11 Ways to Save on Thanksgiving Dinner

Thankgiving dinner savings

11 Ways to Save on Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is a time for making joyous memories with family and friends, but it can also be a difficult time of year for keeping finances under control. With smart planning, you can celebrate Thanksgiving without breaking the bank. Here are 11 ways to save on Thanksgiving dinner.

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1 | Keep the menu simple and economical

While it can be tempting to pull out all the works for a fine Thanksgiving feast, keeping your menu simple will help you cut down on the cost.

  • Opt for turkey or chicken or fish versus more expensive meats like prime rib or veal.

  • Limit the number of side dishes you make. You don’t need to cook every traditional Thanksgiving side dish.

  • Choose dishes with ingredients that are available and on sale. Some ingredients will be cheaper than others, making a big difference to your overall cost.

  • Ask guests to bring side dishes or dessert to share.

  • Modify dishes to remove unnecessary ingredients such as extra garnishes. I often skip buying cilantro or parsley if it’s only used as a garnish in a dish.


2 | Keep track of your guest count

It’s easier to know how much to buy and make when you know how many people are coming to dinner. It can be tempting to make more than you need, especially if you’re guessing at who’s coming. Unfortunately, that means a lot of food may go to waste.

This has happened at a family gathering of mine before. My mother helped host an event for a relative complete with catered food. Only a few people showed up and they were left with lots of food that no one wanted to bring home for various reasons (e.g., traveling, already had a full fridge, didn’t want it). A lot of the food went to waste.

Keep your guest count reasonable, whatever that number is to you, and track who is coming. This way you can buy the appropriate amount of food for dinner.


3 | Serve basic appetizers

Basic appetizers can be both delicious and cost-effective. They can also save you time on cooking so you can focus your efforts on the main dishes. Instead of serving smoked salmon with cheese on crostini, steak tartar, or anything of that ilk, try appetizers like a variety of cheeses with crackers or bread to get your guests started. Your guests likely won’t munch too much on the appetizers knowing that they have a full dinner ahead of them.


4 | Cook non-traditional dishes

While the traditional Thanksgiving dinner can be made relatively economically, sometimes you can do even better by cooking entirely different foods. My family doesn’t eat much turkey, so it doesn’t make sense for us to buy and cook one for dinner. It will end up being part of leftover meals or go to waste if there’s just too much of it. Instead, we cook what we like to eat.

We used to have sticky rice available at every Thanksgiving when I was growing up. In a recent year, my family chose to have only a small salad available because we knew everyone preferred the other dishes. Your guests will think you’re a great host for cooking what they like to eat, even if it’s not standard Thanksgiving fare.

5 | Make use of what you already have

Look at your pantry or fridge to know what you already have available to you. You may already have a lot of the ingredients you need sitting right in your pantry.  I usually have almond slivers and nuts available to use with any dish I cook. I also keep a lot of baking products in my cabinets so I’m ready to make muffins or similar baked goods.

While looking up Thanksgiving desserts the other day, I debated whether or not to cook a decadent chocolate cake or apple crumble. The cake recipe looked long with lots of ingredients I’d have to go out and buy. I had all the ingredients for the apple crumble, except the apples, which I got on sale at the grocery store. It was such an easy way to make dessert.


6 | Shop with a plan

Once you decide on what to make for dinner, make a list of the ingredients you need to buy. This way you walk into a store knowing exactly what you need. You avoid buying things you don’t need or too much of any one thing.  

When it comes to frugal cooking, I like to substitute expensive or brand name items for generic brands if it doesn’t hamper the taste. I buy Trader Joe’s brand yogurt instead of FAGE yogurt when making dips and dressings. I might use green onions when a recipe calls for chives. I also shop at cheaper stores like Trader Joe’s or ethnic food markets rather than Whole Foods or similar high-end grocery stores.

7 | Look for deals

Some supermarkets have sales that offer turkeys and other Thanksgiving foods at deep discounts. Keep an eye on your supermarket circulars and online ads in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Some supermarkets like Whole Foods typically cost more than other stores. (They don’t call it “whole paycheck” for nothing.) But it really depends on what you’re buying. You may find seasonal items on sale that make it worth your visit. It pays to do some comparison shopping before you head to the stores.

When it comes to expensive ingredients such as spices, I look for alternative ways to purchase them. I will sometimes buy spices from the bulk containers or when they go on sale. Sometimes I substitute or remove spices that don’t make much difference to the taste of a dish.

8 | Use cash back shopping apps

Apps like Ibotta help you to save money on your grocery purchases. These apps give you cash back for your purchases of certain products. Once you are logged into the app, look for items that you would buy and unlock them. Then go to the store and purchase the items. You scan the items’ barcodes and a copy of your receipt into the app and wait for your cash back. What an easy way to save money while you shop! It’s like couponing but without the hassle of cutting them.


9 | Consider pre-made foods

I know some people consider it sacrilegious to serve pre-made food at Thanksgiving dinner. I think pre-made foods can be a great option for those who don’t want to spend their time cooking and can be just as tasty as homemade food. Lots of grocery stores and restaurants have stepped up their game in recent years to make pre-cooked traditional Thanksgiving foods available for purchase. All you have to do is reheat it. 

Pre-made foods may not be the most cost-effective option, but it can be a good value depending on what you buy and where you but it. There’s also the added benefit of saving time and effort getting dinner onto the table.

10 | Cut back on alcohol

Alcoholic drinks can consume a large portion of your dinner budget. If your family and friends enjoy drinks with dinner, try offering an option or two of wine, beer, and even a cocktail. You don’t have to provide a full bar. Your friends and family can help by bringing some of the drinks as they would bring a dish to a potluck. They may even be open to a non-alcoholic dinner served with sparkling drinks or apple cider.  


11 | Simplify decorations

Holiday décor adds so much for getting into the spirit of the holidays, but you don’t have to spend a lot to decorate your home. Try using free items such as pinecones, flowers, and leaves from the outdoors. Did your children make Thanksgiving themed artwork at school? Put it on display!

If you have to purchase decorations, you can create beautiful displays using items from discount stores such as TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Then you can reuse the items on other holidays or at your next Thanksgiving get-together. Your guests likely love you and your food more than any décor, so focus your spending on the things that matter most.

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With some careful planning, you can enjoy Thanksgiving without spending more than you expected. No need to throw your budget out the window in order to host a great dinner. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!