10 Tips to Save Money on Thanksgiving

You can save money on Thanksgiving Day dinner this year by getting a little creative and resourceful.

It’s known as a joyous time of the year that brings together family and friends. No need to bring your credit card into the mix. The statutory holiday that lands on every second Monday in October also marks the kick-off to the holiday season. The long weekend leads into Christmas shopping and all the commensurate holiday excess.

If you happen to be hosting Thanksgiving dinner on October 14th (or on October 13th for those who choose to celebrate it on Sunday) you could be in for a big bill. Social pressure may push you beyond your budget; everyone wants to be the host with the most. But that can mean blowing your budget and starting the New Year in debt. According to Turkey Farmers of Canada, 3.1 million turkeys were sold for Thanksgiving 2012. Everyone’s doing it.

You don’t need to break the bank to host a memorable dinner with your loved ones. Consolidated Credit has 10 tips on how you can save money on Thanksgiving, and gently ease your way into the expensive holiday season.

Tip #1: Get started early

Procrastination is never a good thing when planning an event, and when it comes to Thanksgiving, it can cost you. AllRecipes.com says a turkey will take up 40 per cent of your dinner budget, so it’s the best place to start when trying to cut costs. Keep an eye on sales the stores offer and buy a frozen turkey before Thanksgiving makes them hot commodities. Be sure to browse the advertisement flyers that are dropped off at your doorstep for all the best deals. If you’re lucky, you may be able to win a free turkey through work events or get one from local charities. Just remember to give the turkey plenty of time to thaw – one day in the fridge for every five pounds because eating a frozen turkey at Thanksgiving is no fun.

Tip #2: Keep it simple

Sure, you want to wow your guests, but trying out fancy dishes will drive up costs and could wind up in a culinary disaster if it’s outside of your kitchen prowess. The staples – potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, et al. – are relatively inexpensive. There’s no need to go gourmet; your guests expect the classic side dishes. Again, don’t wait until the last minute to visit the supermarket and pick up everything you need for your Thanksgiving meal. By keeping an eye on advertisement flyers leading up to Thanksgiving, you can take advantage of sales and buy your Thanksgiving staples for a lot less.

Tip #3: BYOS

I don’t think it’s fair to ask one person to prepare and pay for Thanksgiving dinner if the entire family is coming over. Most of your guests can empathize with the amount of time, energy, and money that goes into Thanksgiving prep. Most people have no problem with a “Bring Your Own Sides” request. Doing a potluck will save you a lot of time and money. You can request a specific guest to bring drinks or desserts, too.

If you’re afraid that everyone will end up bringing mashed potatoes, it may be helpful to send out a list of food and drinks you need for Thanksgiving by email and let family members volunteer to bring items. At least you’ll know that you’ll have everything you need and won’t have to make a last-minute trip to the grocery store because you’re missing pumpkin pie or sweet potatoes.

Tip #4: DIY decorating

You may get the urge to spend money to transform your dining room into a mythical pilgrim banquet from days-gone-by. Well here’s the good news. They didn’t have home décor stores hundreds of years ago. Decorations that we associate with thanksgiving can all be found in your backyard. Fulfill your thanksgiving decorating needs by foraging for acorns, willow branches, and pinecones. Arrange them nicely in a vase to achieve the seasonal touch. If the fallen leaves happen to be particularly golden, throw them in as well. Feel free to make a trip or two to the dollar store for supplies, but it’s a lot less costly than buying decorations yourself.

Tip #5: Make the most of it

Save on Thanksgiving by maximizing leftovers. Look up recipes for soups, stir-fry dishes, and sandwiches. Forget about wasting money on lunches at work, and bring the most immaculate brown-bag lunch that will make your coworkers jealous. If you really enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers, why not make twice as much and enjoy it for lunch the next month? It’s probably a lot cheaper than eating fast food.

Just make sure you don’t go overboard. Canadians are among the top food wasters in the world. Give some thought ahead of time on how much food you’ll be cooking and who will eat it. Otherwise, chances are some of it could end up in the trash if you’re not able to eat it before it spoils.

Tip #6: Try something new

The holiday is always interesting at my household. Half of us are vegetarian and the other half eats meat. While it does complicate things, it presents an opportunity to save money on Thanksgiving. Being vegetarian is generally less expensive than eating meat. If you’re vegetarian or open to something new, maybe try a vegetarian dinner one year. Vegetarian staples like vegetables or rice and beans are often a lot more affordable than turkey and the usual Thanksgiving staples. If nothing else, you can save money on a smaller turkey.

Tip #7: Volunteering

Have you volunteered around Thanksgiving? It’s one of the most rewarding experiences. Not everyone is as fortunate as you. Why not give the generous gift of time to help out those less fortunate? You can volunteer and hand out meals to the homeless and less fortunate. Not only will you feel great about it, you may get a free meal as a “thank you” for your generosity.

Tip #8: Buy frozen instead of fresh

When you buy a turkey, do you buy a frozen or a fresh one? Although fresh ones are easier to prepare (you don’t have to leave it out to thaw out), fresh ones tend to cost more than frozen ones. Save money by purchasing frozen. The savings can go a long way. Furthermore, instead of buying turkeys that are already stuffed, add your own stuffing.

Forget buying butter-basted turkeys from the supermarket at a premium price. Again, add your own butter and enjoy your turkey for a lot less.

Tip #9: Save money on wine

For a lot of families, drinking wine on Thanksgiving is a family tradition. I know it is with mine. I couldn’t imagine a Thanksgiving without our favourite wine. But wine doesn’t come cheap these days, unless you buy boxed wine. Not only does boxed wine tend to be a lot more affordable than bottled wine (you can usually buy one box for the price of four bottles).

Boxed wine is a lot more popular these days than it used to be. Each year, there are more varieties to choose from. Enjoy your favourite wine on Thanksgiving and help the environment – it doesn’t get any better than that!

Tip #10: Baking pies for less

What would Thanksgiving be without pie? There are so many different flavours of pie to choose from – apple, blueberry, cherry and pumpkin, to name a few. But store bought pies can be expensive, plus they tend not to taste as fresh. You also don’t get that fresh pie smell that so many people enjoy.

If you have the time and the culinary skills, a far better alternative is to bake your own pies. I know what you’re thinking; Thanksgiving is already busy enough as it is. I don’t have time to bake pies on top of everything else. The good news is that you don’t have to. You could space out the preparation of pies, so you’re not cooking a turkey and the pies at the same time.

A smart idea would be to make your own pie crust a month in advance when it’s not so hectic and freeze it until you’re ready to use it. Once you’re ready to bake the pies, try to time it so all your pies go in the oven at the same time. You’ll save energy and money, too. You’ll be able to enjoy the fresh pie smell as well.

At the end of the day, remember that any holiday is more about family and friends than material goods and dazzling meals. Nobody is keeping score. Ratchet down the pressure and take the time to appreciate everything you have around you because not everyone is as fortunate as you. Some families go hungry on Thanksgiving. Stretch every dollar to save on Thanksgiving, and enjoy your holiday!

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