5 Ideas to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner

The American Farm Bureau Federation says that this year’s Thanksgiving meal will run an average of nearly $50 to put on the table. The average American family also throws away around 20% of the groceries they purchase, so it would seem like holiday meals need a bit of a financial overhaul.

Sure, they only come once a year, and if you want to splurge and you can afford to do it, then indulge without a guilty conscience. But for those of you looking to save money on Thanksgiving every way you can, here are 5 ideas for reducing your holiday meal spending.

Scale Back

I grew up in a Southern family who knew how to do a celebratory meal. They would have three kinds of meat, five kinds of potatoes, two kinds of dressing, and about ten pies to finish the meal. That is an overabundance of food and most of it went back home with the person who brought it. Why not scale back?

My husband and I have been doing this for the past few years. I make an entrée, a couple of sides, and a dessert. That’s all we can reasonably eat and, since it’s only a little larger than a regular meal, it doesn’t break the bank.


If you are hosting a large gathering of family and friends for the holiday, have no shame in asking folks to bring a dish. This is best accomplished with a detailed plan. Know how many people are coming and how many dishes you can expect, and then assign or let folks choose a specific type of dish.

If you only ask people to bring a side, you might end up with five different pies and no sides, so it’s better to set clear expectations. Ask Aunt Jane to bring a sweet potato dish and Uncle Robert to bring stuffing. Don’t forget that folks can bring drinks, too.

Eating Out

Back in my college days, it didn’t make much sense to travel home for Thanksgiving. Money was tight for my family, and I was going to be home for the Christmas break in just a few weeks. For the first few years, I was invited to the homes of friends who lived nearby, or to potlucks with school associations.

One year, I found myself without any plans, and that’s when a fellow college student suggested we go out to eat at Cracker Barrel. I had no idea restaurants would even be open on the holiday, but most are. If you know you can spend less at a diner than at your dinner table, then this is an especially good option because you’ll save yourself the stress, time, and clean-up that accompanies a large meal.


If no one in your family likes pumpkin pie or turkey, why are you spending money on those dishes? Why not make your family’s favorite meal and call it a day?

Prepare for Leftovers

On the other hand, if everyone loves turkey, then go all out and get a big turkey. As you prepare the meal, make enough of all your favorite dishes to have leftovers for a few days. Just realize that you won’t need leftovers of all the dishes (and probably don’t have room for them all, anyway).

With good leftover planning, you’ll probably find that your grocery bill won’t go up too much for the month.

What about you – how do you plan to save on your Thanksgiving meal this year, or do you plan to go all out?