Thanksgiving on a Budget: Easy Ways to Trim Costs From Your Holiday Meal

Father and daughter cooking together

Thanksgiving is a day to remember only the things that are important in life: family, friends and good food. Excess can seem like it’s the theme of the day, but it doesn’t have to be (except for when it comes to that extra slice of pumpkin pie). Use these budget tips and give thanks for full bellies and a full wallet throughout the holiday season.

Plan your Thanksgiving menu early

Serious shoppers begin thinking about Thanksgiving dinner as soon as the Halloween costumes are put away. Creating a list that far in advance will help in two ways: it gives you time to find great recipes for simple dishes with minimal ingredients, and it allows you to look around for the best prices on anything that can be stored.

If you’ve been shopping with a grocery membership card, consider downloading their app. The stores often provide extra incentives to app users, and you can get customized coupons. Also, pay attention to circulars and coupons—there are plenty of deals during the weeks leading up to the holiday. You may even be able to score a free turkey if you spend a certain amount at your grocery store between now and mid-November.

Discover the farmers market

Building a menu around seasonal produce will not only save you money on your Thanksgiving meal, it will result in more flavorful and colorful food. If you’re in an area that’s still warm enough for harvesting produce, your local farmer’s market is likely to have great deals on fresh seasonal vegetables like green beans, yams and Brussels sprouts. It’s also a great place to stock up on inexpensive staples like white potatoes, onions and fresh herbs.

You can also use ingredients from your garden, if you have them. Canning is a good way to store summer surplus, and Thanksgiving is the perfect time to use what you’ve saved.

DIY or go generic

With some dishes, there are no substitutes for the best ingredients. But there are instances when generic will serve you just as well as gourmet. Don’t worry about going with the least expensive canned items like pumpkin, olives, peas and water chestnuts. Canned chicken broth is relatively inexpensive, but if you plan to make a chicken dinner in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, you can use the bones to create homemade stock for just pennies (the cost of an onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery and some seasonings). It often tastes better than store bought broth. If you have the skills, you can also find savings by making your own dinner rolls and pie crusts.

Brine the bird

Your turkey is likely to be the costliest item on your menu, but how much you pay for the bird will vary greatly. You don’t have to choose an organic, free-range turkey to get the best flavor. In fact, how the bird is processed is just as important—if not more—than how it is raised. All you need is a good brine.

There are countless brine recipes to choose from online, but they all center around a simple ratio of one cup of kosher salt per gallon of water, using enough water to submerge the turkey. To make storage easier: seal the bird, salt and water in an extra-large locking plastic bag and set it in a covered pan in the fridge for at least 24 hours.

Go pot-luck style

If you are having guests, encourage them to contribute things like appetizers, desserts and wine. It will save you money and time, and it helps to make your visitors feel more involved. Ask them each to bring a dish with a story behind it or that is special to them. It will make for great dinner table conversation.

Get crafty with the decor

Thanksgiving is the kind of homespun holiday that allows for inexpensive decoration. Whether you make a casual centerpiece out of gourds from the farmer’s market or make festive turkey-shaped napkin holders out of construction paper, you can get away with a lot on a lean decorating budget.