How to plan Thanksgiving dinner on a budget

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Thanksgiving meal

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Personally, I think we could all use more than one day a year that’s set aside to spend time with our families and to be thankful for the many blessings in our lives.

However, for some, the prospect of cooking a feast for the entire family may feel daunting. Not only do you have to be conscious of food safety, feeding so many people, but you also have to consider the cost.

Fortunately, you can try these tips to keep up with family traditions and stay within your budget.

Thanksgiving budget

Decide how much you can afford to spend before you even go shopping and plan your menu accordingly. Getting a headcount of your guests in advance will help you determine how much food you’ll need, so you don’t overspend purchasing more food than necessary. Likewise, knowing how much you can afford to buy will give you a better idea of how many guests you can comfortably invite.

Making your menu budget-friendly

Once you have an idea of your budget and how much food you’ll need, try to make cost-efficient menu selections where you can.

  • Seasonal foods and sales. Working foods into your menu that are seasonal or on sale can help you stretch your budget.
  • Meatless side dishes. Meatless dishes are also another good option for budget-friendly menus, as they are often cheaper and healthier.
  • Keep recipes simple. You might also consider choosing simpler recipes, classic recipes as opposed to more complicated and time-consuming recipes with more ingredients.
  • Don’t overdo the desserts. Keep in mind, that your guests have just eaten their biggest meal of the year and may not be in the mood for a ton of dessert. That’s probably the biggest thing that gets wasted in my house. A standard pie serves eight people. Stick to one serving per person when you’re planning how many pies to make or buy.
  • Buy the right size turkey. You only need about one pound of turkey for every adult. There’s no reason to cook a 20-pound bird for 10 people.
  • Skip fancy appetizers. I don’t think we’ve ever had more than a relish tray at our family Thanksgiving, and that’s totally fine with me, as it would be for most of your guests I’m sure. Thanksgiving is a huge meal as it is. If you need to cut costs appetizers are one place to start.

The basic principles to stick to when planning your menu are simplify and don’t overdo it. Plan for only the amount of food you’ll actually need and stick to classic recipes to save some money.

Make a Thanksgiving grocery list

Shopping with a grocery list will help keep you focused and reduce impulse purchases. You should plan your list inline with your budget, keeping it flexible enough to account for potential sales you may encounter. When shopping, try to stick to your list to stay within your budget and to avoid being forced to make additional trips to the store later for forgotten items.

Pro tip: Plan to shop in weeks advance, giving yourself plenty of time to find the best deals, use coupons and get everything you need. Waiting until the last minute is a great way to spend more money than you wanted by missing sales and buying things you don’t need.

Use coupons, shop sales

Most grocery stores will have sales on holiday foods right before Thanksgiving. The thought behind this marketing technique is that once you’re in the store, you’ll spend a lot of additional money on things that aren’t on sale. Use these sales to your advantage, but only buy the items you need.

Pro tip: You might also check online for coupons for the items you need.

Beware of buying in bulk

Buying in bulk is generally cheaper, which works out well if you’re planning to feed a lot of people. But be careful with this shopping tactic. It’s not always cheaper, so don’t just assume buying the largest quantity will save you money. Pay attention to the unit prices to ensure you’re actually getting the best deal.

Pro tip: Make sure you’re not buying too much food. If you end up buying more food than you can use before it goes bad, you’re not really saving money. Only buy as much as you need.

Shop store brands

You may not be able to buy everything on your list in the generic brand, but there may be some things you’re able to swap without anyone noticing. Go through your list before getting to the store and decide which name-brand items can be swapped out for store brand to help you save.

Stay away from eye-level items

The worst deals in grocery stores are strategically placed right at eye level. Search the top and bottom shelves for the best bargains.

Make sure you’re getting deals

Paying attention at checkout and checking your receipt ensure you actually paid what you were supposed to pay. Sometimes cashiers get flustered with busy lines and scan the same item an extra time and sometimes things don’t ring up correctly. It’s on you to make sure you’re actually getting the sale price.

Ask for help with meal planning

If you can’t afford to purchase everything on the menu and you can’t cut your guest lists down either, ask other family members to chip in by bringing a side dish to share. Guests who live in town may be better suited to bringing perishable items, while those who live out of town can grab some nonperishables on their way. Make sure to contact your guests in advance to coordinate who’s bringing what to avoid overlap and to give yourself enough time to shop for everything else.

Use your leftovers

If you have to throw food out because it spoiled before you could use it, you might as well be throwing money away. In my house, we always ate turkey sandwiches for lunch and had turkey pot pie for dinner the Friday after Thanksgiving. Mom made sure all the leftovers got eaten.

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