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How to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner


Thanksgiving is just around the corner, my friends; a mere 5 weeks or so away!  You may or may not entertain on Thanksgiving, but if you don’t, you can just forward this post to whoever’s house you go to on turkey day. 🙂

We entertain every year on Thanksgiving.  It runs on my father’s side that we love to feed people, and we love to eat.  Add that to my love of cooking, and you’re set up for one pretty darn yummy Thanksgiving dinner, but one that can get out of hand real quickly, cost-wise.

Here’s a sample menu from The Frugal Farmer on Thanksgiving Day and what we’d pay out of pocket full price:

Turkey (of course) $30

Mashed potatoes and gravy   $20, for two 10lb. bags of potatoes and 6 jars of turkey gravy

Green bean casserole (gotta have it!)  $8

Green bean almondine (green beans with bacon and slivered almonds)         $8

Corn $4

Cranberry sauce  $5

A lettuce salad or broccoli salad  $10

Fresh-baked buns  $8

Lefse (anyone wondering what this is?) $30

Stuffing  $18

4 Pies  $20 

Banana Cream Supreme  $9

Milk to drink   $7

Pop to drink $3

Plates, napkins, plastic silverware, etc, for 25 people $25 

Total estimated cost:  $205


Now that we’re on our super strict budget, obviously spending several hundred dollars to feed 20-30 people isn’t an option.  How are we going to cheap-up the costs of Thanksgiving this year without cheaping up the experience?  If you know me at all, then you know I’ve got a plan for that. 🙂  Here’s how we’ll feed our family and friends an awesome Thanksgiving dinner for not too much money:

1.   Ask guests to bring something.  We dole out one menu item on the list to almost everyone who comes, unless they’re in a situation of financial, medical, or life hardship that would make it a PITA to bring something.

2.  Take advantage of sales, especially in the weeks before Thanksgiving.  This is crucial to a frugal Thanksgiving.  Last year we waited to do much of our shopping the week of Thanksgiving.  Walmart, in an effort to rid the stores of the many 10-lb. bags of russet potatoes, was selling them for about $1.38.  Can you believe that????  I was psyched!!  We could get the potatoes for our entire gathering for under $3!  Most stores also have buy one, get one sales and other huge discounts on common Thanksgiving food items, so do your research and shop at the right time, refusing to pay more when you can pay less.  Another option? Shop after Thanksgiving for next year’s paper products and canned foods, to get even deeper discounts.

3.  Do homemade.  A pack of homemade buns is $2 easy, even for the cheap brands, but you can make them at home for about a buck.  Same goes with gravy: we haven’t done store bought gravy in years.  A little flour, water, salt and pepper added to the turkey juice makes an awesome homemade gravy that your guests will drool over. 🙂

4.  Keep your eye out for freebies.  Every year, my brother gets a free turkey from work at Thanksgiving time.  He has a small family, and sometimes they’ll use the turkey, sometimes they won’t.  I always ask if he plans on using it (we are lucky to have a brutally honest family, so he’ll gladly tell me “no” if they plan on keeping it.  Use your discretion and good judgment in this area, so as not to offend more “manners oriented” family members or friends).  Also, many of our friends/family members are aware of our getting out of debt journey, so we will occasionally get calls like we did the other day:

Hey Laur, I was at the store the other day and they had BOGO turkeys.  We’ll never use that second one, would you like it?

SCORE!, and huge thanks to my BFF, Jess.  🙂

Obviously, you don’t want to go around begging for stuff from people, but it’s okay to tactfully let them know about your journey, and then let the Lord work from there.

5.  Choose off brands or regular brands instead of the super spendy stuff.  Rick worked for a year and a half for a home grocery delivery service years ago, and at Easter time, the delivery guys were expected to plug these $80 hams to their customers.  $80 for a freakin’ ham?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Now, I’m not saying that it’s not nice to have an awesome cut of meat once a year, but when you’re on a budget like we are, that’s just not a wise option.  And after our debt’s paid off, we may just splurge for a $80 ham at Christmas or a $80 turkey at Thanksgiving, but not today.  Some food items that are off brand really are quite low in quality, and should be avoided, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: many generic brands are just the regular name-brand stuff in different boxes, courtesy of partnerships made by big food companies.  So don’t be too quick to brush off the generic stuff.

