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7 Tips to Save Money on Your Thanksgiving Day Dinner Menu

By Heather Levin

If you’ve ever hosted Thanksgiving for friends and family, then you know how easy it is for costs to spiral out of control. Turkeys and pies and casseroles and cakes can all add up to an enormous grocery bill. And if you decide to decorate, well…you see where this is going. It can get expensive!

To help you out this Thanksgiving, I want to give you seven easy to save money this Thanksgiving:

1. Have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Dish) Celebration

In my opinion, asking one person or family to host a meal for a large group of people is unfair. They’re shouldering the burden of shopping, cooking, cleaning, and decorating. This is not only a lot of work, but it can also place a large financial burden on the other person.

Asking your friends and family to help ease that burden is a great way to save money on Thanksgiving expenses. Not only will you have to spend less at the grocery store, you’ll also save time cooking!

Request types of dishes, not specific ones. For instance, ask people to bring an appetizer, side dish, or dessert.

2. Mix Things Up

When I became a vegetarian several years ago, my Thanksgivings got a bit complicated.

I’ve since learned to mix things up. After all, I’d had over 25 years years of turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. I was ready for something different!

Now, I love making different ethnic dishes for Thanksgiving. Mexican, Indian, Korean…they all have a place at my table. And if you’re open to the vegetarian idea, it’s a great way to save because rice, beans, and vegetables are usually much cheaper than meat.  And healthier too!

Also, take a look at what people actually eat when you host the meal. For instance, if you make sweet potato casserole each year (because you think you should) but you always end up throwing it out, don’t make it this year.

3. Volunteer

If you want to really mix things up, why not volunteer this year for Thanksgiving? Soup kitchens and Meals On Wheels desperately need volunteers to help out on this important day. Not only would you skip all the buying, cooking, and cleaning, but you’d get to help others and be reminded how truly blessed your life is.

Volunteering together with friends and family is also a great way to be be with them while celebrating this day of thanks.

4. Start Buying Now

The reason why it’s so smart to plan ahead for Thanksgiving is because you can start shopping early for deals, and you can use discount coupons for groceries way ahead of time. This can help you save significantly!

5. Keep It Simple

I know how tempting it is to make complicated meals with expensive ingredients to give your guests the ultimate Thanksgiving dinner.

But doing this adds money, time, and stress to your Thanksgiving. Why not keep things simple? Fall stews, homemade rolls, good company…that sounds like a great time to me!

6. Use Natural Decorations

Skip the trip to Michaels for store-bought Thanksgiving decorations. Instead, go natural! Use fall leaves and branches, beautiful dark green acorn squash, pine cones, the dried hydrangea in your garden, and other fall fruits that can be eaten later. There are tons of great ideas online for decorating the table au natural. For those decorations you just need to buy, go to the dollar store for some awesome deals.

7. Go with Boxed Wine

I love boxed wine. Not only is it much better for the environment (since so many facilities won’t recycle green glass), but it’s dramatically cheaper than bottled wine. On average, one box of wine is equivalent to four bottles. Most boxed wine is $20 or less, which equates to $5 per bottle. The Corbet CanyonMmerlot I regularly buy is great; it’s only $9 per box, which amounts to $2.25 per bottle.

Can’t beat that!

Here are a few more quick tips:

  • Try to plan it so that all pf your pies go into the oven at the same time. This will save on energy costs.
  • If you have time and the wherewithal, make double batches of your Thanksgiving meals. This way you can freeze some and have plenty for leftovers in the months to come. Kill two birds with one stone!
  • Making your own pie crust is much cheaper than buying it frozen or prepared. Find a recipe that freezes well and make it up to a month in advance. It’s also more delicious!

Last Word

Remember, Thanksgiving is all about celebrating with friends and family and being grateful for all the blessings in your life. It shouldn’t be about cooking “the perfect meal” or having “the perfect house” when everyone comes over. Doing that does nothing but run you ragged!

Relax and have fun with Thanksgiving this year. It doesn’t have to be perfect! And the more you plan in advance, the more you’re going to end up saving.

(Photo credit: CarbonNYC)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • Kevin Vesga

    If you live near a Trader Joe’s you can always get Charles Shaw wine aka Two-Buck Chuck.

    Also for the vegetarian dishes, do you have any specific recipes or items you really like?

    • Heather Levin

      Kevin, I just moved to a place where there’s a Trader Joe’s about 15 min. away. Thanks for the tip?

      As far as fav. recipes I use, I have a TON! Here are a few of my online favorites:

      1. Tandoori Tofu Kebabs
      http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=10000001097041

      2. Portobella Burgers (this are awesome for Sunday football games)
      http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=10000001036125

      3. Barbeque Tempeh Sandwich (I make this one once a week, with Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce)
      http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Barbeque-Tempeh-Sandwiches/Detail.aspx

      4. Masala Chai Tea (this homemade chai tea is perfect for the holidays!)
      http://cheaphealthygood.blogspot.com/2008/11/veggie-might-masala-chai-of-gratitude.html

      5. Californai Avacada Tacos (One word: YUM)
      http://laist.com/2010/05/05/cinco_de_mayo_avocado_recipes.php

      Thanks for writing in!

  • http://www.madatdebt.com/ Scott Neumyer

    Thanks for the tips! Holiday dinners seem to be a place where you could really spill a lot of cash if you’re not paying attention.

  • http://www.moneyobedience.com/blog/ ctreit

    We will be invited this year. We will have to bring our own deserts, since most of my family is eating gluten-free stuff. – Yes, there is such a thing as a delicious gluten-free pie!

    • Heather Levin

      ctreti- I know I had one at Whole Foods (I think it might have been a carrot cake?) and it was DIVINE. :)

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