Planning for Thanksgiving on a Budget

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You don’t need to freak out or go broke when planning for Thanksgiving. Keep your priorities and these planning tips in mind so you can host a great Thanksgiving on a budget.

slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream

Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving is one of the few days when folks across the US take a break en masse to spend time with friends and family. While there are those who opt out of observing Thanksgiving, I’m not sure there’s another day when we’re so “unified,” even across cultures and religions.

In honor of it’s being a special occasion, Thanksgiving is a day of feasting across the board. People who rarely cook or even eat at home find themselves wandering the aisles of the grocery store and setting a nice table.

And for whatever reason, that raises the stakes when it comes to planning for Thanksgiving and hosting the holiday meal.

The good thing is that it’s not that hard!

Sure, there may be some tricks to carving a turkey and making buttery, flaky pie crust, but that all comes with practice. Don’t let that come between you and opening your doors this holiday season.

Instead follow these three simple tips:

Planning for Thanksgiving

1. Think through your Thanksgiving.

If you’ve never served up a Thanksgiving meal before, take some time to consider how you want to plan a big dinner and enjoy it. Resist the impulse to be so ambitious that you don’t enjoy your day. Think about how to find that balance of creating a wonderful meal for your family without creating too much stress for you.

Several years ago, at the risk of sacrilege, I ditched the notion of roasting a whole turkey and bought a turkey breast and chicken legs instead. Everyone was happy; the oven wasn’t tied up for hours on end; we didn’t waste dark meat that we don’t like. Triple win!

That was a game changer for us. Maybe there’s some simplification that you can enact that will be a game changer for YOU.

What are your biggest priorities this year? 

If cooking homemade is it, then make sure you plan out an in-depth plan so that you have ample time to pull it off.

If your priority is to make sure all your guests are comfortable, then maybe that means asking them their favorite traditions and planning for those.

If you just want to get food on the table, consider which short cuts you can take to make the holiday feast simpler.

thanksgiving dinner plate

2. Keep your budget in mind.

Hosting a Thanksgiving meal doesn’t have to break the bank. There are so many strategies to help you prepare a delicious Thanksgiving meal on a dime.

Take some time to plan ahead and see how you can save money while still creating a memorable meal for your friends and family.

Do you have a bunch of ingredients in the cupboard already? Does your grocery store offer specials on traditional turkey dinner ingredients? Can you eat down the pantry in the next few weeks to make space in the budget for feast food?

If you know what you want to cook early in the month, you’ll be able to shop the sales in the coming weeks instead of paying full pop right when you need it.

The basics of the Thanksgiving feast: turkey, potatoes, vegetables, and rolls are not expensive, but when you trick things out with fancy ingredients, your bill will go up. That one meal can easily tally up close to the cost of a week’s worth of groceries if you’re not careful.

Set a budget, prepare your menu, and then prioritize which items get the lion’s share of your grocery money. The must-makes get made, but you don’t have to prepare every great dish that crosses your path.

3. Assemble your recipes.

Choosing what recipes to make for Thanksgiving can be so much fun! Will you choose the same items as every year or will you bust out something new.

What will be your main dishes? 

I recommend Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast and Slow Cooker Ham. Both are simple, crowd-pleasing dishes that don’t hog oven space.

How about sides?

There are lots of options here. I’ve found that these are the most popular at my table:

And of course, dessert!

slice of pretzel berry dessert on plate

Pretzel Berry Dessert

4. Create a plan of attack.

Whether you make the same traditional recipes every year or like to mix things up with new ones picked from magazines or your favorite blog, you’ll need to get just a bit organized to pull it all off on Turkey Day.

Here’s a basic process to help you organize. Get out three sheets of paper:

  • Page 1: start your list of recipes.
  • Page 2: jot down groceries needed to prepare those recipes. Also note what special kitchen equipment and/or serving ware you need to prepare the recipes.
  • Page 3: Prepare a timeline of items you can create a few days or weeks in advance, things to prep the night before, things that need to be prepared right before serving.

