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5 Pro Tips to Hosting Thanksgiving on a Budget

  • The average US household spends only $56 on Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Stay within your holiday budget by divvying up drinks among your guests or finding inexpensive decorations.
  • Find new ways to entertain like hosting a wine tasting or buying tickets to a show.

If you’re like me, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. But as we all know, they’re also some of the most expensive.

With the holiday season underway and Thanksgiving fast-approaching (is it just me or do they put out decorations earlier and earlier every year?), you’re not the only one worrying about the stress this season puts on your wallet. And if you’re a first time Thanksgiving host expecting a large crowd, the pressure is on – financially speaking.

As a young Millennial, I’d always relied on family to host the holidays (although I will say, I make an excellent sous chef!). But with the time commitment of college and living the busy intern life, being ready to host a Thanksgiving of my own for friends is key. With food, drinks, decor, and entertainment to consider, preparing a Thanksgiving meal might seem like an outrageously expensive ordeal. But surprisingly, the average US household only spends around $56 on a Thanksgiving dinner. Those stats change depending on where you live of course, but regardless of your location there a lots of easy ways to make sure you stay within your Thanksgiving budget. So try these tips, and you’ll be on your way to planning a memorable, affordable, Thanksgiving dinner!

1. Factor In Food Costs First

Contrary to what you might expect given the basic principle of supply-and-demand, the price of a whole turkey actually drops around Thanksgiving. Check out promotional deals at your local supermarket — sometimes they offer serious holiday discounts for frequent shoppers. And if there are great sales on non-perishable items you’ll need during the weeks leading up to the big event, don’t hesitate to buy now. I also like to have a tool like Personal Capital’s free app on hand to track my expenses and set spending goals, especially during the spendier times of the year.

Join Personal Capital for free to track your spending.

If you’re not much of a chef, think about taking the pot luck route. By asking each of your guests to bring their favorite dish, you might even discover a new holiday favorite. For the dishes you do make, cook from scratch. Personally, I love local farmer’s markets for this meal. Not only do they have the freshest, seasonal ingredients, but they’re also healthier and less expensive than many grocery stores. Most importantly, focus on basics first (think turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and some veggies), and hit the grocery store with a list to avoid piling things you don’t need into the shopping cart. If you’re stumped, the New York Times just published a great interactive Thanksgiving Meal Planner that will help you prepare a feast for any sized group.

2. Divvy Up Drinks

If you’re cooking up a storm for your Thanksgiving guests, lighten the load by asking them to bring a bottle of wine or their favorite holiday cocktail. You can even gamify the task and simultaneously turn it into entertainment by doing a taste competition with a prize for the most crowd-pleasing beverage. Or, turn your Thanksgiving gathering into a wine tasting from the comfort of your very own home. Just pick your favorite wine region, and ask your friends to bring a bottle from that area.

And if you need a little seasonal inspiration in the beverage department, Martha Stewart has a few of my favorite tried and true Thanksgiving drinks recipes.

3. Get Crafty With Decor

Sprucing up your home for Thanksgiving doesn’t have to involve rushing to the store for decorations you won’t use again til next year. Start with a tidy slate, and add an extra hint of fall to your home with what you already have around you. For a cozy look, grab some nice gourds from your local farmer’s market and festive leaves from the yard to whip up a Thanksgiving look in no time. I also love the effect of nice candles – they’re an inexpensive, cozy way to bring the holiday spirit into your home.

If you have kids (or maybe a few little niece or nephews), enlist them to help you make some nice centerpieces. Their parents will thank you for keeping them occupied, and you’ll have decorations to boot.

4. Entertain Like A Pro

Much like decor, entertainment won’t make or break your holiday, and your guests will likely entertain one another anyway. But if you want to make sure your guests have something to do, just put the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, or some classic Thanksgiving football on your TV. And don’t forget about my tip #2! Hosting a wine tasting at your Thanksgiving gathering is a great way to get your guests to mingle.

5. Give A Little

The holidays are also a season of giving. A recent Personal Capital study showed that Millennials may be the most giving generation, with plans to allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars to charity throughout their lifetime.

Donating funds to the less fortunate at Thanksgiving is great if you’re able to do it financially, but there are plenty of ways to give back on a budget too. Consider volunteering your time at a soup kitchen, or serving meals at a homeless shelter or nursing home. You can also do a little fall cleaning and donate clothing items you don’t use.

Making Your Thanksgiving A Success

Thanksgiving offers a wonderful opportunity to connect with family and friends, and to share a delicious meal with your loved ones. And if this year is your first time hosting a Thanksgiving get-together of your own, give my tips a try to ensure you don’t break the bank!

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  1. Gina

    Great Ideas – I’m going to implement a couple for my upcoming “First Thanksgiving” as a hostess!

  2. Gina

    Great Ideas, a few that I’m going to implement for my first year as hostess for Thanksgiving!

    • Anonymous

      How you do’en?