Thanksgiving on a Budget: Save Money with These 10 Tips

Thanksgiving on a Budget: Save Money with These 10 Tips
Written by Irina Vasilescu

Held every fourth Thursday of November in the US, Thanksgiving signals the start of the holiday season. Before Thanksgiving, shopping must be done to prepare for the family dinner.

The next day, retailers offer great price slash-offs in a shopping holiday called Black Friday. There’s also Cyber Monday, Christmas, New Year and a flurry of activities in between. But before getting ahead of ourselves, let us focus first on one of the most important aspects of the holiday celebration which is Thanksgiving dinner.

This is where tradition and family togetherness meet, while the purpose of the holiday is to give thanks for the blessings of the harvest from the preceding year.

Thanksgiving is due in just a few days, so what are you doing to prepare for the event? It can be an especially tedious preparation if you are serving as host for the family Thanksgiving dinner.

Aside from the menu, another thing that you should think about is the cost of the preparations itself. If you don’t buy the turkey in advance, you might get one at a very high price because of the demand – and the quality may not be that good. You also have to spend for other parts of the menu, as well as the decoration.

Here, we will dish out tips on how to host Thanksgiving on a budget.

Save Money on Thanksgiving with These Tips

You don’t want to scrimp on traditional dishes during your Thanksgiving dinner, but you don’t want to spend a lot, either. Here are a few tips on how you can save money during the holiday:

Work with a Set Budget

One of the biggest mistakes that people make in the holiday season is overspending. With all the costs associated with the celebration – starting from the outfit that you’ll wear to parties to the dishes that you will bring to potluck dinners – it is very easy to fall into the debt trap.

When you give into the temptation of charging everything to your credit card, you should expect still paying for your holiday debts until the middle of next year. To prevent this from happening, you can just work with a set budget.

Let’s take Christmas as an example. Go through the list of the people whom you wish to give holiday presents to and set a budget limit for each gift. This way, you won’t hurt anybody’s feelings and still have some money left.

When it comes to Thanksgiving, decide how much you can spend on food, drinks, entertainment, activities, and decorations. With this budget in mind work around the details of your Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving on a Budget: Save Money with These 10 Tips

Keep Down the Turkey-Related Costs

Heritage, organically-fed or high-quality turkeys may be required by the discriminating palate, but these will cost you more than $10 a pound – not to mention the high shipping costs.

Opt for a supermarket turkey, and you only need to spend around $2 per pound. If you know how to brine, marinate or do other things with the turkey, even the cheapest variant will allow you to extract the most flavor from the meat.

Save Money on Other Ingredients for Thanksgiving Dinner

After getting the turkey what comes next? The side dishes and all-time favorites, or your family specialty dishes. How can you save money on all the other ingredients? Just keep in mind to plan your meals around whatever’s in the season.

Forget about fresh artichokes and asparagus – these veggies are not in season. Unless you prefer the canned version, do not plan dishes with ingredients which are out of season.

Think of recipes using in-season fruits and veggies that you can get cheap and fresh. For instance, Brussels sprouts flourish during the latter part of November so that you can get them from local farmers’ markets in massive quantities at low, low prices. Fresh herbs are available almost year-round, along with pumpkin and similar in-season fruits and vegetable.

It’s Cheaper to Make a Dish from Scratch 

What are you planning to serve for dessert? A single round pecan pie can go anywhere from $50 and up at a local bakery. But if you bake the pie yourself, the ingredients will only cost you $7 to $15. The only exception is if a particular bakery makes amazing pies.

As for the convenience of buying loaves of bread from the supermarket, remember that they are loaded with preservatives, so it will be way better for you and your budget to stick with the homemade variant.

Aside from bread, pies, and pastries, you can also save by making your own pie crust, gravy and cranberry sauce.

Canned or Frozen?

If you really need a particular ingredient which is, unfortunately, out-of-season, the good news is you can find it canned. The US Department of Agriculture has an online guide which lists the names of vegetables that are best consumed canned or frozen.