Knowing what you’re going to make, what you need to make it, and when you’ll be preparing it will set you up nicely on Thanksgiving Day.

I’d love to know what tips and tricks work for you? Leave a comment below and tell us…

How are you planning for Thanksgiving?

Are you cooking or letting someone else do it?

Want to plan a fabulous holiday? A Simpler Season holds almost everything you need to do just that. This guide to planning the winter holidays provides creative ideas, time-saving tips, and budget-minded inspiration for making the most of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

With the busy family in mind, this planner/guide provides recipes, to-do lists, children’s activity sheets, planning pages, gift ideas, and step-by-step tutorials for creating homemade gifts.

Take it easier this year and celebrate a simpler season. Grab your copy today.

Planning for Thanksgiving | Life as Mom

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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  1. Cecee says

    Thanksgiving is my favorite favorite holiday, but unfortunately this year I am getting my wisdom teeth taken out on the Tuesday before 🙁

    Instead ill be doing a mini thanksgiving feast the Sunday before thanksgiving so my husband can eat the leftovers while I’m convelescing. That will include a turkey breast, cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, stuffing, green bean casserole, gravy and rolls. Which is WAY less than I normally do.

    I will us the amazing sales to stock up on whole turkey in the deep freezer. It will be great for the rest of the year

    • I’m sorry about the teeth. I’ve told my dentist I’m taking mine to the grave. But, I love it that you’re making Thanksgiving happen for you anyway. Go you!

  2. Megan says

    We always host Thanksgiving at our house. Our current count is 16 but we leave the door open for friends who have no other place to go, so the number is most likely to go up at the last minute. We always have more than enough (in fact, we encourage those who attend to bring Tupperware with them so they can pack some leftovers to bring home…I always crave a turkey sandwich the day after so I assume my guest will want to take their favorite treat home as well.) so adding a guest at the last minute is a delight, not a burden.

  3. Janel says

    I’m going to be cooking with my sister-in-law. We make a pretty good cooking team. Cooking a bird doesn’t seem as daunting when we do it together.

  4. Melanie A. says

    This is my Thanksgiving to work at the hospital (people still have babies on Thanksgiving), so we will celebrate with family the day after. My mother does the turkey and bread, I will bring a few sides/desserts, and my sisters pitch in and help with a few sides as well. I always want a turkey sandwich in the days following the big day, so I may also get a turkey on sale and cook it at my house.

  5. Lynette W. says

    Hi Jess!

    I figured out the secret to not wasting the dark meat (even though I do have a few lovers of dark meat) when my husband carves the bird – he puts all the dark meat on a plate and then goes ahead and strips the bones and wings clean! He pulls it all off the bones, so it’s sitting there, ready to go in my kitchen aid mixer and get shredded up into smaller pieces. The bones and carcass go into my largest crock-pot, covered in water to the top for turkey soup in a few days (simmers over night). That shredded turkey I section into 2 cup portions (last turkey I got 6 cups!) and freeze so that I can pull out for casseroles that use chicken. A turkey Thanksgiving that feeds 9 people on the first meal, then is stretched into almost 2 weeks (when you figure double nights for casseroles, plus the soup, and at least one night of all leftovers) for a family of six! Really trying to make that price of a turkey and potatoes work for us and save!

  6. Jen says

    My husband I have too have been hosting Thanksgiving for the last twenty plus years. Last year was the first time we didn’t have everyone at our house, due to us all being sick, and it was a nice break even if we felt yucky. However, most of the time we kind of split up the dinner. We fix the turkey and at least one or two side dishes. My MIL makes the gravy, my mom makes something, and my SIL makes rolls and maybe a dessert. Over the years it’s changed with whoever comes but it’s a pretty standard menu. Everyone behaves for a change. I usually do brussel sprouts with bacon, apples and boiled apple cider. I’m gong to ask everyone to bring leftover containers, I hate having to find enough to send home leftovers for everyone.

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