Thanksgiving on a Budget

The holidays sort of seem like the worst time to start a budget. The cost of everything ticks up, food, giving,'s hard to keep that shit in check.

Today, I'm going to share with you how I keep my Thanksgiving food costs under control.

We usually have about 12 people over for dinner. 8-9 adults and a few kids. I will admit, I don't have special dietary concerns to contend with. With the exception of 1 vegetarian (and I just make a small dish of stuffing without sausage for him and he eats the rest of the sides) I don't have to deal with Gluten Free, Wheat or Nut allergies or anything of that sort. Just a bunch of picky kids. So I do have a leg up there. I also get a free turkey from my day job every year. So that saves me about $10.00 off the top. But I will take into account that most of you do not have that luxury.

Tip #1 - When people offer to bring something, LET THEM. There is no Martha Stewart law that you must purchase, prepare and serve every side dish known to man for your crowd. If your mother in law wants to bring a salad, the answer is "yes please, that would be lovely." Your sister wants to help, but is not a great cook and everyone knows it? "Hey sis, would you mind picking up a pumpkin pie from the bakery for me? That would be great!" Not everything has to be homemade, by you, to have a wonderful holiday dinner. Remember, the point of the day is to give thanks for family, friends, and the availability of food. No one cares that you bought precooked mashed potatoes in a bag from Gordon's Food Service for $4.00 and tossed them in the crockpot. (Best idea I've ever had really.) They are delicious and saved you peeling, boiling and mashing.

Tip #2 - Write out your menu. This is key to keeping yourself on budget and on track. I usually print this out in October so I can start stock piling the dry goods and spread out the cost, plus land sales and coupons (see below.) Decide what you're going to serve, write out all of the ingredients for each recipe, and total up duplicate items (butter, eggs, etc) so you'll know what you need in total. You don't want to start making stuff Thanksgiving day and figure out you're two eggs short. This will blow your budget to hell, because the only places open on Thanksgiving are gas stations and everything costs four times as much. Write it out. Have a plan.

I've posted my own menu and shopping list to show you how we do it. I've included everything for you, but a lot of the staples we'll already have on hand anyway. (Eggs, Butter, Macaroni, stuff like that.) But I will total it up as if we are buying all of it over the month leading up to Thanksgiving.

Tip #2 - Shop sales and use coupons. There is no shortage of sales this time of year. Gather your ads and make a plan of attack. You may need to go to three different stores to get the best pricing on everything, but when you're $50 less poor at the end of the day, it will be worth it. For instance, when I put that I saved $10.00 by getting a free turkey from work, many of you probably scoffed at the low price tag. Well, this week at our local Meijer, turkeys are .59/lb. For a 17 lb bird, that's $10.03. And average serving guidelines say you should estimate 1 lb of uncooked turkey per person, so that will feed 12 of guests and leave plenty for Thanksgiving tacos the next day.

Coupons can be found online, through your local store loyalty cards, and of course in Sunday papers. If you are already a budget economist, you probably already work these methods, and additionally may make use of the handy rebates sites such  as Ibotta and Checkout 51. These are great sites that give you cash rebates on stuff you buy at the grocery store. Just be careful not to fall into a trap where you are buying things that you don't want or need just to get a rebate. That's not actually saving you any money.

Tip #3 - Don't be brand loyal. Nowadays I don't know that anyone turns their nose up at generic brands any more. But just in case, it's a good thing to throw in here. For some stuff, it's understandable. You always have Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. Fine, it's a difference of .50, it's not going to kill your budget. But if you insist on Green Giant Frozen Green Beans, Aunt Millies Dinner Rolls, French's Fried Onions and Pepperidge Farm Bread Crumbs (don't look at my list, lol.) you're going to spend more than you need to for things no one will even notice. Anything that is being combined with a bunch of other ingredients to make something completely new, the brand is not going to make a difference. It's dried bread, Kroger/Meijer/Aldi is going to taste exactly the same when you put sausage, celery and chicken stock into it. Look at the prices, compare the cost of store brand with the cost of name brand (plus coupon and rebates) and buy the best value.

With these three things, I guarantee you can have a low cost, delicious, family friendly meal this year. And if you let your mother in law bring something, she will gush about how wonderful you are. I don't know why, but mother in laws live to bring a dish to pass at holiday functions. Seriously. Try it this year. You'll knock her socks off.

Total cost estimate to feed 12 this Thanksgiving

Turkey 17lb  $10.00
Stuffing - Breadcrumbs, Celery, Chicken Stock, Sausage $8.00
Mashed Potatoes - $4.00
Gravy - (Make your own for free or buy jarred for $5.00)
Sweet Potato Casserole - Potatoes, brown sugar, butter $7.00 (Or delegate $0)
Green Bean Casserole - Frozen Green Beans, Fried Onion, Cream of Soup $5.00 (Or delegate $0)
Cranberry Chutney - $4.00
Macaroni and Cheese - $4.00 (Or delegate $0)
Corn Casserole - $3.00
Dinner Rolls - $4.00 (Or delegate $0)
Pies - Pumpkin and Apple or Pecan $10.00 frozen (Or delegate $0)

So, if you could delegate the marked items, make your own gravy and stick with sales and coupons, you could feed a family of 12 for around $30.00. That's pretty good.

But let's say you don't ask anyone to bring anything. Your grand total would be around $64.00. Not awful, but not ideal.

Think about how much more that would be if you were paying full price for everything. Add to that scrambling around picking up items here or there because you don't have a list or a plan. Laying everything out on the table and realizing you completely forgot to make a staple item.

Make a plan. Work your plan. Save your sanity and your wallet.
It really is that easy.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday. Let me know your tips and tricks for holiday savings. I'll be posting tip blogs throughout the season to help everyone save on their expenses. I think there is even a giveaway coming up in December. So stop by often.



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