How to do Thanksgiving on a Budget

A table set with a simple Thanksgiving meal, including turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, all on a budget.

Family and personal finances are a big part of every holiday season. People are buying gifts, preparing holiday meals, and planning all of the changes in their lives that the coming new year might bring.

In addition to giving thanks for all we have, we want everyone to engage in some financially sound thinking this Thanksgiving.

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner on a budget is a good place to start.

Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner

Doing Thanksgiving dinner on a budget can make a big difference in everyone’s household finances. People get so focused on shopping that they don’t think about all they’re spending on entertaining and family get-togethers. Here are some tips for making your family Thanksgiving meal more budget-friendly:

  • Plan a BYOD (Bring Your Own Dish) affair. To expect a family or person to host an entire meal and prepare everything for a large group of people can be a budget buster. Part of the family coming together to celebrate the holiday should include everyone pitching in and bringing something to the table.

Put the entire dinner plan down on paper. Write out what everyone will be bringing and make sure all of the bases are covered. Besides food items, identify what supplies people might be able to bring, like place settings, serving dishes, cookware, etc.

  • Shop wisely. When buying everything you need for your dinner, make smart spending decisions. Use coupons where you can, but don’t let coupons entice you into spending more on name brands than you need to. Generic items can save you around 25% on your spending for Thanksgiving dinner.

When planning your dinner with your family, pair up with them to go shopping from bulk warehouse stores. Grab a Sunday paper and check the ads for good deals. If stores ask for your email address, give it to them—some stores don’t print Sunday ads, but will email you discount offers regularly.

  • Decorate without spending. Don’t buy new decorations; use what you already have on hand. If there’s a decoration idea that is really important to you, see if any of your dinner guests might have what you need and can help you prepare. You can also trade decorations with friends and neighbors. Use social media to work out a swap that gives both of you fresh new decorations without having to spend a dime.

You can also cut decorating costs by using natural elements, like pine cones or wreaths made from found materials. Make this year’s decor all-natural and spend time crafting instead of spending money.

You can also check Pinterest or other social media sites for decoration ideas that you can pull off without having to buy anything new.

  • Use your leftovers. Thanksgiving dinner is famous for leaving lots of leftover food. Be sure to plan to use all of what you make over the next week or freeze leftovers for some future use. You can get back some of the money you spent on the big family dinner by packing leftovers for lunch over the next week.

Holiday Seasonal Spending

After the Thanksgiving holiday, many people spend their next day shopping for Christmas gifts or decorating the house for that next big holiday. Just like that big family dinner, it’s important to put some thought into being financially prepared for the coming season.

  • Draw names for gifts. Before Black Friday comes, get together with the extended family and draw names for Christmas gift-giving. That way everyone knows whom they’re shopping for on the big holiday shopping weekend, and each person will have fewer gifts they have to buy. If you want to preserve some mystery for the holidays, use the “Secret Santa” method and draw names without telling everyone whose name you drew.
  • Partner up for big gifts. Instead of shopping for everyone, group up and pool your funds for one big gift. This way, your gift shopping is easier to budget for and the people you are buying for will get something really special.
  • Plan your spending in writing. We urge everyone to create written budgets for every part of their lives, including holiday spending. If you make a plan and commit it to paper, then it is much more likely you’ll stick to it and spend less over the holiday season.
  • Track all of your spending. An essential part of budgeting is tracking spending so you know how to make smart adjustments to your budget and you know what parts of your budget you’re not sticking to. Your smartphone makes it easier than ever to track spending—just take a quick photo of every shopping receipt if you don’t have time to track as you spend.

Tips for Moving During the Holidays

For potential homebuyers, the holiday season might be a good time to make a move, but the winter months bring some complications. If you’re in the market to become a homeowner, keep some things in mind:

  • Fewer homes will be on the market. Moving during the holidays is a hassle, and with the school year well under way, most families with kids won’t be looking to sell their home and relocate until late spring. That means that you’ll have less to choose from if you’re actively shopping for a house.
  • Good deals can be had. Even though there isn’t likely to be a surplus of homes on the market, you shouldn’t have to pay top dollar. The people still trying to sell their homes during the holiday season are likely more motivated to sell and should be open to negotiation.
  • Partner up with professionals. If you’re buying during the holidays, your realtor, mortgage broker, and homebuyer/mortgage counselor will likely be less busy than other times of the year, and will be able to give you more special attention. Your seller and mortgage company might be motivated to close the sale before the year ends, which could smooth the way for you to get what you want.
  • Don’t wait to call for help. Many people will be looking for financial help around the New Year, after having overspent during the holidays. You don’t have to wait. If you’re struggling to make your budget work during the holiday season, talk to a debt coach before the year ends and come up with a plan to achieve financial freedom.
  • Relax and enjoy the season. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for everything you have, including the loved ones you’ll be celebrating the holiday with. Don’t get stressed out about preparing a flawlessly decorated home and cooking an extravagant meal. If you get caught up in making your Thanksgiving gathering too fancy, you’ll spend more money and induce needless stress—and that’s nothing to be thankful for.

Be sure to check out our free “Surviving the Holidays” educational guide from our downloads page, and don’t hesitate to call or chat for financial help today.

Article written by
Melinda Opperman
Melinda Opperman is an exceptional educator who lives and breathes the creation and implementation of innovative ways to motivate and educate community members and students about financial literacy. Melinda joined in 2003 and has over two decades of experience in the industry.

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