Even if you’re trying to save money, guess what – it’s still perfectly possible to have a great Thanksgiving dinner on a budget!
Of course, the most important part of Thanksgiving is being with your loved ones – we wouldn’t argue with that!
But…we all love food. And simply being on a budget doesn’t have to get in the way of sharing a traditional Thanksgiving meal with friends and family.
The best way to have a cheap Thanksgiving dinner on a budget
Of course, the absolute best way that you can save money this Thanksgiving is to have a pot luck dinner.
If each guest is responsible for a dish, you’ll be sharing not only the cost, but the time (and stress, let’s be honest) of preparing each part of the meal.
However, that may not be possible in each case. Perhaps you have family visiting, so they’re not able to bring food. Or maybe your friends just suck at cooking (if so, put them on wine-bringing duties).
So this post is for those of you who have been tasked with preparing a full Thanksgiving dinner.
Which isn’t at all a bad thing. As you’ll see, your Thanksgiving meal can be simple without sacrificing quality.
After all, people don’t remember whether you served them a fancy cheese and the most gourmet (read: expensive) bread rolls you could find.
So read on to see a budget-friendly meal you could serve this Thanksgiving – at less than $10 per person!
General tips to save money on food at Thanksgiving
- Prepare as much food as you can ahead of time. During the last minute pre-Thanksgiving rush, prices go up or key ingredients may be difficult to find, forcing you to buy more expensive brands if that’s all that’s available. Check the recipes below for what can be cooked then frozen. And this has the added bonus of reducing some of the cooking stress on the day!
- If you have the space in your freezer, start looking into buying a frozen turkey in advance. They can be far cheaper and taste just as good, although make sure you follow these instructions for defrosting the bird properly. And keep an eye out for deals – in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, some stores even offer a free turkey if you spend a certain amount of money.
- Use cash back offers like those available on Ebates. Thousands of stores are in their system offering cash back of 5% or more of the purchase price. It’s free to join and if you sign up through that link, you get a $10 welcome bonus.
- Whether or not you follow the menu below, make sure you prepare a meal plan and a shopping list. This will make sure that you’re only buying exactly what you need – no more, no less – and that you won’t forget anything, forcing you to go back to the supermarket and likely spend more money overall.
Cheap Thanksgiving menu ideas to do Thanksgiving dinner on a budget
How To Brine a Turkey by Kitchn
How To Cook a Turkey by Kitchn
If you’re choosing to cook a whole turkey, the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to do it is to brine the turkey beforehand. It’s extremely easy to do and makes the meat perfectly moist.
BUDGET TIP 1: Only buy as much turkey as you need based on how many people are coming for dinner. While I understand the temptation to buy a bigger one “just in case”, I don’t recall a single time where every morsel of meat was eaten. Also, buying a smaller one not only saves money, but the bigger the turkey, the longer it has to cook for. Cue: last minute stress.
BUDGET TIP 2: Don’t feel like you absolutely must serve a full turkey. Turkey breast or even chicken can be far more cost-effective, especially if you don’t have a team of people coming over. And even if you do have 10+ people coming, there’s no reason why they have to have a full bird in front of them when other options taste just as good.
Simple Turkey Gravy by All Recipes
You can always just buy gravy, especially when a can of Campbell’s turkey gravy only costs $1.49. But this recipe is so simple that there’s no reason not to give it a go.
You should also have all of the ingredients already so it won’t cost you anything extra. The one possible exception is that the recipe asks for turkey stock. Don’t worry about this – chicken stock is just as good.
Easy Thanksgiving Stuffing by Eating Richly
I suspect I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that stuffing is often the best part of any meal. And it’s even better when it’s as simple and cheap as this recipe! In fact, the author says that it costs $0.36 per serving, which is pretty incredible, really.
BUDGET TIP: This is mentioned in the recipe, but I just wanted to highlight one point – for the bread part of this recipe, use a baguette or some other bakery bread. It’s a quarter of the price of stuffing mix for the exact same outcome.
Basic Mashed Potatoes by All Recipes
There’s nothing complicated about these mashed potatoes, but why complicate something that tastes so good!
Green bean casserole
Green Bean Casserole by Genius Kitchen
This recipe is super simple but super delicious – if you don’t believe me, check out the reviews at the link!
It only takes a few minutes to prepare as most of the time is spent leaving it to bake, but this is a great way to add some greens to your Thanksgiving feast.
BUDGET TIP: When buying the green beans, compare the price between fresh beans and frozen ones. Frozen beans are just as nutritious and can often be cheaper than their fresh counterparts. You can also keep the unused ones in the freezer for as long as you need, meaning that you may be able to save even more money overall by buying a larger packet.
Simple Cranberry Sauce by Budget Bytes
With only three ingredients, this is very budget-friendly – and tastes amazing too!
Of course, if you’re tight on time, cranberry sauce in a can is always an option, especially when it costs less than $2.00. But this recipe really lives up to its name of being simple, so you should definitely consider making the homemade version.
Libby’s Famous Pumpkin Pie by Very Best Baking
You’ll impress your guests with this as the grand finale! Everyone knows that, no matter how much you eat beforehand, there’s always room for dessert – and that will definitely be the case here.
BUDGET TIP: You may notice that the recipe includes a pre-made pie shell. You can, of course, make the dough from scratch, but my experience has always been that with the cost of the ingredients plus the time needed to make it, it’s often about the same price to just buy one that’s pre-made.
But you’re always welcome to make things even more homemade if you’re feeling inspired!
Basic Red Wine Sangria by The Spruce Eats
Now, if you’re the one making all of the food, there’s a good argument to be made that your friends should supply the drinks.
Whether or not they do, this sangria recipe is a great way to jazz up some inexpensive wine – and to also make the drinks last longer.
And if you’re not a brandy kind of person, gin or rum will also be great additions to this.
BUDGET TIP: Don’t waste money on good wine when making this. The wine taste will be masked by the fruit and sugar, so there’s no need to buy anything fancy. Your guests won’t even know if you don’t tell them!
RELATED ARTICLE: HOW TO GET MONEY FOR BUYING ALCOHOL
“What can we bring?”
If your guests insist on bringing something, there are a range of things you could ask them to provide, such as:
- Bread rolls and butter
- An extra dessert
Happy cooking…and happy eating!
What’s your secret (cheap!) recipe for doing Thanksgiving dinner on a budget?