The end of every year brings a surge of spending in most household budgets. More family gatherings means more food is consumed. The holidays require gifts (by today’s consumer standards) for everyone in your family. And goodness, this Thanksgiving dinner ought to be better than last year! Even though the hope of a frugal Thanksgiving dinner seems out of reach, I assure you that it is indeed possible.
Dan and I have hosted Thanksgiving at our home twice now. Both times in was increasingly stressful for us, but it was so worth it. And we didn’t spend much more than our regular grocery budget to host a frugal Thanksgiving.
I’m going to share with you the tips and tricks that worked for our family to have a frugal Thanksgiving.
The most important thing is to remember what this season is about – family. Not stuff. Not a huge feast (no matter how yummy). Your family would be okay with eating freezer pizza if it meant spending a warm, wonderful evening together.
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Quick Thanksgiving Stats
With the holidays, every family spends more money – whether they plan for it or not. Budgets budge and swell this time of year. Therefore, most of us end up overspending. Yikes!
With a quick look at these statistics (source), you’ll see how quickly our budgets get out of hand.
- 28% of families will have more than 12 people at their table
- $50.11 is the average amount Americans spent on their Thanksgiving dinner back in 2015
- $21.71 is the average cost of a turkey
- $75 is the average cost of a pre-made Thanksgiving meal from the grocery store
- 7 hours is the average cook time for a full Thanksgiving dinner
- 16 minutes is the average time it takes to eat Thanksgiving dinner
- 46,000,000 turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving
- 79% of Americans like Thanksgiving leftovers more than Thanksgiving dinner
1. Meal Plan
Meal planning is my JAM and it is the most important factor in creating a frugal Thanksgiving dinner.
No matter if you’re a meat eater or a vegan, meal planning is important.
Planning a vegan Thanksgiving is no different than a turkey-laden one. Each takes thought.
Popular, frugal Thanksgiving dishes include:
- Mashed potatoes
- Green bean casserole
- Sweet potatoes
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2. Take Pantry Inventory
Using what you already have in your pantry is a sure way to achieve a frugal Thanksgiving meal. By using what you already have, you save money on groceries AND you save yourself a trip to the store.
Pantry inventory should be done in conjunction with meal planning.
If you already have canned corn and canned green beans, include them on your Thanksgiving dinner menu.
Got cornbread mix? Make cornbread instead of buying rolls at the store.
3. Make Frugal Foods
Families everywhere have different Thanksgiving traditions. Some eat the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. While some make lasagna. Whatever your family tradition is, there is a way to make it more frugal.
While the average turkey costs $21, it only costs $15 to make TWO 9×13 vegetarian lasagnas. That would feed 12 people with huge appetites easily.
Potatoes can be purchased in 5-10lb bags and are the ultimate frugal Thanksgiving food. Scratch that: potatoes are one of the most frugal foods in general (next to rice and beans, of course).
At Aldi, a 5lb bag can be purchased for $2.50 on a regular basis. That’s a mighty big batch of mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or even diced and roasted potatoes.
Because you have a more frugal Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean that your food is any less delicious. It is still made with love and a great effort went into preparing the day’s meal.
4. Avoid Pre-Made Foods and Make Food from Scratch
Pre-made and pre-packaged foods cost more than foods purchased in bulk. From diced pineapple to already-peeled oranges, it comes in handy every once in a while to have something prepared for you. But in order to save money, you’ll often have to make things from scratch.
Love pumpkin pie, but not the $10 price tag at the grocery store? Make your own! This pumpkin pie recipe comes in at just $5, including leftover ingredients and assuming you have the spices it calls for.
This screenshot is from Walmart Grocery Pick-Up. It is easy to create a grocery list and know exactly how much you’ll spend before you go to the store to pick it up. They do all the hard work of shopping for you!
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5. Take Advantage of Coupons and Rebate Apps
I used to love couponing. Because of couponing, I was able to save a TON of money. Now because we’ve embraced different, more minimalist values, I don’t seek out coupons like I used to.
We now use online codes (like the one for Walmart Grocery) and rebate sites like Honey, Rakuten, Ibotta.
Honey and Rakuten have extensions for your web browser. When you shop – it finds deals for you. No work needed! When you sign up through my referral links, you also get a cash back bonus on top of what you’re already saving.
Ibotta is where it’s at for saving money on your frugal Thanksgiving dinner! You earn cash back on products you purchase when you make a list on the app and upload your receipt. With hundreds of stores to choose from, they make earning cash on your groceries easy. AND there is a sign up bonus when you get started!
6. Shop Early
You might think the best time to buy your Thanksgiving groceries would be the week of the holiday, but it’s not! Often times a sale price is lower on pantry items weeks before Thanksgiving than it is just days before.
Look online at your local grocers’ ads. I always look at Aldi, Sprouts, and Reasor’s (our local chain). If I’m prepping for a big dinner (like Thanksgiving) or shopping for multiple weeks, I will go to multiple stores to get the best prices!
7. Don’t Be Afraid of Potlucks
If you’re hosting this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, don’t be afraid to ask people to bring a dish. Potlucks are the best!
Every year that we’ve hosted Thanksgiving, we have asked family to bring just one dish each to help out. They’ve brought turkey and ham before (we don’t cook it since we’re vegan), pies and cookies, and everything in between.
It is not only a great way to save money and have a frugal Thanksgiving, but everyone is sure to find something they like. We have a picky eater or two in our family. If they bring something over, they will at least eat that!
Another tip with potluck dinners: ask for specific dishes! You’ve meal planned and know what you’re making, so ask your family to bring a specific item. You know they like green bean casserole and could make it ahead of time and pop it in your oven to cook it – so why not have them bring it over?
8. Do You Really Need to Decorate?
Holiday decor is really overrated. Target, Hobby Lobby, and the like are filled to the brim with seasonal decor. Do you need it? Nope!
I’ve decluttered much of my holiday decor over the past year. Happily, I can decorate for Thanksgiving with three items: a fake white pumpkin, a turkey Beanie Baby (from 1996 – I’m a 90’s kid!), and a set of Thanksgiving placemats I made myself. That’s what I call frugal Thanksgiving decorating!
The point of this is that you do not need to go buy a cart load of junk from the store to fill your house with to look festive. Maybe light some candles or turn on your Scentsy warmer. Put some fresh cut flowers in a vase on the table. You just don’t need more seasonal junk in your house (your wallet doesn’t need it either).
9. Budget Booze
I love cheap wine and I cannot lie.
$3 wine from Aldi tastes the same as the $25 wine from the liquor store.
Unless you have a sommelier for a brother, no one will judge what beverages are offered at your frugal Thanksgiving dinner.
Heck, make the holiday BYOB!
10. Black Friday…
I have more to say about Black Friday from a frugal minimalist’s perspective, but here are a few, brief tips on how to save money on Black Friday.
- Use a 72 hour list
- Don’t give into peer pressure (shopping partners) and purchase something you don’t need
- If you do shop, find coupons online before you go (see #5)
- Keep your receipt (because buyer’s remorse)
- Practice the one-in and one-out method
I hope you make this Thanksgiving a frugal, happy one! Spend it with friends, family, and the ones you love.