Thanksgiving on a Budget

Gratitude, family, and food are the hallmarks of Thanksgiving. It’s a time to indulge in a bountiful feast and keep fond traditions alive — but what if money is tight? Organizing a holiday get-together can be stressful, but it’s even more overwhelming to plan Thanksgiving on a budget.

Read on to discover our ideas for creating a cheap and affordable Thanksgiving menu to save money. We’ll even throw in some tips on decorating for Thanksgiving on a budget!

How budgeting works

A budget is a financial overview of your income, expenses, and spending habits over a defined period. Since most bills are paid monthly, many households find it easiest to focus on a monthly budget. In addition, budgeting helps you determine where to cut expenses to achieve a particular financial goal — such as a Thanksgiving dinner.

The ideal time to set a budget is well ahead of the holiday season. By keeping a budget for several weeks or months, you will gain more insight into your spending habits and have more time to save money. But it’s never too late to start budgeting for your Thanksgiving dinner!

Tips for a cheap Thanksgiving dinner on a budget

Fortunately, there are many ways to save money on Thanksgiving! When you need to plan Thanksgiving on a budget, try to implement the following tips:

Stick to cheap and simple Thanksgiving recipes

Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to be extravagant. Mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, macaroni and cheese, and roasted root vegetables are simple but delicious recipes that don’t require expensive ingredients.

For the Thanksgiving bird, choose a frozen turkey over a fresh or prepared one. If a turkey isn’t in your budget, a roasted chicken can be a cheaper alternative that looks just as lovely on the table!

DIY decorations

Why spend money on Thanksgiving decor when you can make your own?

In fact, decorating for Thanksgiving on a budget can become a beloved family tradition! A few days before Thanksgiving, go on a family hike to gather colorful leaves, branches, ornamental grasses, and flowers. Then, combine your finds with store-bought mini pumpkins and gourds to create a natural centerpiece that wows guests.

Thanksgiving paper crafts are also inexpensive but leave a lasting impression. The classic hand turkey, for instance, is super simple and doubles as a keepsake for every family member.

Host a potluck

Organizing a potluck is a cheap, less stressful way to host Thanksgiving dinner. Better yet, you won’t spend hours cleaning up afterward!

To pull off a successful Thanksgiving potluck, create a sign-up sheet for guests that covers all the main categories. If you prefer, get specific with the requests, adding subcategories as needed.

Your sign-up sheet may look something like this:

  • Appetizers
    • Bread
    • Cheese
    • Deviled eggs
    • Crudités
  • Main course
    • Turkey
    • Vegetarian Option
  • Side dishes
    • Roast vegetables
    • Sweet potato dish
    • Green bean casserole
    • Stuffing/dressing
  • Drinks
    • Soft drinks
    • Punch
    • Alcoholic beverages
  • Dessert
    • Pie
    • Brownies
    • Cookies

In the days leading up to your Thanksgiving dinner, send guests gentle reminders about the items they signed up to bring. Discussing the event in a group text is a fun way to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Look for sales

Keep an eye on weekly grocery ads to take advantage of holiday discounts around Thanksgiving. And instead of buying everything at once, stock up on non-perishable essentials in the weeks before Thanksgiving.

Many grocery stores offer free frozen turkeys as loyalty incentives. Generally, you’ll need to shop with your rewards card and spend a certain amount during November. Still, it’s an easy way to save money on Thanksgiving dinner.

Use what you have

When trying to save money on Thanksgiving dinner, don’t underestimate the power of what you already have on hand.

For example, traditional turkey dressing recipes include dry breadcrumbs. Instead of buying breadcrumbs, start freezing any bread your family doesn’t use before it turns stale. Within a few weeks, you’ll probably have more than enough bread in the freezer for the recipe.

Plan your Thanksgiving menu around the seasonings and pantry items you already have on hand. Not only does this cut down on grocery costs, but it also allows you to get creative and try dishes you otherwise wouldn’t have prepared.

Cheap and affordable Thanksgiving menu

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner on a budget is all about simplicity. Here are some of our favorite low-budget menu options:

Easy mashed potatoes

Simple cranberry sauce

Classic macaroni salad

Sweet potato casserole

Southern-style banana pudding

Budget sangria

How to create a Thanksgiving budget

Celebrating Thanksgiving on a budget starts with — well — budgeting! Here’s how it works:

1. Figure out how much you can spend

To create an accurate budget for Thanksgiving, calculate your monthly take-home income. Next, add up all your monthly bills. Average any other regular expenses, such as gas and groceries.

Now, subtract your expenses from your household income. This is the amount you can work with. You may decide to put some of this money in savings or reserve it for other expenses. Anything you have left can go toward Thanksgiving costs.

2. Make a list of what you’ll need

After deciding on your Thanksgiving dinner recipes and decor requirements, list the items you need. The earlier you do this, the more time you can save and shop for holiday-related groceries.

3. Choose a budgeting method

There are countless budgeting methods, so choose the one that works well for you. Zero-based budgeting is a good option for beginners because it helps you see where every dollar goes. The basis of zero-based budgeting is that your income minus expenses should equal zero, so you allocate every dollar to different categories. This makes it easy to include a “Thanksgiving” or “holiday” category when needed.

4. Stick to your budget

Whichever budgeting method you choose for Thanksgiving, stick with it. You may need to learn a few tricks to stay on track, such as writing everything down, saving receipts, or setting reminders, but persistence pays off.

What to do if you can’t afford Thanksgiving, even on a budget

Even with a budget, your income might not be enough to put a portion toward having a nice Thanksgiving. What then? You might want to:

Get a holiday loan

Taking out a loan to cover holiday expenses might be the answer. For example, suppose Thanksgiving falls before payday, and you only need a little extra cash for groceries. In that case, a payday loan can be a good option.

If you’d rather borrow a larger amount to cover the entire holiday season and pay it back over a longer period of time, you might consider an installment loan.

Use your credit card

Many families rely on credit cards to finance holiday expenses. Plus, if you’re not someone who misses a payment, using a credit card is a smart way to build your credit.

Alternatively, having a personal line of credit comes in handy when you need to cover unexpected expenses or plan Thanksgiving on a budget.

Ask for financial help from family and friends

Asking friends or family for help isn’t easy, but sometimes it’s necessary. Before you ask, determine precisely how much you need for Thanksgiving and come to them with a repayment plan. You might also offer to do something for them in exchange for their help.

Save money on Thanksgiving dinner this year

Celebrating the holidays shouldn’t break the bank. With a little extra planning and careful budgeting, you can create a Thanksgiving dinner on a budget your whole family will love.

And, if you still need a little help making it through the holiday season, Advance America is here. We offer various loan options — including in-store and online loans — designed to get you the cash you need whenever you need it.

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