but you shouldn’t be paying full price as many stores offer sale rates as low as 39 cents a pound.
If you’re looking to save money, a good rule of thumb is that preparing something from scratch will generally be less expensive than buying it pre-made. For example, prepared mashed potatoes at Central Market cost $5.49 per pound, while potatoes cost 88 cents per pound. Side dishes at the deli counter are always significantly marked up, and even frozen pies can cost more than the raw materials.
Find the best bargains in town before leaving your house to go shopping. Scan the circulars and newspapers for coupons and the best prices. But don’t stop there. Check out your local supermarkets’ websites, social media and apps to compare deals and digital coupons. Then come up with a game plan of what you plan to purchase at each store.
Although you’ve planned all your recipes and shopping list in advance, don’t be afraid to make some on-the-fly changes, especially when it comes to prices. If you’re shopping and find a better deal, can’t find an ingredient you need or a certain kind of produce doesn’t look appealing, you might be forced to do without an ingredient or ditch a certain dish in favor of a replacement.
General wisdom is that you should allot about one and a half to two pounds of turkey per guest. If you calculate that you need more than one turkey’s worth, you don’t have to buy another whole bird. Instead, just buy an extra turkey breast. This trick also works if you’re only cooking for a few people. Buying just a turkey breast for an intimate group will save you time, effort and money.
The last thing you want to be doing in the middle of a crowded supermarket is trying to crosscheck recipes and shopping lists or digging through your cart to make sure you already grabbed sage. It’s also an awful feeling when you get home and realize you’ve either forgotten an item or bought multiple of something. Buying repeats and making extra trips will cost you more, so as you put something into your cart, make sure to check it off your list.
At Thanksgiving, the food is the star of the show, so there’s no need to splurge on expensive wine to impress your guests. Any wine you serve needs to be light and complement a wide variety of foods, and you can easily find quality light-bodied reds and sharp whites in the $10-$30 range.
While it’s fun to put modern, gourmet spins on classic recipes, oftentimes for Thanksgiving, Americans just want the classics they grew up with. So while you might want to dazzle guests with truffle mac ‘n’ cheese or pancetta Brussels sprouts, you might not need to splurge on pricier ingredients to impress.
It’s tempting to go to a craft or decorating store and drop money on fake foliage and cornucopias to make a charming Thanksgiving tablescape. But you can often find much more affordable decor at dollar stores or discount stores like T.J. Maxx. And the most cost-effective strategy might be to decorate using colorful seasonal fruits and vegetables from the grocery store. Bowls of apples and squash can make a great centerpiece that you can later use instead of letting it collect dust in the closet.
A couple meals worth of leftovers or extra slices of pie can be enjoyable, but if you go way overboard with the amount of food you make, you could end up wasting lots of food and money. You most likely don’t need to make that second batch of cornbread or stuffing unless you’re feeding an especially large, especially hungry group. Food Network recommends making 3/4 cup cooked stuffing, 1 potato worth of mashed potatoes and 1/4 pound of vegetable sides per adult.
Another way to save money is to buy the generic or store brands when possible for staple ingredients like milk, spices, sugar, condiments and canned vegetables. Your guests won’t know the difference. Another great way to cut down on your Turkey Day stress is to prepare these Thanksgiving dishes in advance and freeze them.
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