8 Ways To Budget This Thanksgiving Dinner

Don’t be a turkey this year. Choose your bird wisely because the cost might surprise you. That’s just one of 8 ways to budget Thanksgiving 2018.

Budget for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s all about family, friends, and food. I love the feelings of gratitude and camaraderie that come after consuming a delicious meal with some of my favorite people.

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.

Thanksgiving on a Budget

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.

1. Coupons and Price-Matching

Start looking for coupons and check price-matching policies. Save money on some of the items you plan to buy to prepare your Thanksgiving meal. Find out if your locals stores have price-matching policies that will 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).

2. 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.

3. 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, the work and the expense is much more manageable.

4. Choose the Bird Wisely

In 2017, the average cost for a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 was $49.12, according to the annual American Farm Bureau survey. A 16-pound turkey cost $22.38–accounting for about 46% 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.

5. 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.

6. Eat Out

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 afterwards.

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 preparing 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.

7. Save Money on Travel

According to AAA’s 2018 Thanksgiving travel forecast, about 54.3 million Americans will hit the road. 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. 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, be prepared for a bigger expense. For 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.

8. 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” to avoid 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.

Topics: Smart Spending

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