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18 Easy Ways to Make Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

Need to do Thanksgiving on the cheap? Here are some actually do-able tips on how to make Thanksgiving on a budget!

Who else thinks that Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays?

Not only is it a day to be thankful for what we have (Although we should be thankful every day), it’s a day to enjoy with family and good food.

I host Thanksgiving dinner every couple years or so. And throughout that time, I’ve found ways to cut corners on costs. Especially when I feed a lot of people.

According to the Farm Bureau, the average cost of a regular turkey dinner in 2020 was $46.90. That’s really not horrible, depending on how many you’re feeding.

If you’re looking to eat a bit more cheaply this Thanksgiving, here are 18 tips for a more budget-friendly holiday dinner.

18 Easy Ways to Make Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget

A woman with a shopping cart, holding a long receipt

1.) Set a budget

First of all, you need to actually set a budget!

In the example above, the cost of an average Thanksgiving dinner was almost $50.00. If you’re feeding 10 people, that’s about $5.00 per person. And that’s a pretty good average.

Of course, you can probably do cheaper. I once made a semi-traditional Thanksgiving dinner for my family of 3 for only $13.00. Using only Dollar Tree ingredients.

But start with the $5.00 per person limit and see where you end up. As long as you have a number in mind, you’re more likely to stick with it.

A cooked turkey on a fancy plate

2.) Look for the best turkey sales

Most grocery stores will have sales on their frozen turkey. The price varies, but I’ve seen them go down to 29 cents per pound before.

That means a 10-pound turkey could potentially cost only less than 3 dollars. WHAT.

Another budget-saving tip: Buy a whole turkey instead of just a turkey breast. The cost-per-pound is SO much more, and the quantity of meat you get is worth the “inconvenience” of dealing with the bones.

And honestly… you don’t have to have a turkey if you don’t want it. Chicken is cheap, and rotisserie chicken makes dinner easier. Do what you think your family would like!

Cans of food

3.) Stock up early

Buying ingredients early is a great way to make sure the stores don’t run out of what you need.

Trust me, you’ll definitely want to do this with at least some of the items. Canned goods like vegetables and cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing and mashed potatoes, and frozen items will keep for a long time. So even if you end up not using them, you’ll have extra to use another time!

A woman holding a shopping basket, looking at her phone

4.) Look at the front page of the sales ads

I use this tip even when not shopping for Thanksgiving. The front page of most sales ads have the best and biggest deals. Typically they’re considered “loss leaders”- which is when the store prices these items so low that they don’t make a profit.

These are the items to look for! Grab these good deals while you can, and like the above tip: Buy early!

A butternut squash, cut in half

5.) Use in-season produce

If you’re using fresh produce in your Thanksgiving Day dinner, aim to buy the ones that are in-season. These tend to be cheapest and have the best flavor.

Examples of produce to buy for Thanksgiving include:

  • Butternut squash and other winter squash like spaghetti and acorn squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Apples
  • Cranberries
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Pumpkins
  • Celery
  • Peas
  • Green beans

Fresh produce is hard to buy super early. Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, apples, and pumpkin tend to keep longer. The others should probably wait until a few days before Thanksgiving.

A potluck dinner. Many people are dishing out food onto plates.

6.) Have a potluck

This is one of the easier ways to have a Thanksgiving feast on a budget: Have others help bring food!

This cuts down on the extra cost of meals and takes a lot of stress from you having to cook it all.

Keep track of who’s bringing what so there are no duplicates. My Thanksgiving Planner has a tracker as well as other helpful tools to plan your day!

An aisle of a grocery store

7.) Buy generic brands

Honestly- a lot of times, I can’t taste a difference between store brand and name brand items. Canned vegetables are the exact same- but the generic brand can be 50 cents cheaper.

That’s why I love shopping at Aldi! It’s full of store-brand foods that help me save at least 50% on my grocery bill every week.

Miscellaneous frozen vegetables

8.) Buy frozen fruit/vegetables

When in doubt, frozen is fine too!

If for whatever reason the store’s shelves are clear of canned vegetables, check the frozen aisles. Frozen vegetables can easily be used in soups and casseroles… and can sometimes be cheaper.

A notepad on a wooden table, with a paper bag full of fresh produce

9.) Stick to your shopping list

This can be a hard one if you’re an impulse shopper, like I am.

The best way to stick to your list is to write down exactly what you need and do your best to head straight toward those items.

Some people have had success with online shopping, like Wal Mart’s grocery pickup. It helps them save money because there are no more impulse purchases!

