Thanksgiving dinner for the whole family for just $50? Not impossible at all — in fact, that’s how much the American Farm Bureau Federation says the average Thanksgiving feast for 10 people will cost this year. At $49.04 overall, or about $4.90 per person, the AFBF feast includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, plus coffee and milk. It even allows for leftovers!
If you can’t remember the last time you got out of the store with fixings for your feast so inexpensively, maybe it’s time to tune up your Thanksgiving dinner shopping strategies. We’ve gathered some of the best ways to stretch your dollar, save money, and still enjoy a festive, satisfying holiday meal.
Start with a firm budget and plan the menu from there, not vice versa. If you start planning based on what you’d ideally prefer to buy, you’ll almost certainly run out of money before you run out of ideas. Start with a bottom line you can live with and work backward.
Keep the menu reliable and simple. Thanksgiving is no time to go out on a limb with untried recipes or cooking techniques that require more time, skill, or experience than you can reliably muster. Guests enjoy the Thanksgiving classics — and the good news is, the classics are eminently affordable. Choose simple recipes you’re not likely to mess up, and save time and money by selecting dishes that don’t require a lot of ingredients or special spices and herbs you don’t have.
Scale down the menu for a smaller guest list. It may not make sense to cook a full turkey for a small group. Consider Cornish game hens instead — still festive and right on theme but much easier to scale to the appetites of a smaller crowd.
Shop your own pantry first. Take stock of what you already have. You might have a stray can of cranberry sauce in the pantry, and it’s likely there could be enough pumpkin pie spice lurking in the back of the cabinet.
Shop the sales. Saving money on turkey, your largest single purchase, is probably worth the time, money, and effort of a special trip to whatever is offering the best deal. For the rest of your list, consider whether it’s worth your while to hit multiple shops to save pennies per item.
Suggest a potluck. If you can’t figure out a way to feed the whole crowd, go potluck. Few Thanksgiving guests will quail at the idea of bringing a side dish, dessert, or bottle of wine. Going even partially potluck lifts some of the cooking load off your shoulders, lightens your costs, and makes the whole affair a more participatory event.
Don’t waste money on disposable dinnerware. If you don’t have enough dishes or servingware, don’t fork over for disposables. Ask friends or neighbors if they can loan what you need. This strategy works well for rarely used cooking items, too, like that roasting pan you never use any other time of the year.
Decorate with free materials from nature. Look outside for nature’s fall decorations: acorns, bright autumn leaves, pine cones, and so on. Fill in with votive candles — warm, natural, and classy. Don’t forget that pumpkins and gourds make wonderful accents to your dinner table, and they’re plenty season. After all, that’s what’s in the pie!
Plan for leftovers. Count on leftovers and watch your price per meal plummet. You’ll get burned out on leftovers long before they’re gone, so plan to whip up some leftover-based recipes and freeze them for the future.
Lighten up the menu. If the whole feast still rests too heavily on your budget, instead of roasting a whole turkey (and especially if you live in a warmer climate), throw some turkey burgers on the grill instead. Serve sweet potato fries instead of mashed potatoes and stuffing … You get the idea. Still festive, still fun.
Share the bill and dodge the dishes by eating out. Keep everyone out of the kitchen and enjoying the company by trooping out to a restaurant instead. Split the bill and share the holiday spirit.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at PenFed!