How to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner

Those picture perfect commercials around the holiday time really get to me. Every table is set with all the decorations and plates and cloth napkins and the good crystal. The food is plentiful and the smiles abound. Let’s be realistic here, not many of us have an unlimited budget when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. Let’s talk about how to save money on Thanksgiving dinner and still make it memorable and delicious.

How to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner

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How to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner


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Set a Budget

How many people are coming to dinner? This is the first step in coming up with a budget for Thanksgiving dinner. There is no set dollar amount to spend per person, since food prices can vary drastically in all the different areas of our country. But you will be able to get an idea of how much food to prepare. The number of people can be the difference between a 9 pound turkey and a 20 pound turkey. When thinking about how to save money on Thanksgiving dinner, your guest list should be the first place to start. 

Make a Grocery List

Make a list of all the food that you want to serve at Thanksgiving dinner.  Do you want a tradition dinner with turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy or do you want to carve out your own traditions and serve something different? The choice is yours and the options are endless. So make that list of what you want to serve early in the month so you have time to look for some sales.

Take inventory of what you already have on hand. This is especially true for seasonings and spices, starch for the gravy, butter, beverages. 

Along with the food that you want to serve, you need to think about if you are going to go all out on decorations and decorate the whole house, inside and out and your table. Or are you going to just have a really nice table set for your guests? 

Does your menu include beverages? Alcoholic beverages? You may want to ask guests to bring their own drinks to cut your costs.

You could also ask guests to bring a side dish or an appetizer to pass. Since you are hosting, your guests will be more than happy to bring something to contribute to Thanksgiving dinner.

Shop the Sales

I am the master at getting the deals. I start looking as early as I possibly can, as long as what I am purchasing will keep until Thanksgiving day. Turkeys are always on sale in the few weeks leading up to the big day. But be careful of these sales, oftentimes you will have to spend $50 in order to get your turkey at 19 cents per pound, or whatever the sale price might be. Are you really saving money if you have to spend an extra $50? You might have to buy things that you really don’t need right now.

And speaking of sales, if you are hosting Christmas dinner as well, stock up for that at the same time.

Another shopping tip – if you host Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner every year, be sure to shop after each holiday to get festive napkins and paper plates at 50% – 75% off and save them for next year! (Decorations too!)

You can freeze your turkey or any other meat that you purchase until a few days before. Follow this guide for thawing out a turkey.

You might only need a few pounds of potatoes for dinner, but the 10 pound bag of potatoes is almost always cheaper. Buy the bigger bag and make it a point to add potatoes to your meal plan in the next week. Or make a bigger batch of mashed potatoes and send some home with your guests. Same goes for sweet potatoes. You can easily make the leftovers into sweet potato fries or serve as a side dish again the next week.

You could make your own stuffing instead of buying the bagged stuffing at the store. I save the bread crusts all year long from our loaves of bread and freeze them. I pull them out a few times a year and cut them into cubes and make homemade croutons, but you could use them in your stuffing as well.

If you garden during the same, make sure to save some of your vegetables specifically for Thanksgiving dinner. Another way to save on Thanksgiving dinner is to barter and trade, vegetables or pies or even the turkey for whatever you can trade, whether it be a skill or a product.


Desserts are another item that guests can bring. Don’t be shy when someone asks you what they can bring. Tell them specifically what is needed and keep a list! Some people have specialties of their own and would love to share them.

If you are baking pies, many of the ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and frozen as well. If you are purchasing pies from a bakery, make sure to call ahead and reserve yours, they often have cut off dates for this. Make sure you know when pick up time is so you can coordinate it into your preparation schedule.

Looking for menu ideas and recipes for Thanksgiving Dinner? Check out this blog post on Thanksgiving Dinner menu ideas and recipes. 

Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner

Don’t worry about your table being Pinterest perfect. Your guests are there to enjoy the company and the food, they are not going to count the pine cones in your cornucopia!

During your fall walks, bring a bag with you and gather up some of nature’s finest and add to your decorations. 

Be sure to tell your guests to bring to-go containers with them so they can bring home leftovers.

Take pictures and capture the moments, both serious and fun. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on the Thanksgiving dinner and all the decorations, you just need to have great food along with family and friends and it will be memorable. 

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