Turkey Day is right around the corner. If you’re trying to stay within a tight budget, you may have a feeling of dread about the holiday. You want to have your family and friends over to celebrate, but the thought of buying enough food to feed all those people, and buying decorations to boot, sends you into a full-blown panic attack.
Don’t fret. The good news about the Thanksgiving holiday is that you can host a dinner that’s spectacular yet doesn’t cost a lot of money. With a little foresight, you can plan a memorable time that your friends and family will remember for years to come!
Thanksgiving is about an abundant harvest, and its decor is best when it’s simple and natural. To “shop” for decorations, simply take a walk in the woods. Acorns, pine cones, branches, seedpods, and leaves can be used for a rustic look. If you’re looking to brighten them up a bit, use some ribbon or spray glue and fall-colored glitter! There are all types of colorful berries ripening time of year that can be used for decoration. Bittersweet has beautiful red and yellow berries that look fantastic in decorative bottles or a pretty vase for a lovely and simple centerpiece.
Pumpkins, gourds, and Indian corn can be found at farm stands and grocery stores. They’re not expensive, and it only takes a few to make a nice fall centerpiece. Don’t stop there; think outside the box! Walnuts, other nuts in the shell, cranberries, and kumquats can be used on candle trays, in jars, or scattered around your other decorations to add color and texture.
Get the kids involved. Give them some glue sticks and construction paper (green, yellow, orange, red, and black) and let their imaginations run wild. They can make leaves, turkeys, and pilgrims that you can use for place mats, place cards, or wall decorations.
Forget the tablecloth. Linens can be expensive, and greasy gravy spills may mean you won’t be able to reuse the tablecloth. A roll of inexpensive brown butcher paper is a great substitute. Tape it to the table and add a supply of fall-colored crayons or washable markers. The kids will love decorating it on the special day, and it’ll keep them busy while you’re cooking the meal. Trace plates where people will sit and write your guests’ names as place cards. Have your guests write down what they’re thankful for this year.
The Turkey: Follow the cooking instructions on the turkey package based on its actual weight. To dress it up:
1. Fill the cavity with aromatics such as onions, carrots, apples, and celery.
2. Soften two sticks of butter. Use the butter plain or add some of the following:
- Minced garlic
- Lemon zest
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped herbs such as parsley, dried thyme, and dried sage
3. Smear the butter primarily under the turkey skin, but be sure to smear a little on the skin to help it brown.
4. Don’t forget to baste often!
Keep your sides simple. You may want every dish to be a showstopper, but complex dishes usually have more ingredients than a turkey has feathers, and more ingredients mean more money. Vegetables such as green beans, corn, broccoli, and asparagus are at their best steamed and served with a pat of plain or herb butter. To make herb butter, take a stick of softened butter and stir in desired herbs in small amounts. Put the herb butter into a small container or use plastic wrap to form a “log” and refrigerate. While you’re at it, make some honey butter by following the same process. Your guests will love honey butter on their dinner rolls!
Sweet Potatoes: Place clean sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and prick each several times with a fork. Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until tender, about 50 minutes. Slice the tops open and add a little butter, salt, and pepper; or, just sprinkle some brown sugar.
Butternut Squash: Start by lining a baking sheet with foil. Cut desired amount of butternut squash into 1-inch cubes. Drizzle with olive oil and maple syrup, and a little salt. Toss to coat. Roast for 30 minutes at 425 until tender. If they haven’t browned at all by that point, you can put them under the broiler to caramelize them, but watch them closely because they’ll burn quickly.
Cranberry Sauce: Cranberry sauce is one of those things that people think is difficult, but in reality, it’s quite simple. Heat 1 cup of simple syrup, add a bag of cranberries, and cook until the cranberries begin to break down, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of orange juice and allow it to cool. Garnish with orange zest.
Other Ways to Save Money at Thanksgiving
Think Leftovers: Everybody loves Thanksgiving leftovers. Whether you come up with new and creative recipes to use your leftovers or you warm up a repeat of the holiday meal, you can save time and money if your Thanksgiving dinner stretches to several sittings.
Shop Around: Most supermarkets drop the price of turkeys before the holiday and usually keep them low through Christmas. Turkey supply is high at Thanksgiving, as is demand, so with a little shopping around, you should be able to find a cheap bird. Here’s a bonus money-saving tip: Buy two turkeys while they’re cheap; one for the holiday and one for the freezer that you can cook later in the winter when you’re craving some comfort food.
Make It a Potluck Dinner: There’s no shame in asking for help. Buying enough food for everyone can be expensive, and most people don’t mind helping out. You make the turkey and ask each person to bring a side or a dessert. It’s important to be organized, however, and make a list of what everyone else is bringing so you don’t end up with eight bowls of mashed potatoes.
Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for the people in your life and what you have around you. Don’t lose sight of what’s truly important. Hint: It’s not about spending all your money on expensive and elaborate foods or extravagant decorations.