Following the above strategies, here’s what we’ll likely pay to host Thanksgiving dinner:

Turkey (of course) free with a little networking/generosity of friends/family members

Mashed potatoes and gravy   $6 (by picking up the potatoes on sale and making homemade gravy)

Green bean casserole (gotta have it!)  $6 by hitting the sales

Green bean almondine (green beans with bacon and slivered almonds)    $6 by hitting the sales

Corn $2 getting it on sale

Cranberry sauce  $4 by hitting the sales

A lettuce salad or broccoli salad  FREE (brother and sis in law will bring this)

Fresh-baked buns  $2 by making homemade

Lefse (anyone wondering what this is?) FREE (Lefse is a mandated Norwegian tradition at all holidays in our family.  It’s kind of like a tortilla made out of potatoes. There’s cheap stuff in the stores, but it tastes terrible.  We found a gem of a store in Northern MN that makes great homemade Lefse and will ship it to us.  It’s ridiculously expensive at $30, but it’s our one Thanksgiving splurge, and mom always buys this).

Homemade Stuffing  $18 –  WRONG AGAIN!  We’ll be able to get this cost cut WAY down by utilizing the sales and using this great tip for “free” bread crumbs from Mr. CBB’s Frugal Thanksgiving post.  Final cost for stuffing?  In the neighborhood of $11 , and way better than the boxed stuff.

4 Pies  FREE – dad will bring these

Banana Cream Supreme  $7 if I utilize the sales on pudding and whipped cream (I’ve attached this recipe to the link here, but skip the “lite” cool whip and skim milk.  It’s Thanksgiving, for pete’s sake – don’t ruin it with thoughts of a diet. Use regular cool whip and whole or 2% milk)

Milk to drink   FREE Other brother will pick up the milk

Pop to drink $3

Plates, napkins, plastic silverware, etc, for 25 people $25 I can get this down to $10 easily if I get plates on sale, cheap napkins, and utilize our real silverware and the glasses we’ve already got on hand.

Total estimated cost:  $57

Total cost savings for our revamped plan?  $148

Even if you choose to foot the whole bill yourself, you should easily be able to get your costs down by a good 30-50% if you shop well and make homemade instead of store-bought.  By and large though, we’ve found that our guests love contributing to the meal, because it feels good to give, don’t you think?


  1. Today is Canadian Thanksgiving but we had our family meal on Saturday so that my sons, who are home from university, can eat leftovers for the rest of the weekend and I don’t have to keep cooking. I was going for easy and inexpensive this Thanksgiving. Too often holidays mean extra work for women and I needed my long weekend to be a time of rest from the stresses of work.

    The menu was simplified this year and it was wonderful. Instead of salad and different vegetables I did a huge pan of roasted root vegetables that were wonderful. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots and a squash (which is not a root vegetable but I had one and needed to use it up) were washed and cut with the skins on, tossed with oil, salt and pepper and cooked in the oven for 2 hours.

    I bought a utility grade turkey because they are less expensive and taste exactly the same.

    Happy Thanksgiving from Canada.

    • Laurie says:

      Smart idea, Jane! Sounds like a wonderful meal, and I’m so glad you got to enjoy a great weekend meal with your boys. Happy Thanksgiving to you too, my friend!

  2. Great ideas Laurie! We do a lot of them with our family, if we’re hosting. I think all the sales will start here in the next week or two and we always take advantage so we can stock up. I think I’ll pass though on the cranberry sauce…HATE the stuff. 🙂

  3. Michelle says:

    W’s family always has a potluck and that saves everyone money. It’s a lot of fun too because the whole extended family comes, so there are well over 100 dishes!

