A lot of folks are still struggling in this economy, and unemployment remains high. If you’re one of the people having trouble making ends meet this holiday season, you might be wondering how you’ll be able to afford the traditional Thanksgiving dinner you desire.
Luckily, even a big, impressive holiday meal that’ll send everyone home happy (and stuffed) doesn’t have to be expensive. There are many things you can do to cut your Thanksgiving dinner costs. Together they add up to substantial savings.
1. Take advantage of grocery sales and coupons.
Supermarkets put many traditional holiday items on special the week of Thanksgiving. Most notably, turkeys themselves are often heavily discounted. This is the store’s way of getting you in the door. They’ll give you a break on some things, maybe even take a loss on them, in the hopes you’ll buy plenty of other items while you’re there.
So if you need twenty main items for Thanksgiving, at a given store you might get a terrific deal on five of them, with the others at or near their usual price. But if you go to two, three, or more stores, maybe you can get more like fifteen or sixteen of your twenty items at a substantial discount.
Be aware that for the best price on some items you might need to bring a coupon. At the very least you’ll almost certainly need to have one of the store’s discount cards, since those are so common at supermarket chains nowadays. But you can generally get one of those cards on the spot and use it immediately. Even if this is your first visit to the store-and even if you never come back-you can get and use their card.
2. Let price influence what you choose to serve.
If you would like to serve two vegetables, and there are five you are considering that you think would fit well for a Thanksgiving dinner, check the prices and pick the two that happen to be the least expensive this week.
Not all foods associated with the holidays are all that expensive to begin with. How about a big bowl of mashed potatoes? That’s certainly a traditional holiday favorite. But especially when you buy them in bulk, potatoes can be a quite inexpensive food.
Some foods are considerably more expensive if you buy them ready-made versus if you make them yourself. In effect they’re charging you for the convenience. So if you’re considering, say, picking up an apple pie for dessert, do some rough calculations and see how its price compares to what you would spend if you bought the ingredients instead of the pie and did your own baking. Especially if you make the pie crust yourself, you’ll probably spend less making your own pie, maybe a lot less. Plus homemade usually ends up tasting better anyway.
3. Don’t make more than you need.
You don’t need to make enough food such that everyone can have seconds and thirds of every dish. Sit down in advance and make a realistic estimate of how much your family can really be expected to eat. If you want to go over this by 10% or 20% so you’re unlikely to disappoint someone by running out of their favorite item, fine. But don’t make double what you need.
4. Save the leftovers.
Don’t throw away good food. Be conscious of saving anything and everything that can be salvaged. Leftovers may provide you with multiple additional meals the next few days.
This consideration should also be a factor in how much you cook. If it’s an item that really doesn’t save well as leftovers, make only what you need, or indeed err on the side of making a little less. On the other hand, it’s really not a big mistake to get a bigger turkey than it turns out you need. Even if you only eat, say, 60% of the turkey on Thanksgiving, turkey makes excellent leftovers. Chances are none of it will go to waste; you’ll be enjoying that other 40% in sandwiches anyway.
5. Consider making the meal a potluck.
Are you having company other than just your immediate family? If you’re going to have a house full of people, then even if you follow all the above tips, your dinner costs could exceed your means.
In that case, a good option is to organize the meal as a potluck. Have each guest be responsible for bringing enough of a side item for everyone. You may end up just having to supply the turkey and a couple other things, as the rolls, green bean casserole, candied yams, pumpkin pie, etc. are all covered by your guests.
Chances are you can cut the corners you need to and it won’t even result in less of a feast than you had in mind. But even if it does fall a little short, remember that as nice as it is to have a big Thanksgiving dinner, that’s really not what’s most important about the holiday.
Thanksgiving is about family togetherness, love, and expressing gratitude for your blessings. Those things don’t come with a price tag.
One final thought: If things really are so bad this year that there’s no way you’re going to be able to give your family a decent holiday meal no matter how many coupons and sales you take advantage of, don’t be too proud to ask for help. Charitable organizations, churches, etc. are there to make sure no one misses out on having a happy Thanksgiving. They’ll give you a hand, if you’re willing to let them know you need it.