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Thanksgiving Family Feast Cover

How to Create a Budget Friendly Thanksgiving Family Feast

Every year, around Thanksgiving, people can be seen running around like chickens with their heads cut off, completely frazzled. Now, I realize there are a few different components at work here, but money is usually the root cause of this behavior. Where to find the money to pay for all of that food is really the kicker. But, this is something that we can resolve by creating a change with how and what we spend our money on.

Thanksgiving dilemma

A few years ago, my parents mentioned how stressed out they were about how to fund everything for Thanksgiving, as this was an irregular expenditure that they had a hard time budgeting for. This turned into a bigger conversation about how we could remedy this ongoing issue. You see, our family had been growing. There were now spouses and children that weren’t there before. So our family of 5 had grown to a family of 12, which was a lot. Although, now we are a family of 18, so it is a really good thing that we figured it out back then!

The long and short of it is that my parents were buying all of the food for Thanksgiving, and cooking it. They had been doing it this way for years and weren’t thinking that change was an option. As soon as they said it though, it got me thinking about how we could change this to make it less stressful for them and more equitable for everybody. After all, the whole point is to get together and be thankful for all that we have and spending time with family. But if my parents weren’t enjoying the time because they were stressed out about money and all of the work involved, then we were missing the mark. Enter change!

A new leaf

Since I had been a broke single parent for a couple of years, at this point, I had become pretty darn good at stretching a dollar as far as it could possibly go. Along these same lines, I had picked up some tricks and figured out ways to still spend time with friends that didn’t cost me much. Having potlucks was one of the ways I did this.

When my friends wanted to get together for dinner, I would suggest a potluck at my house (or theirs) instead. This was much more cost effective and we got to be creative about what we brought. With this in mind, I proposed the idea to my parents about us all bringing dishes instead of them covering everything. They liked the idea because it would make things easier for them from a labor perspective, plus they wouldn’t be paying an arm and a leg for food.

The result

The idea was proposed to my brothers and their spouses, and everyone agreed that this change was needed and were all on board. The next step was to decide what we wanted to have for our Thanksgiving dinner and who should bring what. This actually worked out pretty well because we can all cook, and some of us really enjoy getting creative in the kitchen as an outlet. Since there are certain dishes that some of us make that are continually requested, meal planning was simplified.

Thanksgiving Family Feast
This is example of how we break it up.

For example, I am relegated to bring my toffee every year, to every event, and they destroy it every time. I have just been informed that my potato salad is another favorite that is going to be requested this year. My mom makes fantastic pies, so that is her arena. Green bean casserole is fought over every year by both of my brothers, so that is a given. It is a good thing that both my mother and one of my sister-in-law’s make this dish exceptionally well!

Overall, you get the idea. We figured out what we all like and how to make it work so that we are all having fun with it and contributing. The costs associated are split up among the families and we all contribute with the cleaning. This way, everybody gets to enjoy the time together and we always have a TON of leftovers. This is also great for the budget.

Now if only we could get all of our children to start cleaning up the dishes without leaving food particles behind, we would have it made!


  1. Laurie says:

    Great idea, Shanah! We’ve been doing this for years and it really works out well. We always host, which is fine, but everyone brings one or two things off of the menu in order to spread out the work load and the cost. And since Rick and I still spring for a large portion of the food, we scrutinize the ads for sales and manage to feed our crew of 20 or so without spending more than $75 for the food, paper products and beverages we pay for. Works out well.

    • Shanah Bell says:

      I love this, Laurie! We do the same thing with regard to scouring for sales. In fact, I have already been getting some of the goods for Thanksgiving and stocking up. I even got some of the items for free! My dad and I now talk about who got the better deal, or where the best deals are, on all of these things, since I introduced him to Ibotta last year.

  2. I grew up with a potluck Thanksgiving and it was so wonderful and budget-friendly. We had a big family so there was always more than enough food to go around. Everyone went home with loads of leftovers for several meals after Thanksgiving.

    We don’t do potluck Thanksgivings now that I’m married, but I confess that I miss them a lot. It removes a burden from people who have to host each year, and it gets expensive to feed so many people (and palates)!

    • Shanah Bell says:

      It is fantastic that you did them when you were younger, but why did it fall to the wayside when you got married? Ours was the opposite situation, because marriage and children brings more mouths to feed and more expensive holidays. Is reintroducing potlucks to your husband’s family, something that they might be open to, Mrs. Picky Pincher?

  3. We always had potluck Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ house and my aunt has continued that tradition. I love it. We all have our specialties, but every year someone brings something new and unexpected (My hunter uncle has brought venison, squirrel, and rabbit different years.) Each family marriage has meant something wonderful added to our table.

    When I got married and had to alternate Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, I was shocked that my Mother-In-Law cooked everything and didn’t want me to bring something. I brought pie anyway, and now it’s agreed that I will always make the pies. It just seems a way smarter idea to spread the cost and the work to all the participants.

    • Shanah Bell says:

      I love this, Emily! Especially the part about your hunter uncle. One of my brother’s began hunting a while ago, so this is something that I could see him enjoying as well. It is great that each family can bring a little bit of their own flavor and specialties to Thanksgiving because I think that is what makes it truly unique and special.

  4. I didn’t realize thanksgiving could be done any other way than potluck! I’m used to the host doing the turkey and maybe one or two other things and everything else being brought because nobody has that much oven/stove/fridge space.

    • Shanah Bell says:

      Nicoleandmaggie, that is a great thought about the lack of refrigerator/oven space. As I don’t know anybody in our family that has a commercial kitchen, even though Bryan and I also cook for a living. Splitting up the costs and the duties does just seem to make the most sense. And it makes is so much more enjoyable for everyone!

  5. Kathy says:

    I do Thanksgiving all myself but it is just my mom, my husband and me. For a large family, a pot luck makes perfect sense and I honestly can’t imagine it being done any other way. I think perhaps those who want to do it all themselves, might be a bit of a control freak.

    • Shanah Bell says:

      Kathy, you are right about the control freak bit! I have run across those a few times and the events always seem to have more of a stressful air to them.

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