Hosting Thanksgiving dinner is a crash course in responsibility. No matter if you’re hosting your extended family or just a few close friends, it’s up to you to feed and entertain your guests all day long. Pulling that off is no easy task, and you’re sure to learn a thing or two along the way.
The lessons you learn don’t just apply to Thanksgiving. Budgeting, management, planning: all of these skills can be finance lessons as well.
So, if the upcoming holiday is stressing you out, don’t fret; you’re learning a lot more than just how to baste a turkey.
1. How to make a budget (and actually follow it)
Unbelievably, the cost of Thanksgiving dinner is actually at its lowest point in years. The supply of everything from turkeys to sweet potatoes to milk is up, driving the cost of hosting a Thanksgiving for 10 down to just $49.12. Nearly half of that price comes from the turkey alone, so if you prefer non-traditional holiday dining options, you’re likely to pay less than that.
At that price, you’re looking at paying under $5 a head for each guest that you invite to dinner. That’s not bad in the grand scheme of things.
From another perspective, however, Thanksgiving can be a significant financial burden. We’re talking about an extra $50 on top of your regular grocery bill plus desserts, snacks, drinks, and decorations. You don’t want to skimp on Thanksgiving dinner, but if you’re already hard up for cash, then you might grimace at this additional cost.
Your best bet is to set a budget before you make your grocery list and hit the store. What can you afford? How close can you get to that $5-per-guest number? Where can you cut back on your normal groceries so that you have a little extra to put toward Thanksgiving?
Once you have your budget down, hunt for deals. Check your local grocery store ads for Thanksgiving discounts. There’s a good chance that at least one store near you is offering some kind of deal on turkeys. You might have to sign up for a store loyalty card or spend a minimum at the store to get the turkey, but for Thanksgiving savings, a little extra headache might be worth it.
When you’re at the store, keep an eye out for any deals that you didn’t catch before and don’t be afraid to improvise if you find a smart buy you weren’t expecting. For the most part, however, keep your head down and resist the urge to impulse buy in the name of Thanksgiving. You can probably justify any purchase to yourself by saying it will make Thanksgiving dinner a hit, but that doesn’t mean it’s a smart financial decision.
What you learn
The experience of budgeting for Thanksgiving is a microcosm of what it’s like to embrace budgeting in your everyday life.
If you don’t already make and follow a budget, then you might balk at the thought of starting. Budgeting sounds like an exercise in self-denial and constant penny pinching; where’s the fun in that?
As you’ll find from budgeting for Thanksgiving, however, making a budget can enable you to worry less about your finances, not more, making this a finance lesson worth knowing. Knowing what your spending limits are allows you to be more creative within those limits. Do you want to toss the cranberry sauce and buy two extra pumpkin pies? Are you looking to whip up a special sweet potato recipe that requires a few new spices? Go nuts if you’re still under budget.
That’s the kind of freedom that budgeting can introduce to your everyday life. Put simply, budgeting allows you to be certain about what you have and what you can afford. You not only get financial stability, you get peace of mind as well.
2. How to make a plan (and actually stick to it)
On the day of Thanksgiving, you have two options: you can wake up and wing it or you can make a plan and follow it.
The former requires very little upfront planning but a lot of panicking. The latter requires a bit more discipline, but can make your life a whole lot easier.
While every plan is going to be different, a few elements of a good Thanksgiving Day plan exist that almost everyone can benefit from.
First, if you can do something ahead of time, do it. As for cuisine, you might be able to make many of your staple dishes ahead of time without any worry of them tasting stale or old, such as casseroles, cranberry sauce, pies, and many more. You can make Thanksgiving dishes throughout the week to free up your precious time on the day of dinner.
Early non-food prep is just as important. Do you have a special tablecloth for occasions like this? You probably want to iron it. Do you have special dishes, silverware, or china that you’ll be putting out? You probably want to wash everything. At the very least, you’ll probably want to give your house a good cleaning. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to start on these tasks. If you tackle one thing per day for the week leading up to the holiday, you’re sure to feel a little less overwhelmed when Thanksgiving actually comes.
Second, make a plan for the day itself. Start by setting a time for dinner. Count backward from dinner, scheduling prep times for food, estimating your guests’ arrival times, and building in some time to have a cocktail and socialize before dinner.
After dinner, make a plan for how you’ll entertain your guests. Are you going to usher them out right after dessert? The last thing you want is a house full of bored guests who are slightly drunk, too full, and have no idea what to do with themselves. That’s a recipe for disaster.
