Thanksgiving is one of the most beloved American holidays, but it can also be the most expensive. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated the cost of Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people was $49.48 last year. And analysts only expect the cost to go up in 2013.
To prepare yourself and your wallet, check out the following tips to ensure your Thanksgiving dinner is a success without breaking the bank.
1. Get an accurate head count. Thanksgiving dinner is usually followed by days of leftovers. To save money and not push the bounds of your refrigerator or your budget, determine how many guests you expect in advance so you can create a more accurate menu and shopping list. Then, plan and stick to a budget using an online personal finance management tool like Mint.com.
2. Keep an eye on local deals. Local newspapers and TV stations often post updated lists the weeks before Thanksgiving on food prices at various grocers. Mobile apps like Grocery Pal are also great for monitoring price changes while on the go. Cross referencing with your grocery list is one way to shave a few extra dollars off your shopping trip.
3. Make it a potluck. The first question friends and family usually ask when invited to any dinner party is, "What can I bring?" Don't be embarrassed to answer. In addition to spirits and cocktails, you can ask guests to bring desserts or side dishes. It'll be cheaper and significantly less work for you, plus it makes everyone feel they helped make the day a special one.
4. Buy in bulk. If you're going to host a large group, take advantage of bulk deals at grocery stores or make a trip to a warehouse retailer for nonperishable items such as alcohol or canned foods. Stocks, canned soup and vegetables are often on sale this time of year and can be used in dishes for many months to come.
5. Shop around for your turkey. It's the centerpiece of the table to be sure, but that doesn't mean you can't get creative to save some money. One way is getting a smaller turkey and supplementing the meal with additional side dishes. Opt for a grocery store turkey, which will cost about $2 a pound, and for an even better deal, visit your grocery store early and store the turkey in your freezer.
6. Invest in real or durable kitchenware. Disposable plates, napkins and silverware are wasteful, and the designs are often kitschy. Invest in plates and cutlery that you can use for life, or borrow from a friend or family member. The same goes for utensils like turkey basters or pie tins that you might only use for Thanksgiving dinner.
7. Create your own decorations. There's no need to spend lavishly on table accents. Check out photo sharing sites like Pinterest for a number of festive, easy to execute ideas. For example, pick up votive candles from a craft store, and arrange them around fall leaves and pine cones from the backyard. The candles will cost a few dollars, and the foliage is free.
The greatest part about Thanksgiving is that there are no rules. Anyone can incorporate their own traditions with foods that represent who they are. Despite consumer confidence falling and an economy that is still shaky, there are ways to create fantastic Thanksgiving memories (focused on the art of eating of course), without having buyer's remorse at the end of the holiday. Make sure you have a plan, be flexible and, most importantly, remember it's about having fun with the ones you love.
Hitha Prabhakar is a consumer spending and retail analyst and Mint.com spokeswoman, the leading web and mobile money management tool that helps people understand and do more with their money.