Here's how to celebrate without breaking the bank.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
November 08, 2020
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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

Thanksgiving is one of my absolute favorite holidays. But with all of the food, drinks and decor, it is no secret that it can get pricey. For a person who just hosted their first Thanksgiving last year, it was pretty shocking how quickly my spending got away from me. But if you are like me and working with a very limited budget, don’t sweat it. There are plenty of ways to celebrate and put an impressive dinner on the table without spending lots of money, even if your celebration looks a little different this year. Here are a few ways to save money on your Thanksgiving celebration this year. 

1. Shop smart 

If you only remember one thing from this article, make a plan. Set a menu beforehand and make a list of the ingredients you need. Double check your pantry to make sure there aren’t already cans of pumpkin or breadcrumbs at your disposal. Buy only what you need and will use for the day to help you cut down on food waste or extra ingredients you won’t know what to do with. 

Another great way to cut costs is to shop at a more affordable grocery store, like Trader Joe’s or your local discount grocer. If you will be feeding more people and it makes sense, Costco also has great deals on food.

2. Focus on veggies 

Though Thanksgiving is famous for the turkey, focusing on veggie-forward ingredients will help you cut costs. Ingredients like cauliflower and butternut squash cost a fraction of what a turkey costs and help you save cooking time while having a healthy feast. If you want to switch things up, try making a plant-based Thanksgiving. To help stretch your dollar even further, opt for frozen or canned vegetables where it makes sense. Just be sure to watch for any added sodium and try to choose “no-salt-added” products. 

3. Cut recipes in half 

If you are going to be cooking for a smaller group, there is no need to make a huge turkey or an entire casserole dish of stuffing. Do some math and cut recipes in half to make the number of servings more appropriate. Many grocers carry turkey breasts that are smaller and quicker to cook, or you could try roasting a whole chicken instead (I promise it’s much easier than it sounds). This way you won’t be swimming in leftovers and you’ll save money on ingredients. It can also help you cut down on food waste from making more than you can realistically get through.  

4. Use nature to set the table 

Having decor to cover your Thanksgiving table is always a nice touch, especially if you are hosting. However, buying expensive decor for only one occasion doesn’t make sense for someone on a budget. Instead, use nature’s decor for a beautiful table that's also free. Get creative with pine cones, branches and colorful leaves. Grab a bunch or two of flowers for some added color, and you're good to go. 

5. Delegate

Even if you are hosting, it does not mean that you have to take on organizing one hundred percent of the day's festivities yourself. Delegating out tasks to your guests will help them feel more involved while also taking things off of your plate. If you know someone who loves to bake, ask them to bring a dessert. For someone who doesn’t love to cook, suggest bringing wine or additional serving platters or utensils. You don’t have to be a Thanksgiving superhero and execute everything yourself, spreading the wealth with tasks and items will save you time and money. 

6. Have a plan for leftovers 

What would Thanksgiving be without leftovers, really? I’m all for a loaded leftover sandwich the day after, but winging it with the same ingredients day after day can get old. Instead, make a plan for your leftovers to help you be diligent about getting through them while keeping it interesting. Switch it up with our Loaded Mashed Potato Pancakes or Leftover Turkey Salad. If it makes sense for you, think of bringing leftovers to someone you know who could use help with a meal or two. No food should be thrown away, so planning ahead is crucial to ensure you get the most out of the Thanksgiving meal you worked so hard on.

Bottom line

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Gathering around the table with people you love thinking of all that you are grateful for is so important and can bring us so much joy, which is a hot commodity this year. All the food, drinks and supplies can get expensive, but a little preparation can go a long way. These tips and tricks will help you cut costs in what you buy, how you decorate and what you do with your leftovers so you can spend the day focusing on what’s important, not stressing about finances.