A large pile of potatoes

10.) Buy in bulk

Depending on what you’re making, some items can be cheaper in bulk.

The ones that come to mind right now are potatoes and onions. They’re more expensive to buy individually, so plan to buy a bag of them instead. If you don’t use them all for Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll have leftovers for other meals!

A baking dish filled with baked dinner rolls

11.) Make what you can, buy the rest

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing quite like the smell of homemade bread in the oven.

And a lot of times, making your own bread products is much cheaper than buying them at the store.

For example, a pack of dinner rolls can cost upwards of $3.00. But with simple ingredients you already keep at home- flour, yeast, salt- you can make twice as many for a fraction of the price.

Did you know you can freeze rolls ahead of time, too? If you find yourself short on time that week, make the rolls a week before and freeze them. They thaw nicely and can be reheated in the oven.

Here are my favorite homemade bread recipes:

Making your own dessert is much cheaper, too. I know it’s so easy to buy a pumpkin pie or apple pie from the store, but those can cost upwards of $7.00 or more. You can make those for a fraction of the price.

A cooked turkey on a dining room table

12.) Take advantage of free offers

This is something I’ve noticed just in the past couple years. The Ibotta app will sometimes offer a free Thanksgiving dinner- including a free turkey.

How this works is- you clip offers on the Ibotta app and then buy the items. You’ll then get a rebate put on your account that you can redeem for cash or gift cards.

I took advantage of this recently and got almost $27.00 back from buying items- including the Thanksgiving turkey. A full meal for free? Yes, please!

Ibotta also has free offers throughout the year, not just during the holiday season. Sign up here and starting getting money back for items you may already use!

Leftover containers in the fridge

13.) Plan for leftovers

“Leftovers” is my favorite word. Why? Because it means I don’t have to buy extra food for the week.

And Thanksgiving is all about the leftovers. Even if you have a frugal Thanksgiving, you’ll more than likely have so much food left. Turn them into completely new recipes to make your meals last all week!

Also, as mentioned above, I highly recommend buying a full turkey instead of just a turkey breast. The turkey breast may be a good price on first glance, but the whole turkey will get you much more meat.

Plastic containers holding dried goods such as rice and beans

14.) Shop your pantry

This is a tip I use constantly in my regular meal planning. One way to save on groceries is to use what’s in your pantry first!

You may have some pantry staples- cans of green beans or “cream of” soup- laying around. Use those when planning your Thanksgiving dinner and you’ll save a few dollars!

A pile of miscellaneous coupons

15.) Clip coupons

This is a great time of year to save money on food. Coupons are everywhere- and pair them with sales to save even more. is a good place to find coupons, but also check your local grocery stores. Most of them have apps where you can clip digital coupons to use at the store.

In addition, some have amazing coupons like “Save $1.00 when you spend $5.00 on dairy items”. I love when that happens because it helps me save a bit of extra cash!

A large bowl of macaroni and cheese

16.) Keep the meals simple

When you’re hosting Thanksgiving, it can be tempting to make ALL THE THINGS. And try a bunch of new recipes. I can be the same way.

But it seems that the more complicated the meal, the more expensive it can be.

Definitely try a new recipe here or there, but also stick with what’s simple and what works. Meals with fewer ingredients are the way to go when saving money.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Green bean casserole
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Stuffing (Boxed stuffing is so easy)
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Sweet potato casserole
A small chalkboard with the word "Menu", surrounded by fresh produce

17.) Plan your menu ahead of time

I am very much a planner and list person. If I don’t have things written down, they don’t get done. Or, I forget a few key details.

That’s why it’s so important for me to plan out my menus and grocery lists. I feel much better when everything’s on paper and I know exactly what’s going on.

I suggest planning at least a few weeks ahead of time. That way you can stock up early and not risk the stores being out of food.

My Thanksgiving planner has a template for the menu and grocery list which has proved to be very helpful!

A sliced sweet potato on a wooden cutting board

18.) Use whole produce instead of pre-chopped

There are some great options out there for convenience. Already-chopped vegetables are one of them. But have you seen how much money they cost?

You get so much more for your money when you buy the whole fruit or vegetable. A pre-chopped container of butternut squash maybe has 2 cups worth, while a whole one can give you 6 or 7 cups.

It’s always a question of whether you want to save time or save money. And if you want to save money, opt to spend a little more time chopping your own produce.

As you can see, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great Thanksgiving! The holiday is more about family than food, anyway. Take advantage of the time you have together and be thankful for everything.

What are your money-saving tips for Thanksgiving? Leave a comment and let us know!

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