Artichokes, for example, are fine when bought canned or frozen. Asparagus is a more expensive veggie because of the tedious process of harvesting and preparation – all done by hand. You can buy green asparagus in canned of frozen variants, while white asparagus is available in canned options.

You can purchase broccoli frozen while mushrooms are almost always canned. Of course, these veggies are available fresh – but only during the months when they are in season.

Don’t Follow Recipes to the Letter

Nobody will notice if you did not put two herbs in that meat-based recipe, or if you substituted canned stock with water. The only thing that matters is the taste, so cut corners wherever you can.

Have a Money-Saving Potluck Thanksgiving Dinner

If you are spending Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends, there is absolutely nothing wrong in asking for help. Your mom, aunt, sister, neighbor or colleague at work would be more than happy to bring in one or two dishes.

Save Money on Decorations

Thanksgiving on a Budget: Save Money with These 10 Tips

After planning the food and drinks that you are going to serve, what about the decorations? You can liven up the look of the interior and exterior of your home with a lot of seasonal and natural decor. If you have a fireplace, light it up and make sure to place a tea or coffee container on the side, along with some cookies for the guests to enjoy.

Candles are a no-frills ornamental idea for the holidays. Go outside and gather a handful of autumn leaves, which you can pile at the bottom of the candles. If you want to take a safer route, use battery-operated candles.

If you still have carved pumpkin left over from the holiday season, reuse them for your Thanksgiving dinner decoration. Using the un-carved back of the pumpkin, you can stack them vertically or in a group to create a seasonal topiary. Use pinecones, autumn leaves and similar natural decorations. You can also create a handmade “Happy Thanksgiving” sign.

To make the dinner area smell amazing, gather birch logs, pine cones, and twigs and place them in a basket. Add a few drops of vanilla, cinnamon or other scented oil onto the mixture for an added touch.

If you have kids, you can all work on a project together for a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner table centerpiece. Use mini-pumpkins, nuts, gourds, glittery ribbons, candles, and similar items, scatter them around the table or place them in a woven basket at the center of the table.

Rent or Borrow, Instead of Buying Equipment and Supplies

Big family dinners are best served on chafing dishes. But since they are only used once a year, it will be cheaper not to invest, and simply rent them. If you need extra tables, chairs and fancy cutleries or plates, you can rent them as well. If you have a neighbor or a relative who is not hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, ask if you can borrow some items as well.

Save Money on After-Thanksgiving Expenses

Again, the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday. Check out the store discount offers in advance and how much the prices will drop. If your goal in going shopping for Black Friday is to complete your holiday gift list, stick to the budget start hitting the stores. 

By following these tips, you can celebrate the joys of Thanksgiving without having to burn a hole in your pocket.

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Thanksgiving Holiday on a Budget

About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our crafty designer. She joined the team three years ago and is also involved in the writing process.


  • We’re going to be conducting a semi-potluck this year. My partner and I will be preparing the turkey and a large amount of mashed potatoes and having our guests bring a dish each. Ultimately it means a savings in the grocery bill, but also just in the sheer amount of time it’d take us to feed that many guests.

    “Crowd-sourcing” for the Thanksgiving holidays really works out well haha.

    • That’s a smart idea. It makes sense for the hosts to take care of the main things, and then rely upon guests to fill in the remaining food gaps. It’s a great way to spread the cost around but also the time and energy commitment required to prepare those foods. Otherwise, you’re running around like a mad man/mad woman in a kitchen all day, and that’s no good.

  • On the other hand, you could always go for less conventional Thanksgiving foods. You don’t always need a turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. You could just as easily go for different cuisine options and still celebrate the spirit of this holiday. If you don’t have money for a huge feast, then even a smaller dinner with family can be enjoyable enough.

  • Potlucks are always both a time saver and a money saver, so I can’t recommend them enough when having a get-together like Thanksgiving dinners, but I think the most relevant tip really is to not go overboard on your decorations. That time of the year has a lot of holidays that come one after another. It’s best to pick what holiday you’d like to decorate for the most and stick to that.

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