How to Trim the Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner

Consider preparing an alternative to the traditional turkey meal.


Thanksgiving is not far away, and if you are like most people, you will be celebrating with a huge, traditional Thanksgiving dinner. If you are in charge of preparing the Thanksgiving dinner, you might be looking for a few ways to reduce the cost of making that dinner. A classic Thanksgiving dinner is already pretty cheap. 

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The American Farm Bureau Federation does an annual price survey of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner including turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie and all the basic trimmings. The average cost of a feast for 10 was $42.91 in 2009 and should be about the same this year. There are some ways to make the dinner even cheaper so you will have money left for those Black Friday bargains.

The first thing you need to do is plan ahead. Figure out how many people are coming and come up with a menu. Knowing ahead of time everything you plan to serve will give you a chance to buy items on sale or with coupons rather than paying whatever the price is at the last minute.

The next thing you need to do is study all the deals. Many supermarkets offer a free or reduced price turkey or similar Thanksgiving themed deal in the weeks before Thanksgiving. Look over the ads and figure out which deal will be the best for you based on what you plan on serving.

Making some of your food from scratch can also save you money. Making your own pies rather than buying a pre-made one from the store will cost much less per serving and it is not hard to do. You might consider making your own stuffing or dressing as well.

Perhaps the best way to save money is to have guests bring a side dish, desserts, or drinks. Since you are doing the hard work of cooking the turkey most people will be happy to contribute to the dinner and help ease your burden.

Don’t go overboard on how much you prepare either. You don’t need a dozen side dishes; just a few of the classic items will be enough. People get stuffed pretty quickly on turkey and mashed potatoes and they will want to save room for dessert. You probably won’t want to be eating Thanksgiving leftovers for the entire next week either.

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Consider preparing an alternative Thanksgiving dinner. Depending on when you actually have your Thanksgiving dinner it is possible your guests might have already had a Thanksgiving feast or two and are tiring of the traditional meal. Consult with your guests and if this is the case they might look forward to an inexpensive alternative meal such as pasta.

Eating a traditional Thanksgiving feast might even save you money the next day. According to research from two University of Utah professors eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and mashed potatoes makes consumers less likely to buy on impulse which might affect the outcome of their shopping on Black Friday. Now you can rationalize gorging yourself on turkey and mashed potatoes by saying it saves you money.

It does not take much to keep the cost of Thanksgiving dinner low. You don’t need to worry about the cost of your Thanksgiving feast and can concentrate on spending quality time with your family and friends.

Andy Hough writes about frugality and living well on a small income at