12 Tips for a Fun, Inexpensive Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving can be a pricey affair. From seventy-dollar turkeys to the perfect Napa wine, ingredients for the November feast can put a hole in your careful budget.

Luckily, there are ways to avoid Thanksgiving Day megaspend. If you strategize your meal, involve others, and entertain for free, you can host a delicious Thanksgiving Day for as little as $50. The twelve tips below will give you a Thanksgiving Day to remember–without the budgetary complications:

Plan it

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Image: The Writing Loft

1) What type of feast (and people) do you want?
Will this year be a family affair? A semiformal dinner party? A gaggle of relatives? Figure out who’s coming over, what kind of food you want to serve, and how to entertain everyone.

If possible, make your event a potluck. That way, you only have to worry about the turkey, drinks, and perhaps a side dish. If you’re strapped, have your visitors bring drinks, too.

Tip: If a lot of people are coming, an easy way to organize a potluck is to create a list of items guests need to bring. Email out the list. Tell your guests to email you back as soon as they decide what item to bring. This generally leaves the slackers bringing the alcohol, which tends to cost more…but the system works.

2) What can you afford?
Look at your bank statements and figure out how much you can afford. Your Thanksgiving feast should not incur credit card debt. If you only have $5 to spare, push the potluck idea—hard. If you have $50, you can prepare a tasty, cheap meal for a family. If you have $500, you probably don’t need to read the rest of this post.

3) How much time do you have to prepare?
If you have less than an entire day, think about getting a prepared Thanksgiving meal at a grocery store. Many sell family-sized meals, including turkey, pumpkin pie, and the works, for less than $50. You pick them up on Thanksgiving Day.

Shop

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Get cheaper kinds of foods.
There are several ways to do this.

1) Forego the whole turkey.

Will your guests be just as happy munching on a turkey thigh dish? Or pork? A vegetarian feast, perhaps? Substituting other food for a big turkey can save a lot of money. See what your guests are willing to eat in place of the big bird.

2) Cheap produce still makes tasty side dishes.
It costs less to make mashed potatoes than to prepare Peruvian purples stuffed with caviar and crème fraiche. Stick to sides that won’t break your wallet. Buy the produce on sale at your grocery store (called shop loss leaders). Supplement it with canned or frozen produce.

3) Buy in bulk.

There’s no better time than Thanksgiving to buy big bags of potatoes, frozen meat multipacks, and crates of juice at your local bulk retailer. See what you need a lot of, and head over to Costco or Sam’s Club to get it.

4) Clip coupons.
Start browsing your local Sunday newspaper two weeks before Thanksgiving. Stores often try to lure in customers with ultra-cheap specials. Make a meal out of the specials you find. If newspaper ads are too 1980 for you, find coupons online, at sites like Coupons.com.

If your store doubles or matches other stores’ coupons, all the better.

5) Put your freezer to work.

If you find grocery store loss leader specials a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, see if you can freeze them. Thaw before your feast, and voila, cheap fare.

6) Does anything taste just as good generic?
Some generic products, like beer, are dismal buys. Others, like canned pumpkin or cheddar cheese, might actually taste okay. See if there’s anything you can buy generic, without sacrificing taste.

7) Borrow.
If you’re lacking a turkey baster, gravy ladles, or any other Thanksgiving-specific utensil, see if you can borrow one from one of your guests. It beats buying something you’re only going to use once a year.

Entertain

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1) Decorate on the cheap.
Creating your own can be cheap and fun, especially if you have kids. Here are some ideas to start you off. If you’re humble about your lack of Thanksgiving Martha Stewart-ness, ask if you can borrow decorations from someone. Or hit up your local dollar store for single-use holiday decorations.

2) Find free games.
If kids will be attending your party, print out free online games, puzzles, and coloring book pages. A Google search will lead you to a treasure trove of printables like the ones on this site. Bring out (or have guests bring) board games and DVDs if you want to keep the fun at home. If your plans include movies, see if you can schedule in a matinee.

For specific cost-effective recipes, try this website.

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