Celebrating the holidays and entertaining in your home is fun and festive, but it can also be a bit stressful, especially if money is tight. However, having to host your Thanksgiving on a budget shouldn’t hold you back. There are many ways to put on a nice Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends without breaking the bank. After all, gathering for the holidays is really about fun, fellowship, and sharing a meal, not about impressing the neighbors or your attendees. Keeping it simple can make for a special and elegant gathering.
Plan your menu
The most important part of hosting Thanksgiving on a budget is to plan your menu. Spend some time planning your menu and researching your recipes. Look for things that are easy to prepare, can be prepared ahead, and have a mix of common ingredients. By making things ahead and freezing them, you can spread the cost of your meal out over a couple of weeks. Many casseroles, pies, and hors d’oeuvres are perfectly suited for making and freezing ahead of time. In addition, you’ll enjoy the experience better if you are not rushing around to make dishes and condiments the night before or the morning of your party.
Once you have a menu in place, set a schedule of when you’ll prepare these items. This will help to keep you on track and lower your stress level in the days leading up to your dinner. By being organized, you’ll feel more in control of your event and can prevent last-minute emergencies. Keep your menu simple; more is not always better. A simple traditional meal, made from scratch, is often more elegant than a meal that has an overwhelming amount of side dishes. Basic ingredients bought fresh are generally inexpensive as well.
Once you’ve prepared your menu, researched your ingredients, and compiled a shopping list, check your pantry to make sure you’re not buying ingredients you already have. Also, check your spice cabinet. Spices are expensive and many times bought for the preparation of a particular dish and then put in the cabinet and forgotten. If there are herbs and spices you need, sometimes buying those fresh can help you save money.
In the weeks leading up to your Thanksgiving on a budget, you will start to see the grocery stores displaying ingredients that are common to many traditional thanksgiving dishes and putting them on sale. If you see something you’ll need, go ahead and buy it while it’s on sale. Canned items such as cranberry sauce, broths, and pumpkin purée are all things you can buy weeks ahead. Any ingredient that is freezable or non-perishable presents an opportunity to save money. Again, by spreading the cost of your dinner out over several weeks, you can minimize the impact to your budget. It will also make things go smoother and with less stress if you’re shopping ahead of time.
Also, check your local grocery stores for weekly flyers to see what they may be featuring in the days and weeks leading up to your event. Utilizing the “buy one, get one” sales can really help when you’re preparing a large meal. Be sure to keep track of what you’ve bought so you don’t duplicate any purchases in days before your meal. By following your list carefully, you can avoid overbuying, which is a common mistake for those preparing to entertain a large crowd for the holidays.
Don’t be a hero
Instead of turning down the offers of help from your invited guests, accept their generosity and let them provide something for your thanksgiving on a budget. Often times, they’ll have something special to bring to the table that can greatly enhance your meal. In addition, many times, guests have a side dish that is special and traditional to each of them that they want to have and share; allowing for that will increase their enjoyment. Thanksgiving is a time to honor traditions and memories, so be open-minded about what your guests are offering to bring.
Most importantly, cross something off your menu that is similar. Often times, it becomes a piling on effect where the meal ends up being overwhelmed by so much food that it is hard to enjoy it all. In addition, becoming short on refrigerator space and adding to the chaos of cleanup afterward are two things that can up your stress levels and detract from your experience.
Then there is the simple fact of preparing food. After all the mixing, cooking, and tasting that goes on, many times a host or hostess will experience food burnout, meaning that when it’s time to eat, the food no longer seems appealing. Having others bring prepared dishes can combat this and increase your enjoyment of the meal.
Make your meal from scratch
Cooking from scratch is always less expensive than buying pre-prepared, packaged foods, and your dishes will taste better as well (hopefully). If you think about the basics of a traditional Thanksgiving meal (meat, potatoes, vegetables, bread), you can purchase these items inexpensively. Many times, the leading grocery stores will put frozen turkeys on sale in the weeks before Thanksgiving. Watch the flyers and circulars and clip coupons if necessary. Retailers want to capitalize on the sales potential of the holiday season for as long as they can, so you might see much of what you need on sale ahead of time, particularly non-perishable items.
For fresh vegetables, shop your farmer’s markets and roadside vegetable stands. Items purchased there are often fresher and cheaper than what you can find in the grocery store. You can also avoid the elbow-to-eyeball experience of shopping with the masses in the last few days before Thanksgiving.
