How to Save Money While Preparing Your Thanksgiving Meal

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Thanksgiving has often been called one of the most important meals of the year. For many families, it’s a time when the entire extended family gets together and is a great time to catch up.

Although there is a temptation to pull out all the stops for this meal, keep in mind that you can have a delicious Thanksgiving banquet, and still remain within a reasonable budget. Here are a few tips that will help you this holiday:

Stock Up Now. We all know that last minute shopping is always more expensive. If you follow the herd out to the grocery stores in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you’re virtually setting yourself up to pay more for everything. Important items begin to run out at the last minute, forcing you to go to multiple stores, often paying higher prices and wasting gas.

Start a list of what you’ll be preparing for Thanksgiving and keep an eye out for sales. Many of the items you’ll need will go on sale in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and are shelf stable in your pantry.

Check Your Pantry Carefully Before Buying Anything. You won’t be starting your Thanksgiving shopping from scratch. You probably have plenty of items in stock in your own pantry, some probably left over from last year! There are food items that are very specific to Thanksgiving (like stuffing!) so take stock.

Go through your pantry thoroughly, see what you have that will fill the need for Thanksgiving, and reduce your shopping list accordingly. This can be especially important in regard to small but high-priced items, such as spices. Not needing to buy those could cut your Thanksgiving grocery bill substantially.

Buy a Frozen Turkey. Frozen turkeys can cost anywhere from 30% to 50% less than fresh turkeys. This could represent a substantial savings if you need to purchase a large bird for a large gathering in your home.

If you’re hesitant to buy frozen, consider this — many of the “fresh” turkeys available at the supermarket were frozen during shipping. So that fresh turkey may be thawed in the display case, but it was frozen at one point. Why not buy it frozen and let it thaw in your own fridge at a discount?

You can thaw it in the fridge over a longer period of time or in cold water. When thawing in the fridge, keep it wrapped and leave it breast side up for at least 1 day for every 4 pounds. If you’re in a rush, you can thaw it in cold water too. Submerge the turkey, while sealed, breast side down in cold water, changing it every 30 minutes. It’ll take 30 minutes per pound.

Take Advantage of Promotions. If you’re lucky, your local grocery store might run a promotion where they give you a free turkey if you spend a minimum amount.

They’re not as common as in the past, but there are grocery stores that offer free turkeys if you purchase $100 worth of groceries. Sometimes the purchase was as low as $60.

This is another important reason to start your Thanksgiving shopping early. That will give you an opportunity to locate stores in your area that offer such a deal. After all, you’re going to spend that kind of money on groceries anyway, why not get a free turkey too?

Go Light on the Appetizers. This will be one of the biggest meals you’ll eat all year and I’ve never heard of someone say they didn’t eat enough at Thanksgiving. Unless you are having your dinner guests over several hours before the main meal, skip appetizers or go extremely light.

There’s a temptation to have a “complete” banquet, with an approximation of passed h’ors d’ourves, and the appeal of a nicely arranged tray of spinach quiches. Preparing appetizers, either from scratch or from a box, takes a lot of time or can be costly – all with minimum benefit to your guests. You’ll have plenty of food, skipping or going light on appetizers can save you a lot of money and headache.

What are light appetizers? Maybe put out a plate of cheese and meats or a vegetable tray and leave it at that. Or, better yet, do nothing.

Do a Soft Potluck. Hosting Thanksgiving dinner in your home doesn’t necessarily put you on the hook for everything. You can ask your guests to bring either a side dish or a dessert while you provide the bulk of the meal. Some may be delighted at your request, since it will give them an opportunity to bring their own favorite dish to the dinner table.

Don’t feel bad about this – it’s known as a soft potluck. Most people inherently understand that hosting and preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a very expensive undertaking. In fact, they may be overjoyed that you’re doing it in your house, and that it’s not happening at theirs. And bringing a dish to your house gives them an opportunity to “cook for the holidays”, but on a very limited basis.

Hold the Adult Beverages, or Go BYOB. If your budget is really stretched, you have two choices – don’t provide any adult beverages at all or invite your guests to bring their own bottle. Alcohol is expensive and can be a budget buster on top of all of the other expenses that go with preparing a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner.

There are two other considerations here that will work in your favor, particularly if you’re having a large gathering. People often have their own very specific preferences when it comes to liquor, and asking them to bring their own would guarantee that they’ll have the drink that they like best.

Alcohol consumption tends to be very uneven. Some people like to drink a lot, others not at all. BYOB will even that out and avoid you having to pay buy more alcohol than you need.

Follow these Thanksgiving meal preparation tips and you can still have magnificent holiday celebration without spending nearly as much money.

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