Thanksgiving without a hefty price: Tips for having an extravagant holiday on the cheap

Saving money on your Thanksgiving can be as simple as planning ahead, enlisting help from guests and borrowing decor from friends.

Saving money on your Thanksgiving can be as simple as planning ahead, enlisting help from guests and borrowing decor from friends.

The December holidays get tagged as the most expensive of the year. But as anyone who has ever hosted a Thanksgiving feast knows, Turkey Day isn’t cheap either.

But there are some ways to pinch pennies on Thanksgiving, no matter if you’re the host, a travel-weary guest or the person in charge of the pie. Our experts give us a rundown on how to shave dollars and cents off the holiday, without resorting to mashed potatoes, and only mashed potatoes, for dinner.

Hosting tips

Start planning — NOW. Lawrence coupon expert Jenn Hethcoat, she of and our weekly Shop Talk column, says the No. 1 way people cost themselves money in any scenario is in lack of planning.

“Start by making a list of what the ‘perfect’ holiday meal is in your mind; once that list is realistic ... make a grocery list,” Hethcoat says. “Carry that list with you over the next (couple of) weeks and pick up an item or two each time you shop to spread out the expense. You are more likely to only buy the things you need, saving yourself money.”

Make what you can from scratch, if it makes sense. Raw, whole ingredients are generally a better buy than quick-fix processed items, but sometimes choosing ready-made is the way to go, Hethcoat says.

“Making items from scratch is not always cheaper, mainly if you are making something that you do not have the ingredients for on-hand,” she says. “If you don’t bake, but you offer to (make) a pie, it may be cheaper to purchase one than to purchase all of the supplies that you will need to make one from scratch.”

Delegate. There’s no rule written anywhere the a host or hostess has to create an entire meal from scratch, and Thanksgiving’s myriad of sides and desserts makes it the perfect meal to ask guests to bring their favorite accompaniment. It’s a way to meld different Thanksgiving traditions (Grandma’s green bean casserole or Aunt Tilly’s choco-pecan pie) while saving money and time. But if you do want to go this route, don’t be picky about it.

“If you are asking for others to bring dishes, it is rude to demand they bring exactly what you had on the menu, i.e., ‘Will you please bring an apple pie with a lattice top?’ or ‘I need you to bring clover rolls, homemade, not those store bought ones,’” Hethcoat says.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. Anyone with a dinner table knows it can be easy to get sucked into the world of matching place mats, napkin rings, and centerpieces. Hethcoat says that’s not what your family is going to remember about the holiday, so don’t waste your cash.

“I think one of the most important things that people forget is that the holiday is about spending time with the people most important to us, our friends and our families,” Hethcoat says. “We get caught up in the ‘Martha Stewart’ ideas and try to make things ‘perfect.’ Know your budget, know what is realistic for your family and then make a list of what you will need to buy.”

And if you can’t give up on that perfect holiday table, Hethcoat advises to make a list of what you really want to add to your presentation and keep an eye out for items on sale after this year’s holiday or early next holiday season.

Another tip? Borrow items. Between your friends and family, you might be able to cobble together a table display close to your vision for no charge and help some friends along the way.

Don’t let leftovers go uneaten. There are several ways to deal with leftovers, including freezing them, repurposing them into another meal (turkey casserole, anyone?) or even giving them away to not only guests, but also people who might not have their own Thanksgiving meal.

“Had enough to eat? Never want to see that food again? Make up small plates of food and take them to people who are alone for the holidays,” Hethcoat says. “If you don't have any neighbors you know of, ask your local church if they have a list of shut-ins that would like a home cooked meal.”

Guest tips

Brush up on the airline’s fees. Flying home for the holidays can be stressful enough without the added agony of being hit with a pricey fee for your bags or carry on. A way around that added stress on the big day? Do your research says Jim Hanni of AAA Kansas.

“Many airlines are now charging for checked bags and previously complimentary services like snacks and drinks,” Hanni says. “Ask a travel agent or visit the airline’s website to avoid unexpected charges.”

Going by car? Don’t speed. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, every 5 mile per hour driven over 60 mph is like paying an additional 24 cents a gallon, says Elaine Zeinner of AAA.

Staying at a hotel? Look for ones with fridges and microwaves. That way you can save money on eating out, Zeinner says, and enjoy free Thanksgiving leftovers rather than leaving them with the hostess.

Speaking of food, bring your own. No matter how you travel, grabbing lunch and dinner can be a surprising expense, especially if you are traveling with kids, Hethcoat says.

“If you are making a long car drive pack a cooler. Sandwiches, fruit, snacks and drinks so you aren’t spending money at fast food restaurants along the way. These can be very costly and they are not healthy options for eating,” Hethcoat says. “They can make you sluggish and sleepy ... not a great combo when you are driving!”


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