Cooking for Thanksgiving is expensive — the range of ingredients, number of dishes and elaborate decorations can really break the bank, especially if you are feeding a crowd. Luckily, there are some easy ways to save without skimping on the celebration.
Here are seven tips for cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner for under $100, without sacrificing the best parts of the holiday.
1. Look out for deals
As it nears November, you’ll want to keep tabs on all of your local grocery stores — not just the one you typically visit. A lot of stores will offer deals on a free turkey (or vegetarian turkey alternatives) if you spend a certain amount, or have competitive prices. If your usual grocery store doesn’t have the best Thanksgiving deals, it may be worth driving a little farther to do your shopping. If you buy ahead, you can always freeze the turkey until you’re ready to cook. Just be sure to factor thawing into your cooking time for later.
2. Plan ahead
Going into the grocery store without a plan can result in overbuying and overspending or you may forget a key ingredient and have to go back. Plan out your menu ahead of time with a well thought-out grocery list, with required ingredients and how much of each you need. Once you have your list, make sure to do these simple things before you shop to help you save.
3. Purchase pre-made
Sometimes frozen, canned and pre-made foods are a lot cheaper than the home-cooked version — and by dressing them up a little, they can look (and taste) homemade. Stuffing out of a box might not seem like the perfect side dish, but adding your own blend of spices or broth can make it taste just the way Mom used to make it. You can also add your own unique toppings, like fresh whipped cream and crushed graham crackers, to pre-made pies to give them a homemade feel. And although frozen green beans might not seem as tasty as fresh ones, it probably won’t make a huge difference when they’re baked into a casserole.
If you don’t end up using all of your frozen or canned goods, they likely won’t expire anytime soon and won’t go to waste.
4. Keep it simple
Rather than creating multiple options, stick to the classics.
Although making a grand spread of whipped sweet potatoes, baked sweet potatoes and sweet potato pie sounds exciting, one big sweet potato dish should work. When narrowing down your options, try to choose the dish that’s the most versatile and popular, to satisfy the greatest number of guests.
Then, cut out the unpopular menu items. If you noticed the cranberry sauce went mostly uneaten last year, consider skipping it this year. Being open to adapting the typical Thanksgiving menu can help you to cut costs and avoid wasting food.
Plus, narrowing down your menu can make it easier to know what to buy (or not buy) in bulk, ultimately saving you money.
5. Use cash back credit cards
Some credit cards are especially great when it comes to earning you cash back, like those that offer two or three times the points on groceries. Use these for your Thanksgiving grocery shopping. Using credit cards that offer cash back on gas can also make sure you get your bang for your buck as you make trips to and from the grocery store.
6. Skip the decorations or DIY
Don’t waste money on fancy decorations that will ultimately end up thrown out or discarded for a year. If you feel like your Thanksgiving spread is lacking festivity, get creative and do it yourself. Gather some leaves and pinecones, and put them in a glass jar for a simple fall centerpiece.
7. When guests offer to bring something, say yes
It’s common courtesy for guests to offer to bring a dish, dessert or bottle of wine — don’t be shy about taking advantage of this. While you may want to say, “Bring whatever you’d like!” it could just result in multiple bottles of wine or dozens of cookies that might not be what you really need, meaning you’ll have to spend more on the essentials. Specifically suggesting that guests bring certain desserts or side dishes can save you on cooking time and additional expenses.
If you need an idea for a side-dish to make at your Thanksgiving feast, try this macaroni and cheese recipe with a fall twist.