That traditional November eat-a-thon is looking mighty expensive this year, judging by figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Turkey is the centerpiece of many holiday meals, and now averages $1.69 per pound for fresh turkey and $1.14 for frozen, nationally. In some regions, a turkey can cost as much as $2.49 per pound.
Maybe you can’t envision Thanksgiving without a big meal. If so, these budget-stretching tactics can help keep costs down — and that’s something for which you can truly be thankful.
1. Get a free meal
Savings app Ibotta is essentially giving away a free Thanksgiving meal by offering 100% cash back on specific food items. You’ll need to download the free app, purchase items from its list of eligible offers, and then submit your receipt for reimbursement.
2. Look for free turkeys
Supermarkets often advertise a free (or deeply discounted) turkey if you spend a certain amount. Be sure to compare overall food prices, though, since spending more on the other items could negate any savings.
If you’re having trouble hitting the full amount and the store has decent prices, stock up on things you can use later on. Having a pantry full of dried beans, canned tomatoes, pasta and other shelf-stable items can help you economize once the holidays are over.
3. Buy generic
Sometimes brand-name products do seem to taste better. But who’s going to know that your green bean casserole used store-brand cream of mushroom soup? Or that you used generic bread cubes to stuff the turkey?
No one, that’s who.
And about that stuffing mix: Check the day-old section for loaves of French or Italian bread, which can be had for as little as $1. Cut into cubes and leave out overnight. That’s a lot cheaper than prepackaged stuff.
4. Get discounted hooch
Some households serve wine with dinner or offer adult beverages afterward. Remember: A true frugalist just hates to pay retail. Instead, check out the deals at a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club.
Don’t have a membership? In some states, you don’t need one to purchase alcohol at one of these places. If that’s not true where you live, maybe one of your guests is a member and can shop for you.
5. Reduce the menu
No one’s suggesting you go without the green bean casserole or the sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping if those are hallowed culinary creations in your family. But think about how much food you’re putting out there. Do you really need a bunch of appetizers, a turkey and a ham, seven or eight side dishes and half a dozen desserts?
Appetizers aren’t needed, really; after all, you’re about to feed folks until they can’t walk. One kind of meat will do just fine. A few really memorable sides will fill up the plates. And a couple of lighter, simple desserts might be the only kind anyone’s able to manage anyway.
6. Make it a potluck
Maybe in years past you’ve covered the entire cost of the meal. Times change! Sign up guests to bring something to share. This gives them a chance to show off their signature dishes/desserts.
And for those who say they don’t know how to cook? Ask them to bring store-bought sides/desserts, soft drinks, lemonade or those alcoholic beverages mentioned earlier.
7. Use your own dishware
Sure, Thanksgiving means a lot of plates and glasses to wash. But it’s only once a year! And if you’re hosting, you’ve got a crew of guests to help with the cleanup.
The cost of plastic cups and flatware plus those heavy-duty disposable plates really adds up. (To say nothing of their impact on the environment.)
Along those lines …
8. Ask guests to bring takeout containers
Every year you send folks home with care packages of savory leftovers. This means that every year you lose more of your Tupperware, because some (or most) of these containers never get returned. Ziploc bags and aluminum foil aren’t cheap, either.
You’re about to give these folks the best meal of the whole year. So lay down the law: If you want leftovers, bring something to put them in.
9. Avoid waste
As noted, this meal won’t be cheap. So make the most of every bite:
Engineer leftovers. Put some turkey, gravy, stuffing and sides into a couple of freezer containers. Now you have a couple of lunches ready to take to work or to heat up one night when you don’t feel like cooking.
Prep some fast entrees. Once you’ve made those care packages, cut up some of the leftover turkey. Freeze those portions, too, or arrange for the next night’s supper to be shepherd’s pie (good use for leftover mashed potatoes), turkey stroganoff or some other favorite dish.
Freeze leftover turkey. A day or two after Thanksgiving, no one seems to want turkey anything. The longer it sits in the fridge, the less appetizing — and maybe dangerous — it becomes. The USDA recommends using leftover turkey within three to four days.
Make soup. After all the meat has been removed, put the turkey carcass into a slow cooker or in a big pot on low heat. Add water and leftover celery and carrots from the relish tray. Strained and cooled, the resulting stock will make the best soup of the year; it’s a good place for all those odd bits of turkey. Or freeze the stock for later on.
10. Skip turkey altogether
A woman I know has ditched turkey because her kids weren’t eating much of it. Now they celebrate Thanksgiving with a cornucopia of side dishes like mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry glazed carrots and roasted Brussels sprouts. It works for them, and it might work for you.
Or forget tradition altogether. Some people have Thanksgiving pizza.