How to Have a Frugal Thanksgiving: Save on the Year’s Biggest Meal

frugal thanksgiving cornucopia

By the time the weather changes and Thanksgiving rolls around, if you’re like many Americans, you’ve got a long list of bills ahead of you for everything from presents to holiday trips to hosting large family gatherings. Given all of this, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner can make hosting a daunting task—especially if you are working with an already tight budget.

According to the Farm Bureau, the cost for feeding 10 people a traditional Thanksgiving meal inched up last year to $48.91. This covers just the basics, and as you may have discovered in years past, the cost can easily balloon much higher. As you wander through the grocery store filling up your shopping cart and crossing the traditional ingredients off your list, it might not feel like a low-cost meal.

So how do you have a frugal thanksgiving without breaking the bank? Here are a few tips to help.

1. Share the Burden

Many guests are willing and able to help make Thanksgiving happen. Rather than asking for everyone to pitch in money to cover the meal cost, a better approach is to invite guests to bring the side dishes. This will not only save you a significant amount of money, but it will share the burden of trying to cook a wide variety of dishes all in one morning.

2. Make It From Scratch

A little flour and water are much cheaper than a package of fancy dinner rolls. Same goes for nearly every other side. Where possible, choose to skip the pre-packaged and pre-assembled dishes at the grocery store, and make it from scratch—a couple carrots, celery sticks, and a package of grape tomatoes instead of a store-bought veggie platter; a can of pumpkin and some crushed graham crackers instead of a pre-made pie. All of these choices can help you have a much more frugal thanksgiving.

3. Look for Deals

Many grocery stores offer deals on turkeys and other Thanksgiving items throughout the month of November. Start early, and pay attention to grocery store ads you see in the mail or at the store. Some stores will even offer a free turkey when you spend enough or accrue enough rewards points throughout the month. Just be sure you’re only buying food you would have purchased anyway to earn that free turkey, so it doesn’t end up costing you more in the long run.

4. Smaller Portions for Specialty Sides

Are there some dishes only a few guests will enjoy? Maybe in your family it’s the green bean casserole or the sweet potatoes. Whatever it is, make just a half recipe. That way you can still fill the table and please everyone, but with fewer ingredients required.

5. Fewer Duplicate Dishes

Thanksgiving features a wide variety of dishes, many of which are redundant. No need for mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and scalloped potatoes. Just pick one or two foods in each major food group, and stick with that. Same goes for dessert. If pumpkin pie and chocolate pie are enough to give everyone something they will like, skip the other six varieties you were planning.

6. Eat All the Leftovers

With a little planning, a Thanksgiving meal can feed a crowd for days to come. Pile your leftover ham onto rolls and serve sandwiches the next day. Or boil your turkey carcass with leftover celery and carrots to make a delicious soup broth for later use. Making sure all food gets eaten is one of the easiest ways to stretch your Thanksgiving budget and ensure your money is well spent.

Enjoy the Day

Finally, after following all of these tips, give yourself some credit for putting together a memorable, frugal Thanksgiving. Even if you splurged on one or two items, you’ll be surprised at how much you saved overall on your Thanksgiving meal, just by following a few simple tips.