  4. We always go to the inlaws for Thanksgiving and have to stay in a hotel (long story), so they don’t ask us to contribute to the food. My first real job when I was 16 was at a blue jean factory and they gave all the employees a turkey for Thanksgiving. I felt pretty big time with that one and my Mom was happy to have it. Turkey is actually so cheap around Thanksgiving that I wish we had a big freezer and I’d buy 4 or 5 of them!

    • Laurie says:

      I won’t ask about the in-laws, although there could be an interesting story there? Our big freezer was a worthwhile investment, at least for us, so we could take advantage of those stock up sales. 🙂 I think it’s so neat when employers give turkeys – it just seems nice. 🙂

  5. Matt Becker says:

    Good stuff Laurie. I’ve never hosted Thanksgiving before but I love the idea of everyone bringing something. That’s what my in-laws do with their huge family and not only is it a ton of fun but everyone’s got their specialty foods so you end up getting the best of the best. I think you end up with a much better (and more cost effective) meal that way.

    • Laurie says:

      So true, Matt! It’s fun tasting all of the different items, isn’t it? Potlucks are by far my favorite types of meals in general, just due to the “yum” factor. 🙂

  6. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, Laurie! But it can get spendy preparing a big meal for friends and family. Great tips and I find people want to bring to something to pass, which not only helps the budget but makes my life a little less hectic too! I can’t believe Thanksgiving is only 5 weeks away! I swear it was September five minutes ago! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, doesn’t it though? Thanksgiving is near the top of my list too – it’s just fun sitting around sharing food with loved ones without the pressure of gifts. 🙂

  7. The best way to save is go to the relatives for Thanksgiving like we are lol. If we were to host a Thanksgiving dinner we would certainly cook homemade and shop the grocery store deals ahead of time.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, you’re a wise one, Mr. CBB. 🙂 But I’m surprised – you’re such an amazing cook that I would think the relatives would insist on eating at your house. 🙂

  8. Brit says:

    Great tips, Laurie! Our family gets together and we all bring a dish. This is year is also my baby’s 1st birthday that say so I’ll be saving me some mad $$! 🙂

  9. Your description of the homemade gravy literally made my mouth water. I make ours the exact same way. It’s way, way better than the storebought, and a good way to save some cash, too.

    I’ll be in Peru this year for Thanksgiving so we’ll have to see how well we can re-create the experience there. I have a feeling I’m going to miss the traditions but maybe we’ll make a new one of our own.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, yeah, it’s the best. Personally, I think your Thanksgiving in Peru will be wonderful. I mean, the whole experience of it all: her there for her dissertation, you guys weathering the separation so well, and a wonderful reunion for one of the best holidays of the year; sounds like a storybook movie to me. Even if you end up eating nothing but beans and rice, it’ll be a sweet meal, that’s for sure. 🙂

  10. That’s a huge difference in spending! And everything sounds delicious! What time is dinner so I know what time to be there? 🙂 Sadly I have no solid plans for holidays. If someone has an orphan holiday I usually go to that, other than that I grab a few faves from whole foods and watch a marathon of TV on netflix. Sad huh?

    • Laurie says:

      Tonya, you’re welcome to fly out to freezing cold MN anytime to spend a holiday with us. 🙂 In fact, after the debt’s paid off I may just fly out and drag you here. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, that seems to be the favored frugal Thanksgiving plan. Somehow, though, the torch got passed to me on this years ago. I have a feeling that it was probably more like, as a typical first-born, I insisted Thanksgiving be at my house one year, and then it just became tradition. Which is fine by me. 🙂

  11. Alexa says:

    It sounds like you have everything mapped out! I think you have excellent suggestions for saving money on Thanksgiving dinner. I used to make a small dinner for my family but then we’d have to go eat with my mom and then go eat with my dad. We definitely don’t go hungry!

