How To Do Thanksgiving on the Cheap

Turkey? Check. Gravy? Check. Pumpkin pie? Check. What’s missing? Perhaps all of the money in your bank account.

Hosting a Thanksgiving feast at your house can be the highlight of the holiday season, but providing food for a large group can quickly become a financial burden. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, not endured! I realize that financial burdens are real! I have felt them, but when you are doing something like a Thanksgiving Dinner, you want to be focusing on all that you do have instead of all that you don’t.

I have had years in my house where our Thanksgiving Dinner was not the typical fancy meal. We have had other years where it was been way over the top. But, I don’t look back and remember how great our dinner was because of the quality of the turkey. I remember the memories. I want this Thanksgiving to be a wonderful, happy time for you and your family. I do not want you worrying about how you can afford to celebrate! Everyone has the right to celebrate and I want to help you find what will work best for your family.

My goal is to give you money-saving tips to help take the burden off your shoulders. Implementing a few money-saving tips can ease the crunch on your wallet and shift the focus back to the most important part of Thanksgiving:  family, friends and food.

When we decide that we want to host Thanksgiving dinner, we imagine having the perfect holiday get together. Well, let’s face it! There is no such thing as perfect! We will never meet those expectations that we have in our head, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot have the best Thanksgiving ever! I have 10 helpful tips that will help you see where to save money and where to spend it! The whole purpose of Thanksgiving is to be THANKFUL, so let’s be sure to keep that in mind.

Start Early

While the early bird might catch the worm, the early Thanksgiving shopper will catch all of the best deals. Plan your menu now and then watch for sales on necessary ingredients over the next few weeks. Almost every item on a traditional Thanksgiving menu will be on sale at some point in the month of November. To increase your savings, check our deals page because we will post any and all grocery deals that are worthwhile to you. Also, grab your local newspaper and see when things will go on sale! I know it’s a hassle, but it is worth it. Be prepared so that you don’t end up missing the sales and spending way too much days before Thanksgiving.

Be Flexible

If you have crescent rolls on your menu, but you find dinner rolls on sale at a rock bottom price, think about modifying your menu. By adjusting your menu to match sales, you maximize your potential savings. Every year my menu changes slightly. Of course we have the normal dishes in our home, but one year we decided to do ham instead of turkey because ham was on sale! Guess what, we all survived! Cut prices where you can and be willing to make some changes! I am not saying throw your whole menu out the window! We still have traditions! But just cut the corners where you can!

Make Everything Homemade

There are so many vendors around Thanksgiving that will be selling pies, turkeys, rolls, etc. and it is extremely tempting to buy them all pre-made but trust me, this will add up! It is best to make everything homemade if you are trying to save money. I know it is so convenient to just go out and buy pre-made items, but it will cost you in the long run. I am totally guilty of this! I have bought pre-made dishes and to be honest, it kind of takes the fun out of it for me. Some of my favorite memories are making homemade pies with my mother on Thanksgiving. We don’t want to rob our children of that!

Go Potluck-style

Don’t be afraid to give your guests assignments. Check to see if any of your attendees have traditional family dishes they are accustomed to and ask them to provide those. If you have guests attending that believe Ramen noodles and PB&J are culinary masterpieces, assign them paper plates or other paper products. Include drinks when making assignments, or inform them you will have water and lemonade, and they can provide additional beverages if they prefer. If you have enough guests contributing, you might be able to get away with only providing the turkey.

Accept Help 

I have had years where I wanted to host everyone, but honestly we were not in the best financial position to do so. My brother in law offered to help with the expenses and we graciously accepted that help. I know it is hard sometimes to admit that maybe we cannot afford to host everyone, but if there are people willing to help, let them! And maybe that help isn’t just with money, maybe it is with time! Allow your neighbors to watch the kids for a while when you go grocery shopping or have all the uncles take the kids to play football while the wives prepare. Do not take the entire responsibility of Thanksgiving on by yourself. This is a holiday for everyone! Everyone should help and everyone should enjoy!

Don’t Go Overboard

While many believe leftovers are the best part of a big turkey dinner, watching food go to waste is not. Be realistic when planning your menu. If you have 8 guests coming, cooking 4 pies is unnecessary, regardless of how delicious they are. One pound of pre-cooked turkey should feed the average adult appetite. Once cooked and carved, each guest would receive about a half pound of turkey to enjoy. Prices will rise with the more food that you have! I used to always justify to myself and say, “oh I can spend this much on Thanksgiving dinner because this will feed us for days!” Well, after about 3 days of leftovers, no one will want to eat it anymore and it will be wasted! Be cautious of that when preparing your meal!

Get Creative

Don’t waste money on expensive décor. Utilizing some of what nature provides for free! You can make your own centerpieces by throwing a few pine cones and acorns into a bowl or vase. Have your children help by crafting place mats or name tags for your guests, or hang some of their Thanksgiving art from school to create a festive atmosphere. Remember the purpose of the holiday! We are being thankful for all that we have so why not show that thankfulness by making décor with things we already have as well. As we get closer to Thanksgiving, we will be posting different DIYs that you can do to decorate your home for the Thanksgiving holiday!

Plan Ahead

Stock up for next year’s Thanksgiving feast by hitting up the after Thanksgiving sales this year. Score Thanksgiving items such as decorative plates, table cloths or napkins at a fraction of their original prices. There is honestly no sense in spending dozens of dollars on decor that you will use one day out of the year! And even more so on plates or napkins that you will just throw away. Take advantage of those sales and prepare for the next year NOW. You will be so glad you did!

Alcohol Free

I personally do not drink, but I have many friends who do! They all tell me how much the alcohol costs when they end up hosting dinners. If you are looking for ways to cut back the financial burden of Thanksgiving, don’t supply the alcohol. Just let everyone know that you will supply the water or lemonade, but if they would like another beverage, they are welcome to bring it! That alone could save you hundreds of dollars. I know it is hard because you want to be the best host, but you have to look at what the priorities are. If alcohol is an important part to your Thanksgiving tradition, then maybe you can cut back in another area. But if it is just a nice addition to your meal, then I would suggest living without it this year. 5 years from now no one will remember which Thanksgiving dinner supplied alcohol!

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities

My final word of advice is to establish your priorities. Look at your family and the traditions that you have. Decide which things are the most important. Buy those things first! Then, when it comes to the things that are useful or nice additions, do what you can afford. Remember the purpose of this day. It is about being thankful! Do not spend too much money just so that everyone can feel thankful. That will be hard on you! Do the best with what you can. Some of the Thanksgivings when we had the least have been the most memorable because we were able to focus on what really matters most.

Remember The Reason

Just keep the purpose of this holiday in the back of your mind and you will be fine. Know your limits and know what you can afford! This can be the best Thanksgiving yet if you simply just make your mind up that it will be. Happy shopping!!


  • These are all good ideas on being frugal during Thanksgiving. Especially the pot-luck tip. It truly can save a lot of money!

  • Fantastic ideas I especially like the idea about having others each take a assignment and bring a dish or such. Also don’t forget to assign someone to watching the kids that is a job in it’s self. It helps to have a small craft or something to entertain the kids until the meal is ready.

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