If you know someone who is also planning to entertain a crowd, perhaps the two of you can bulk shop at a member’s club such as Sam’s or Costco and split the purchases. This can work well for lots of things you’ll need, and you can definitely save yourself some money. Things you might consider buying at a wholesale club would be beverages, vegetables and fruits, meats, and basic ingredients such as sugar, flour, spices, herbs, and broths. Sometimes, these clubs will offer pre-made desserts such as pumpkin and apple pies made fresh on location, which are much cheaper than what you can buy in the grocery store. You’ll have to compare the cost of ingredients to the price in the store to see if it’s cheaper to buy them than to make them.
Most traditional dishes feature simple ingredients. Take stuffing, for example. Basic stuffing is just bread, chopped celery, broth, onion, and spices. All these ingredients are very economical, and stuffing is easy to jazz up with things such as apples and nuts. By keeping things simple and cooking from scratch, you can also keep your Thanksgiving on a budget in check.
Pick your poison
One of the biggest budgets busters when entertaining any crowd is alcohol. It’s not only expensive, but it also seems to go fast when everyone is in a festive mood. One of the ways you can control your beverage budget is to serve only beer and wine and let guests know that if they want something special, other than that, to bring it along. Also, take your friends and family up on offers to bring something. When they ask, just say, “Sure! If you’d like to bring some beer or wine, it would be great!” That gives everyone (even the non-cooks) a simple way to participate in the meal. No one likes to show up empty handed!
Another option would be to offer a punch or other simple cocktail. You can make a delicious alcoholic punch out of simple and inexpensive ingredients. Search for recipes on the Internet and you’ll find a plethora of ideas. Recipe sites, food blogs, and sites such as Pinterest can offer up some great ideas. Generally, a punch will contain juice, something sparkling such as lemon-lime soda or a sparkling wine, or some other alcohol. You can pretty it up by adding cut fruit or another garnish. Keep in mind that the alcohol you put into a punch does not have to be of the expensive variety. Champagne that is perfectly suited for punch is inexpensive, particularly if you shop for sales. The same is true for liquors such as vodka and rum.
Offering guests cocktails such as Mimosas and Bloody Marys can be a great way to add an elegant touch but also keep your alcohol budget in line. Orange juice is easy to find on sale in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, and it stores well. Again, purchasing inexpensive champagne is a breeze, and you might want to check your wholesale clubs for deals in the weeks before. You can make Bloody Mary mix from scratch very economically, and a decent bottle of vodka doesn’t have to break the bank. Offering fun, inexpensive garnishes such as oranges, limes, olives, and celery can make an elegant presentation that’s also very budget friendly.
Lastly, for your non-drinking guests, consider making batches of infused water. Flavoring plain tap water with herbs such as mint, basil, and lemongrass makes for a wonderful accompaniment to your meal. Other ideas are using fruit such as oranges, limes, and lemons, or combining unique flavor profiles such as cucumber and mint to make enticing beverages. You can infuse these ahead of time and serve in pretty pitchers on your bar or table.
Getting creative with your alcohol budget is easy and fun. With a little help from your guests, your beverage offering can be a budget friendly but elegant addition to your Thanksgiving festivities.
Don’t bust the budget with decorations
Decorating your home for the holidays always helps to provide a warm and festive environment to entertain. The problem is that it can be very expensive to buy decorations to achieve the look you want. To help curb expenditures on decorations, go through what you already have to see what you can use again this year. If you still feel you need more, explore the decorating sections of the wholesale clubs and outlets to see what they may have. Many times, you’ll see these fall-themed items go on sale after Halloween. Remember, just a few decorations can create a clean and sophisticated look. Be aware that cluttering up with too many items can make your guests feel overwhelmed.
Another way to shave decorating dollars is to search the Internet for ideas in places such as Pinterest and home decorating blogs. Once you have a few ideas, peruse the craft stores and dollar stores for items to make your accessories. Many craft stores, such as Michael’s, offer help from their resident experts, so don’t hesitate to get some professional advice. Many times, you can create beautiful, professional looking decorations for a greatly reduced price.
Another option is to gather natural materials from the environment around you to put together arrangements and table decorations. A simple walk through some nearby woods can yield beautiful ingredients such as natural fall leaves, pinecones, and dried grasses. Combine those with some inexpensive decorative gourds and baby pumpkins; the results could be spectacular. Just be sure to wash any natural items before use.
One last word on decorations: again, less is more. A few well-designed pieces will win the day over cheap, fake leaves and tacky paper products. Never underestimate the beauty of a well-put-together bowl of fruit.
Hosting a lovely and elegant Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t always mean going bankrupt to do it. Nobody wants to be broke heading into Christmas! By being smart and creative, you can put on a wonderful event that everyone will remember for years to come.