    • Laurie says:

      When the kids were really young, that would be our drill too. It’s a bit stressful, but like you said, you never go hungry that way. Full tummies and leftovers abound when you get to hit two places for Thanksgiving. 🙂

  12. Our grocery store usually gives a free turkey to customers who spend $x of money (can’t remember from last year). I would never spend however much they ask you to spend, but the coupons you use count towards your total. So if I bought a box of cereal for $1.99 on sale but used a $0.75 coupon-doubled, I’d get $1.99 towards the turkey and only spend $0.49 out of pocket. Last year’s turkey was totally free, thanks to my normal weekly grocery shopping.

  13. I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is coming up that fast! Thanks for the tips! We have Thanksgiving with extended family so we’re usually assigned a dish or two to bring ahead of time. Oh, and I always bring containers for leftovers!!!

  14. I would definitely not hesitate to ask people to bring something to contribute. In my family and circle of friends, dinner guests always ask what they can bring, especially for Thanksgiving, which is like quadruple the size of a normal meal!

  15. Sicorra says:

    Great menu Laurie!
    We just celebrated Thanksgiving in Canada this past Sunday and Monday. We kept our meal quite simple – turkey, gravy, garlic mashed, and a different twist on green bean casseroule. We used crockpots for the garlic mashed and a different ones for the beans, so they were cooking all day and less to do at the last minute. We made way too many potatoes and had a 12 pound turkey so now we can be frugal with the leftovers. I made potato pancakes for lunch and am making turkey pot pie for dinner. While the upfront cost of the meal may have been a bit high, we have enough for many meals. So if I spread the cost out, I it isn’t so bad.

    Hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving in 5 weeks from now…. then on to Christmas 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      Sounds like a wonderful meal! I would love to hear your twist on the green bean casserole. Love the idea of prepping ahead of time. I hadn’t thought of turkey pot pie before – we’ll have to do that with our leftover turkey. Thanks, Sicorra!

  16. Great tips, Laurie! I love Thanksgiving and shamelessly stuff my face! Both my grandmas always used to tell me that they plenty of mashed potatoes just for me. 🙂 In our family, we always brought a dish to help alleviate some of the work and cost for the hostess. It can definitely get expensive feeding a group and if your family is like mine – we like to have plenty of leftovers. No fear of anyone going hungry at our house. It must be our Minnesota nice. We can’t take the last roll, piece of pie, etc so we make enough to make sure there no last piece! LOL! My mom never minded leftovers since it made the next few meals easy as we never threw anything out.

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, me too, Tanya! 🙂 Sounds like our family is just like yours: a meal without plenty of leftovers is not acceptable! Funny, I never thought about it as being nice and not wanting to take the last of anything, I just figured at our house we didn’t want to be left wanting. 🙂

  17. lyle @ the Joy of Simple says:

    As I am living in Canada, I enjoyed not one, not two, but three Thanksgiving dinners over the weekend and here’s how I saved money: I was invited to three separate homes on Saturday, Sunday and Monday to share in good food with close friends 🙂

    I did bring some soft drinks for the kids of one family and a desert for another family, so there was some slight expense but that was it. And even when I tried to help clean up, I was “shoo’d” away!

    It is definitely times like these when I am thankful for so many things and my friends are on the top of the list.

    Hope you all have a wonderful and joyous Thanksgiving celebration when your turn comes around 🙂

    Take care and all the best.


    • Laurie says:

      Man, am I jealous! 🙂 You are blessed, my friend. This is what I love about Thanksgiving: the fellowship of family and good friends. It’s the best!

  18. Carla says:

    Impressive tips Laurie, Wonderful thanksgiving dinner is one of the most special meals of the year and can also most expensive. Here, I have found great ways to cut costs without sacrificing quality and save money for this holiday season. few are totally new for me. Thanks for sharing this useful post.

  19. anna says:

    That’s amazing you have 20-30 people over, let alone feed them for under $150!! Last year, I made a mini-Thanksgiving dinner for only 5 people (myself included) and got so stressed out. haha Going to Google what this lefse stuff is about, it sounds delicious!

    • Laurie says:

      LOL, lefse is delicious, although it seems people either love it or hate it. 🙂 We spread butter on it, but some do butter and sugar. Only get the good stuff though, the store bought stuff is generally disgusting. 🙂

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