However, preparing Thanksgiving dinner can be a time-consuming and expensive process. How do you keep your costs low when preparing the biggest meal of the year? Adding the element of travel only increases the costs you have to deal with.
The good news is that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to break the budget. Here are some helpful tips that can save you money — without sacrificing quality — as you plan your Thanksgiving feast.
Create your Thanksgiving shopping list ASAP. Then, start looking for coupons. In many cases, you can buy items that are shelf-stable or that can be frozen until you need them. Getting the items ahead of time with coupons can make a big difference in your budget, especially if you can get larger quantities of needed ingredients.
Consider using coupon apps to help you find the right promotions and deals ahead of time. Apps like Coupon Sherpa, Coupons.com and SnipSnap can all help you identify coupons. Plus, don’t forget to look at the newspaper or mailed circulars that offer coupons to clip.
While looking for coupons, don’t forget to check price-matching policies. Save money on some of the items you plan to buy to prepare your Thanksgiving meal. Find out if your local stores have price-matching policies that can allow you to reduce the amount of time you spend driving all over town. If you can get price-matching at the same store where you use most of your coupons, it saves you a bit of time (and gas money).
Buy with Your Credit Card
Consider making your Thanksgiving purchases with a credit card. When buying with your cash back credit card, you could see solid results. For example, the American Express Blue Cash Everyday Preferred card offers 6% cash back on groceries. You’ll probably make most of your purchases at the grocery store, so it makes sense to check to see if you have a tiered rewards card that will offer you the chance to earn extra cash back for purchases you’re making anyway.
Plus, there are other cards, like the Citi Double Cash that offer 2% cash back on all purchases. So, if you make your grocery purchase and then pay it off, you’ll get money back. Just make sure you use your purchases as part of your regular Thanksgiving budget and pay off the card before the balance starts accruing interest.
Use Cash Back Apps
Another option is to use cash back apps. Use them in conjunction with your rewards credit card and that could help you stack rewards. Apps like Ebates and Ibotta can help you get money back when you make certain purchases. If you’re making some online purchases for Thanksgiving decor or shelf-stable items, shopping with the help of SwagBucks could mean cash back as well. This is also true of using Found Money from Acorns. Check the list of retailers to see if any of them offer useful items for Thanksgiving.
Check to see what’s available for cash back, and whether you can help reduce your overall costs that way.
Related: 33 Apps That Can Make You Money
Buy in Bulk
Make bulk-sized purchases to save money on your Thanksgiving ingredients. In fact, while you’re buying for Thanksgiving, you might be able to use leftover ingredients for other upcoming meals, like Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Deli meats and cheese, and even bread, can be frozen and used at a later date.
Buying in bulk at warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club can be one way to cut down on costs. Plus, some items, like potatoes, are much cheaper when you buy in bulk than when you buy in small quantities. You can also watch your grocery store for case lot sales on canned items. These last a long time, so you can use the ingredients you buy for Thanksgiving for other meals.
Ask Others to Contribute
One of the easiest ways to save money on Thanksgiving is to not cover the entire cost on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests to help provide some of the food for the meal. In fact, most of your guests will expect to bring something.
Ask each attendee to bring a side dish, dessert, appetizer, or drink to help manage the costs — and the work — that goes into the day. If everyone chips in a little bit, both the work and the expense are much more manageable.
Choose the Bird Wisely
In 2018, the average cost for a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 was $48.90, according to the annual American Farm Bureau survey. A 16-pound turkey cost $21.71 — accounting for about 44% of the total cost of the dinner. As you can imagine, you can significantly reduce the cost of your Thanksgiving dinner by shopping around for an inexpensive turkey.
Your best results are likely to come when you buy a frozen bird from your grocery store, rather than purchasing a fresh turkey from a farm. You can also reduce your costs by finding out if your local grocery offers “turkey bucks.” Some grocery stores give you coupons toward $1 off your turkey based on how much you spend during the month of November, leading up to Thanksgiving. Just by doing your regular grocery shopping, it’s possible to get a discount on your turkey, or even get it for free.
Related: Best Credit Cards for Groceries
Cook from Scratch
Cooking from scratch can be one of the best ways to save money on your Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, this means you have to consider the value of your time on top of the cost. Items like rolls, pies, and potatoes are much cheaper when you prepare them yourself. Rather than buying a ready-made veggie or fruit tray, it’s often more cost-effective to buy the produce in bulk and cut and prepare the trays yourself.
