Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holiday Help: Thanksgiving Dinner Edition

As we get closer and closer to the holiday season, Frugal Femme and I will be doing a series of posts dedicated to having fun during this special time, but also keeping your pockets lined with more than just spare change. Sound good?

According to a 2008 study by Forbes, the average Thanksgiving dinner for 10 costs $44. 61. They included the turkey and 12 traditional dishes, like pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and sweet potatoes. However, the fine folks at Forbes did not include alcohol...and really, can you survive Thanksgiving without it? I digress...

As I'm putting together my menu for my second Thanksgiving that I've hosted, I'm determined to keep my costs down this year and I figured I'd throw my suggestions out there and see if any of you had any ideas! Here's what you can do to keep costs down but still have a fabulous Thanksgiving meal!

*Make it a potluck Thanksgiving. Okay, so right off the bat, I won't be doing this one. My in-laws are coming up from Portland. Since they're making the 3+ hour drive (not including what promises to be horrific traffic), I don't want them worrying about cooking. I have given them the task of picking up rolls, dessert (I don't want to bake a pie) and alcohol so that will definitely save me some money. But if you're having a local Thanksgiving (or if you're less of a control freak than I am) definitely spread the meal love around. Assign people coming over to bring something. For your cousin who doesn't cook, how about drinks? For your recently college graduate brother, why not something inexpensive like dinner rolls? This will not only take time off your hands and free up space in your refrigerator, but will save you a significant amount of money. Plus, it leaves your guests feeling like they contributed something to make the holiday memorable.

*Shop around and do it now! I just saw a deal at my local Safeway for 27 cents/lb for turkey! Hopefully I can clear out enough space in my freezer to get a great deal on the turkey, but there are definitely bargains out there. Stores will mark up prices as it gets closer - you can't have Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey, right? - and they'll definitely take advantage of late shoppers. I bought my turkey two days before Thanksgiving last year and paid around $14 for a 12 lb turkey as opposed to $3.24 (currently the deal at Safeway). WOW! That's a $10 savings!

*Buy produce in bulk. Since you're most likely cooking for a larger group, you can now take advantage of buying fresh produce in bulk. I know I'm cooking mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts, so I'll go to Costco and buy a 5 lb bag of brussel sprouts for $6 and a 15 lb bag of potatoes for $7. First, I'm doing a trial of recipes so I know I'll need more than just for Thanksgiving dinner. Plus potatoes can keep up to a month if stored correctly, so I'll just use them for regular dinners...this makes my husband very happy.

*Buy frozen/canned items. Fresh produce is obviously going to be more expensive, and unless your recipes call specifically for fresh, you can definitely substitute frozen or canned items. I think frozen green beans would be just fine in a green bean casserole. Are you going to make pumpkin puree? No, we'll leave that to Martha Stewart. Buy canned pumpkin.

*Don't make everything from scratch. Who said Thanksgiving has to have all homemade items and days spent toiling over every detail? Not me! Last year, I bought my stuffing from Trader Joe's and it was great! True, my mom's stuffing is better, but I spent $3 and 20 minutes instead of a lot more time and definitely more money.

Ultimately though, it doesn't matter how much money you spend. Thanksgiving is a time when we give thanks for our friends and family, and regardless of how much you spend at the grocery store, it's about the time we spend with our loved ones. Maybe start a new tradition - I'm going to start a guest book (thanks to my friends the Duttons for this idea!) and have my guests write what they're thankful for. How cool would that be to look back on years later?

What about you? Do you have money saving strategies for holiday dinners? What are your plans for Thanksgiving?

Stay tuned next week for tips on saving money on holiday beverages!

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