What you learn
Planning the day of Thanksgiving actually forces you to make some complex determinations. What can you expect? What do you need to do and when? How will you balance the need to serve an amazing dinner with the need to entertain your guests with the need to preserve your sanity? When it comes down to it, what are your top priorities? What does a “successful” Thanksgiving look like?
Being able to think like this is you’re first finance lesson. If you’re actively trying to take control of your financial life, then you’re constantly going to have to be able to figure out what your goals really are. While sometimes it might feel like you’re giving it all you have just to keep your head above water; other times, you might find that you have a choice. Do you save? Do you invest? Do you splurge?
No one can make those types of decisions for you, and you can’t make those types of decisions unless you know what matters in the end. Just as you can’t cook three turkeys, constantly socialize with your guests, and take some down time all at once, you can’t have it all financially. Making a plan enables you to figure out what to sacrifice, and it reminds you why that sacrifice will be worth it in the end.
3. How to improvise (and not panic)
Bad news: Your turkey might turn out dry, and your potatoes might end up runny.
Bad news: Your nephew might accidentally take a swig of your cocktail and get sick all over the living room.
These are just a few of the ways that Thanksgiving could go wrong. While none of these examples may actually affect you, some hiccups are likely on Thanksgiving. Nothing ever goes exactly to plan, and you need to be ready to improvise when things go sideways.
Some of these mishaps might be simple to overcome. If the turkey is dry, add some butter or broth to your gravy and then brush it on the turkey for extra moisture. If the piecrust is underdone, swallow your pride and pop it back in the oven. If the potatoes are runny, thicken them with flour, water, or even more potatoes.
Some mishaps are a bit more disastrous. If there’s a travel delay, you might have to put dinner off for hours, which can throw off everyone’s day. Maybe your signature bourbon glaze gets a little too boozy and ignites in your oven. Maybe the dogs destroyed the turkey when you weren’t looking.
If something goes wrong, all you can really do is deal with it. Unless there’s a real emergency, canceling Thanksgiving isn’t an option. When these mishaps happen, you’ll have to learn to improvise, roll with the punches, and move on, a finance lesson we can all take to heart.
What you learn
Just like Thanksgiving Day, the world of finance is unpredictable. Even the best-laid financial plans of professionals often go awry. Too many factors are simply outside of your control. Everything has its ups and downs.
The key to financial success isn’t necessarily avoiding these risks. In fact, if you avoid risk, you stand very little chance of significant reward.
Rather, the key is to adjust and keep going. When something bad happens (and it will), it’s not the end of the world. Remember your goals and keep on moving forward.
4. How to respect different opinions (and not argue)
Politics are “ruining Thanksgiving” according to a new study out of UCLA. In a polarized political environment, families are more likely to get into an argument about current events than ever. Despite the fact that most people hope to avoid political discussion entirely on Thanksgiving, all it takes is one person to lead a family into an argument that can sour the entire dinner.
You can’t stop your guests from having opinions, but you can do your best to deal with those opinions without getting angry. If someone has something to say, listen. If you don’t agree, ask questions about why he or she feels that way, and try to present your own opinion as calmly and rationally as possible. Make an effort to understand where the person is coming from; you might have more common ground than you think.
Chances are strong that you probably won’t change anyone’s mind at the dinner table; however, you might learn something that helps you understand the world a bit better. At the very least, you’re doing your best to keep the conversation civil, which is all anyone can really ask.
What you learn
Just like in politics, the financial world is rife with gurus who want to tell you what to do with your money. Some of them might legitimately be trying to help you, while others might have an unclear agenda.
To make the most of your financial future, you need to learn how to process different opinions, especially when they’re diametrically opposed to each other. When one person is telling you to invest and another person is telling you to save your money, what do you do? You strive to understand where both people are coming from and make the decision that’s right for you.
5. How to appreciate what you have (and look forward to the future)
All the stress of hosting Thanksgiving can obscure the fact that it’s supposed to be a happy occasion. It’s your chance to connect with your loved ones and feed them delicious food; what could be better than that?
So, when you’re halfway through cooking your turkey and your guests show up early, or your pumpkin pie splatters on the ground, or when you run out of wine to serve your guests, don’t panic. Instead, take a second to remind yourself of what really matters and smile, because if you’ve filled your house with the people you love, you already have everything you need.
What you learn
Financial stress can poison friendships, relationships, and entire lives. We face constant pressure to earn more, spend more, and worry about building a future. It’s tough.
The important thing to remember is that financial stability is a means to an end. You want to build a stable life so you can provide for the people that you care about. As long as you have friends and family around you, and you’re keeping your head above water, you’re doing great.
This Thanksgiving, take planning to heart and use the knowledge you gain to not only pull off an excellent family meal, but also to keep your budget in order as you head into the expensive holiday season.