Of course, if you ask others to help prepare parts of the meal, you can save time on the prep, and then it’s up to your guests to decide if they want to spend extra money to buy prepared foods rather than making the dishes themselves.
Believe it or not, there are some cases where you could save money by eating out. If Thanksgiving isn’t a huge event in your household and you’re planning a small meal, it may even be wise to dine out. Consider the value of time in this calculation and just how much time you want to spend preparing a meal if you will be alone or with a small group.
Many restaurants are likely to offer Thanksgiving specials to include all the holiday favorites. Make sure to consider the cost of alcohol. When dining out, alcohol can often be the most expensive aspect of a meal. But you could always dine out and offer cocktails at home afterward.
Serve the Community and Eat a Thanksgiving Dinner for Free
Another consideration is to eat out at free community meals. Rather than cooking a meal at home, find out if the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter needs help to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for those in need. You can help serve others in the community, and then usually there’s a chance to share the meal — for free — afterward. Local churches and even some civic-minded restaurants might also offer community dinners for a modest fee or even without charging at all.
Save Money on Travel
Most people drive for Thanksgiving, so saving money becomes a matter of finding the best gas prices. An app like GasBuddy can help you locate the best places to stop for fuel. You can also plan your travel to avoid high-traffic times that could leave you sitting and burning gas, rather than making it to your destination sooner. And once at your location, stay with a friend or relative, or consider using Airbnb, rather than sleeping in a pricey hotel.
If you plan to fly to your destination, things can get a little more expensive. If you want the best deals, you need to be flexible in your timing. If you’re willing to arrive on the big day, you’re likely to save more money. Additionally, if you’re willing to leave one or two days after Thanksgiving, you’ll save money on flights, rather than staying until the following Sunday or Monday. Consider leaving early in the morning to reduce your chances of getting delayed.
Another trick is to use alternate airports. Check within 100 miles to see if you can get a cheaper fare. Consider using a carry-on to avoid checked-bag fees. And, if you plan far enough in advance, you can sign up for fare alerts to help you find the best deal.
Order Thanksgiving for Delivery
This one might not actually save you money, but it will save you time. Depending on how you value your time, this could mean you come out ahead overall.
There are options to get Thanksgiving dishes with meal delivery services, like the Sous Vide Turkey Breast from Home Chef. You might have to ask your guests to bring side dishes, but this saves a lot of time. Just warm it up and you’re set.
If you get regular meal kit delivery, you can save a little money by saving some of the items and ingredients that coincide with what you’ll need for Thanksgiving dinner. You can also check to see if your meal kit service also offers Thanksgiving options. Many of them do, and that could simplify the process, without adding a lot of extra money to your regular deliveries.
Another option, if you live in an area that offers Prime Now, is to order your Thanksgiving dinner from Whole Foods online. Because Amazon bought Whole Foods, there’s an option to have grocery delivery — including for Thanksgiving dinner — using Prime Now.
Looking for an incentive to get started on your first meal delivery. Check out the list of offers below:
- Purple Carrot: Get $30 off your first subscription with code: carrot30
- Sun Basket: FREE shipping on your first delivery
- EveryPlate: Get 18 meals for only $3.33 each
- eMeals: 14 day FREE trial
- Once A Month Meals: Receive 12 free make-ahead meal plans to simplify the holidays, a new one each day starting December 1st!
Plan Ahead — Be Ready Next Year
Chances are, your Thanksgiving menu is going to be the same year to year. That gives you a chance to plan ahead.
Watch for case lot sales ahead of time. Consider buying canned and other non-perishable goods in the days after Thanksgiving this year. Corn, pumpkin pie filling, cranberry sauce, beans, and other items have long shelf lives. You can buy them this year for cheap and save them for next year.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, buy items you see on sale and freeze them. Butter, cheese, and similar items can be saved in the freezer, allowing you to get the best price.
Finally, if you know you’ll travel for Thanksgiving, make it a point to save up throughout the year. Set aside a small amount each week in a “Thanksgiving travel fund” so that you aren’t trying to come up with everything all at once.
With a little planning, you might be surprised at how inexpensive — and enjoyable — Thanksgiving can be.