As much as I love Thanksgiving, I'll be the first to admit that it's not exactly cheap. After all, when you're cooking seven side dishes, three pies, and a giant turkey, it's no surprise that the costs can rack up. But the more you host Thanksgiving, the more you learn, and while I might have been shilling out a pretty penny my first time around, I've managed to figure out how to keep things cheap along the way.
If you want to host Thanksgiving on a budget, Beth Moncel, creator of Budget Bytes, tells SELF that there are a lot of easy ways to keep the cost down. Like, you don't even really need to buy a whole turkey if you play your cards right! Here you'll find her money-saving tips, plus some of my favorite budget hacks that I've learned through my own years of hosting Thanksgiving.
1. Don't be afraid to start shopping way ahead of time.
When it comes to shopping for Thanksgiving ingredients, there's no such thing as too early. I don't mean buying sweet potatoes or other fresh produce months ahead of time (that's just silly), I mean picking up shelf-stable products whenever you notice they're on sale. For example, if you see a two-for-one promotion for canned pumpkin purée in September, take advantage of the deal and save the cans until the day in November when you actually need to use them.
2. Speaking of those promotions, there'll be a lot more of them in the weeks before Thanksgiving.
Through the end of October until Thanksgiving, supermarkets everywhere will be offering lots of promotions. Moncel recommends signing up for a store flyer aggregate app, like Flipp, because it allows you to compare prices and discounts at the supermarkets in your area by just looking at your phone.
Moncel says that stores also offer bundle deals, which means that they'll often give you free side items with the purchase of a turkey. At the supermarket I shopped at when I lived in Brooklyn, store members could even get a free turkey if they spent enough on other products throughout the month of November. I never ended up buying enough to get the free turkey, but that's because I only ever bought enough food to feed myself. On the other hand, if I'd been shopping for a household, I imagine I'd have gotten the free turkey in no time.
3. Before you even head to the store, do a thorough inventory of your pantry for Thanksgiving-friendly ingredients you might already have.
I have a lot of shelf-stable ingredients that I've used once for Thanksgiving and then totally forgotten about. Rather than letting these things die in my pantry, I always look through what I already have to ensure I'm not making any redundant purchases. It saves me money and pantry space, and I don't have to feel bad for buying an ingredient that I thought I'd only use once.
4. As for the fresh stuff, seasonal produce is cheaper and more delicious.
"Fresh seasonal produce, like potatoes, celery, carrots, cranberries, apples, and squash are all more affordable this time of year, and it doesn't take a lot to dress them up into beautiful, simple, and elegant dishes for Thanksgiving dinner" Moncel explains. And thankfully (ha), most of the classic dishes you'd find on a Thanksgiving dinner table rely heavily on these ingredients, so it's totally doable to make the feast on the relative cheap.
5. Some pre-made products can save you time and money.
To save time, effort, and money, Moncel says that store-bought, pre-made products can sometimes be a lifesaver. For example, fresh, homemade dinner rolls are delicious, but they can take all day to make, which isn't ideal when you're already spending a lot of time on the other food. In this case, pre-made dinner rolls, which are both cheap and ready-to-go, may be the better option for you. "When tasked with making several dishes in one day, there's nothing wrong with buying one or two items pre-made," she says.
6. Save speciality ingredients for smaller settings.
"Honestly, most simple Thanksgiving classics are very cheap," says Moncel, "They only start to get expensive when you make them more 'fancy' with things like cream sauces, nuts, cheese, bacon, sausage, or specialty produce items like pomegranates." Basically, her main advice to hosting Thanksgiving on a budget is to also keep it simple. "But don't worry," she adds, "all that in-season produce will make sure your feast is full of color, flavor, and texture—anything but boring."
7. Despite what they've told you, you don't have to make a full turkey—heck, you don't even have to make a turkey at all!
To be totally honest, turkey is not usually the star of the table. Even when you prepare it just so, it's still the blandest, driest bird in the poultry family if you ask me. That's why this year, my Thanksgiving co-host and I have started to mull over other options. First we considered roasting a chicken instead, and while we've shifted our plans, it's still not a bad idea. Chicken is tastier, cheaper, and easier to cook—it takes about a fourth of the time of a Thanksgiving-sized turkey. While a chicken might not be enough to feed a crowd, you could even roast two chickens, and it'd still be cheaper than one 20-pound turkey.
Though it may not seem like it, I do understand why turkey is served on Thanksgiving—it's a showpiece! But you actually don't need the full bird to pull off an extravagant display. Moncel says that you can simply buy parts of the turkey (like the breasts or the legs), and plate it as you normally would. That way, you don't have to carve it, which can be a hot mess, especially if you've never done it before (and in my case, even when you've done it a lot). Plus, buying just the parts is way cheaper than buying a whole bird. "Many grocery stores sell bone-in breasts or leg quarters this time of year as an alternative to whole turkeys," says Moncel.
8. Have your guests pitch in or bring something, even if it's just a bottle of wine. It'll really add up to some serious savings.
While I typically take care of all the food needed for Thanksgiving, I have my friends take care of all the alcohol. It takes my mind off one part of the menu, and it saves me a bunch of money, because booze definitely isn't cheap.
9. Or turn the whole thing into a potluck.
"The best way to host Thanksgiving on a budget is to get everyone involved," says Moncel. "Sharing the burden of cooking with all your attendees allows everyone to sit back and enjoy the day, and makes it more affordable for everyone." Plus, she says it's a great way to get a variety of different food, because you never know what someone will bring.
10. Cook just as much food as you and your guests will need—you don't have to aim for leftovers.
"It's worth noting that you don't have to go big or go home for Thanksgiving," Moncel explains. "There's nothing wrong with cooking just the right amount of food for your guests." While leftovers and Thanksgiving might go hand in hand, it'll be cheaper for you in the end if you scale down the amount of food you're making. "If it helps you stay within your budget, or reduces food waste, it's worth reconsidering the volume of food we cook on Thanksgiving."
If you put all these tips into action, you'll find that you don't have to spend a fortune to throw a feast.