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Thanks to the falling price of turkey and other staples, the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people has fallen to $49.04 this year, down 44 cents from 2012, according to a survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. At just $4.90 per person, that’s quite a bargain.
But that figure sticks to a fairly traditional dinner, and these days, holiday dining often strays happily from the traditional. So let’s check out a few ways you could save some money on your Thanksgiving feast.
Turn the Menu Upside Down
Rather than planning a traditional menu and buying all the ingredients, start with what’s already in your pantry, says Coryanne Ettiene, a cooking show host and mother of three. “By incorporating elements from your kitchen ingredients, you spend less at the checkout and less time at the grocery store, and this time of year saving both time and money means more time for enjoying the holiday season.”
Planning a menu around what’s already in-house has another key advantage: It means you avoid getting roped into buying a slew of ingredients by the bunch, box or bottle, only to use one or two servings. When meal-planning, skip dishes that have an unusual ingredient or call for a pinch of something not already handy.
Don’t overlook the obvious; many stores offer a free turkey promotion to customers who spend a certain amount.
Since last-minute shopping can be an enormous strain on both budgets and stress levels, plan ahead — not just for Thanksgiving, but for the next set of special holiday meals, too.
“When shopping for Thanksgiving,” says Ettiene, “consider your Christmas menu, as well. For example, buying fresh herbs in bulk and freezing or drying the leftovers allows you to save more money when you return to the grocery store to shop for your Christmas menu.”
Jeanette Pavini, a consumer savings expert at Coupons.com, offers this advice: “When looking to buy fruits and vegetables for holiday events,” she says, “look to frozen produce when you can. You’re also more likely to find manufacturer coupons for frozen produce.”
This year, Thanksgiving also falls on the first night of Hanukkah. Incorporating potato pancakes, leek or cauliflower latkes, and other traditional dishes can add a twist to the typical Thanksgiving dinner — and keep your finances in check.
Pavini also recommends asking friends and family to bring a dish for the meal. “Usually they’re more than willing to do so,” she says, “and it can help you stretch your budget.”
While it’s not uncommon for a host to cook the turkey and ask friends to bring sides, without good planning, that can result in six different types of mashed potatoes making their way to the table. To share the weight of Thanksgiving a little more strategically, partner with another family to plan, buy, cook and share the holiday dinner, and ask everyone else to bring a dessert. (Because there’s no such thing as too much pie.)
Or you can have an open-table-style Thanksgiving dinner with a community organization, church group, or colleagues in a rented space. Buy in bulk, share the cooking and cleanup, and donate the leftovers to a nearby shelter or soup kitchen.
A Flash in the Pan
Thanksgiving dinner might be just one meal on one day, but it has the power to overwhelm the week’s — or even the month’s — grocery budget. However, with savvy planning and some strategic freezing, the leftovers and extra ingredients might even make it until New Year’s. A wide variety of resources can help make planning and budgeting for Thanksgiving easier, such as grocery store apps like Whole Foods, recipe websites like Ziplist, and online budgeting classics like Mint.
But for those who’d rather enjoy their dinner than fret over it, there’s one surefire thing to make on Thanksgiving that’s always a hit: reservations.