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It’s that time of year again! The leaves are pretty bare, the weather is cold and wet. People are making their Christmas lists, looking at Black Friday deals and trying to watch back to back Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. Of course, Thanksgiving is coming up too, so some planning should be done (especially if you’re planning on doing it on a budget).

While it’s easy to push Thanksgiving dinner to the side and focus on Christmas dinners, decorations, and traditions, or even start thinking up New Years Resolutions, it’s important to remember that this holiday requires just as much planning and foresight.

Thanksgiving shouldn’t go unplanned, if anything, there should be a few pieces of crumpled paper on the floor with timesheets, lists, and plans in place as you try to come up with the perfect menu, delegate side dishes and organize the time spent in the kitchen for maximum efficiency. You do that too right?

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How to plan for Thanksgiving on a budget

The earlier you plan your budget and the menu, the better! -FACT!

Every month has sales cycles, and towards the end of the year, you have September, October, November, and December, each bringing different sales items to look forward to.

If you have your Thanksgiving dinner planned in September (you’re crazy early but in a much better position than those that start thinking of the menu a week before the big day).

With most families doing some sort of traditional menu, it’s pretty easy to guess what will be on the table. An easy and inexpensive dinner usually includes meat (such as turkey or ham) and side dishes like green beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, etc.

If you have this in mind when you do your grocery shopping in September or October, you can grab one or two small non-perishable items (of freezer-friendly items) and stow them away until needed. Bags of cranberries are freezer friendly and a can of pumpkin pie filling can sit unbothered in your pantry.

Spooner farms photo of the kids

How to get Thanksgiving on the table for cheap

Plan to spend $5 (or less) per week. That comes out to less than $25 a month. As you look at the store sale flyers and plan your shopping lists and meal plans, try to squeeze out $5 that you can use for non-perishable or freezer-friendly food.

For instance, this past week was the first week in November and I bought 10 cans of a combination of cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, and canned chicken broth. With my local store doing a Buy 10 Save $5 sale, I spent less than $.50 per can!

I have every intention of using these at Thanksgiving dinner, and what doesn’t get used, will be used at some point, so it’s not food waste or a waste of money.

You can make your own broth or chicken stock if you want to go the extra mile and be as frugal as possible.

  • Just toss the bones of a rotisserie chicken in the crockpot with veggies scraps (onions, celery, carrots, garlic) and a splash of apple cider vinegar.
  • Then fill to the brim of the crockpot with water and cook covered, on low, overnight.
  • Turn it off, let it cool.
  • Remove chunks, strain, place in the fridge for a few hours.
  • Remove the fat layer and then portion out the stock into measured containers or freezer bags.
  • 2 cups of broth are about the same as a can, and 4 cups are about the same as a 32 oz carton.

True story, one year it was just my husband, daughter and I for Thanksgiving and I made a small batch meal and made every single thing from scratch. It took a few hours every day for about 2 or 3 days, to accomplish, but my Budget-friendly Thanksgiving cost under $30 and gave us leftovers for the week! (I did use marshmallows and cool-whip though).

thanksgiving dinner 2015

That experience taught me that the more you make from scratch, the more you can save.

Yes, you can buy a box of stuffing for about $1, but using seasonings in your home, and your dried sandwich bread plus a few small veggies and boom- homemade stuffing for even less!

It also taught me that to save money, you have to give back time. It took a lot of planning to find recipes that worked with what I wanted, and that fit within my Thanksgiving budget.

While the food was delicious, as a stay-at-home mom of a then-toddler (and now a 6-year-old and toddler) finding that much time to dedicate to my company, kids and kitchen is difficult so I often opt for the prepared versions so that I can have more time to put elsewhere. If your Thanksgiving budget allows it, do it. Family time is always more important!

Once you’ve got your menu picked out, the next step is deciding how much money to spend.

How much can you afford to spend on Thanksgiving this year? This is your budget.

Did you know that the average American family spends close to $50 on Thanksgiving dinner? According to USAToday, the average family spent $48.90 in 2018.

If you need help determining how much money to spend, think about your current monthly grocery budget and how you can tweak it to fit in both the normal monthly meals and the holiday.

If you only get paid on the 1st and 15th of the month you should also take into consideration the long period between paydays and how to fit that holiday into the mix.

The ideal goal is to pay for dinner in cash. Because if you can afford to pay for the entire Thanksgiving budget in cash and not need to use a credit card or borrow money, you are in a really good place!

Especially since Christmas is right around the corner and many people leave after Thanksgiving dinner to go and spend a ton of money on Black Friday doorbusters and deals. (Which reminds me, you should also set a budget for that extra-spending too!)

kids with a wheel barrow

Tips for saving money on Thanksgiving dinner

After making your budget and your meal plan, it’s time to look for additional ways to cut costs so that you can get the most out of your budget.

Some additional ways to save money are:

  • Looking for sales and deals
  • Deligating side dishes or doing a pot-luck style meal
  • Meal prep in advance
  • Buy groceries in advance or set aside cash
  • Keep dinner simple

Sales & Deals

A lot of stores will offer a deal where when you spend X amount of dollars, you can get a free ham, turkey, or pork roast. Usually, the threshold is about $100-$150 within the month before Thanksgiving.

Rarely the rules will state that it has to be in the same transaction or contain a specific item to qualify, but even then, you can use these deals to your advantage.

Buy your normal groceries for the month and get yourself that freebie! You may have to switch up your plans by choosing to make a monthly meal plan instead of weekly, but you save money in the long run, right?

Don’t forget about rebate apps like Ibotta or using coupons to help you save additional money!


Taking over the entire meal yourself is hard work and costly. If you have other able-bodied adults coming to dinner ask them to bring a side, a drink, dessert or even just disposable utensils to make the cleanup easier!

Meal Prep

Some of the dishes at your Thanksgiving table are normal foods you may enjoy throughout the year (mac and cheese is a good example!) Make a double batch a few weeks in advance for dinner one night and freeze a portion of it to eat at Thanksgiving. Now you not only cut costs by not needing to rebuy ingredients, but you cut down on a lot of time and dishes!

Sinking Fund

I talked about buying groceries in advance already, but another plan is to simply set up a Thanksgiving sinking fund a few months in advance (especially if you’re the planning type!) Decide on your budget months in advance and set aside a little money every week until you have enough to cover the goal.

Simple Dinner

Keep dinner simple by reducing the number of dishes. You don’t need 20+ dishes of different foods or to try the fanciest new recipe. Stick with the common classics, easy dishes that you know are frugal and tasty winners.

Giant pig made out of hay

Cheap Thanksgiving Decor Ideas

I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t do much for decorating around Thanksgiving. Right after dessert, the Christmas tree goes up so the less I have to put away, the better.

But there is one thing that I truly enjoy doing every year. Years ago I got a large roll of brown butcher paper and every year I roll it over the table like a large table cover/runner. I scatter crayons on it and while I prep dinner, the kids color.

This gives them something to do while I cook and helps to make the table fun as well as easy to clean when dinner is over.

Butcher paper can be bought off of Amazon for fairly cheap, as can a large box of assorted crayons. I highly recommend it, even if it’s just used at the kid’s table. If possibly a simple vase with fresh fall-colored flowers also fairs well for decor and adding that fresh vibe to the room.

No matter how your holiday comes together, with planning and a little simplicity, you can have a successful Thanksgiving on any budget!

I would LOVE to hear about some of your Thanksgiving saving tips that help you stay in budget (or even hear about what foods you usually include in your menu plan) in the comments below!

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