Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner on a Tight Budget

While everyone around you is hyped about the upcoming holiday(s), you feel an uneasy sense of dread anytime you so much as think about how much money the months of November and December are going to cost you. Living on a tight budget is particularly challenging when holiday festivities are in full gear, and you want desperately to join in on the fun.

While Thanksgiving isn’t quite as costly as the gift-laden holidays coming up in a month or so, there are without a doubt some hefty expenses that go into planning a family feast. If you’re on deck to host this year, your head is probably swimming with dollar signs and question marks.

Your best option here would have been to preemptively (and gracefully) bow out of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your house. Most families would be understanding of your money struggles, and in general, there’s always someone eager to take on the task. With that being said, Thanksgiving is almost here, so if you’ve already committed to making the big meal happen in your kitchen, take the following tips to avoid spending more than you can afford.

Create a Thanksgiving budget

Take stock of what is most important to you and your loved ones on this holiday. Is it more important to be together and share quality time with those you may not see very often? If so, the food may be less of a focal point (and therefore less of an expense.)

On the other hand, if your guest list includes people who you see on the regular, maybe you’d all like to get creative this year and start some new traditions.

Once you’ve determined what is your main focus for the day, you’ll be better equipped to determine how much money you’ll need to make it a reality.

Become an even savvier shopper

Some grocery store chains offer a free turkey, ham or game hen when you spend a certain dollar amount there during the months preceding Thanksgiving. This is an easy, and somewhat obvious way to cut a nice chunk of money from your budget.

If you aren’t able to get your main dish free – consider going meatless. Meat is very expensive, and there are plenty of vegetarian options that are quite delicious. Even if you aren’t strictly vegetarian, it can be an adventure to try something new, while saving money at the same time.

Stock up on all of your sides and necessary ingredients over several months prior to the big feast. Only buy items that are on sale – this is why starting early is important. BONUS: If you hit some spectacular sales, buy two of everything non-perishable on your ingredient list (less expensive items like canned vegetables, bread crumbs, gravy, brown sugar, etc) and donate the extra items to a local food pantry or shelter.

Consider making your Thanksgiving a BYOD meal

Bring Your Own Dish meals, or potluck-style gatherings, can actually be really successful and fun. Not only does it take the financial pressure and performance anxiety off the table for the hosts, but it can also be an adventure for your taste buds.

Give everyone ownership of the meal by asking them what they’d like to contribute. What dish is their “specialty?” As the host, you can be in charge of several dishes as well, and you can all come together to taste test what everyone brings to share!

How-to Tuesday: Thanksgiving on a Budget



If it’s your turn to host the Thanksgiving festivities at your house, the whole concept may seem more than a little daunting – especially if you’re working with a limited budget.

While you’re definitely going to have to produce at least several main dishes, most likely including a turkey, you can choose to go with a potluck-style affair. Ask your friends and family members to each bring a little something that may not seem like much to them, but that will help bring your overall costs down. For example, ask someone on the guest list to bring: napkins, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce, drinks, a side dish, a salad or a soup that may be their specialty. Don’t forget – every Thanksgiving dinner needs a wide variety of pies and sweets, too!

Whether you’re accepting help or not, sit down and write out your Thanksgiving Day menu, including all of the ingredients you’ll need to make everything. It’s a good idea to create your list several weeks to a month before the holiday arrives so that you’ll be able to buy some of your non-perishable ingredients when they go on sale. Clip coupons for items on your list as they become available. Every week, take your Thanksgiving list with you on your regular shopping trip and pick up any items that you know you’ll need, but can safely sit in your fridge or shelf for awhile. Think things like butter, brown sugar, and vegetable oil for your ahead-of-time shopping.

Consider buying some of your menu items in bulk at Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s, and then coordinating additional meal ideas that utilize the bulk ingredients, saving you a significant chunk of change for the entire month of November!

Another way to save money is to forego any pre-packaged items and create a completely homemade meal from start to finish. While this may add to the time and elbow grease required, you’ll save money on every dish you make from scratch. Instead of picking up powdered mashed potatoes, pre-made stuffing, pre-made pie crusts and pies – buy the ingredients and make your own to save big on your overall dinner costs.

Rather than making a huge spread of 20 different food choices, consider narrowing down your dinner offerings to a few most-loved dishes. Not only will this save you money, but it will allow you more time to work on fewer recipes – making everything you do serve taste that much better.

Another big money saver at any event or holiday is to go without alcohol. Supplying wine for your entire family can be quite expensive! After all, Thanksgiving is a time when we’re all so focused on the food – why add in drinks, too? Stick with simple, inexpensive beverage offerings, or ask someone else to bring the wine if it’s something your family really enjoys.

As far as decorating your home/dinner table for the holiday – just KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly!) Don’t feel the need to buy all new Thanksgiving decor just because you’re hosting this year. Stick with decorations you’ve bought in the past, and add a flair of fall with some spicy candles and things you can find in nature, like dried flowers and colorful gourds.


Image credit: Lall