8 Ways to Cut the Cost of Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner

Family Matters on 11.10.11
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'Tis the season to watch your wallet get thinner: You've got gifts to purchase, you might want a new frock so you can don you now your gay apparel (fa la la la la), and then there's the price of gas for traveling to and from the stores, the festivities and the family gatherings.

The last thing you want to do is blow your entire holiday budget on Thanksgiving dinner. That's a rookie mistake, people. We need to pace ourselves. Turkey Day is only mile one of the holiday marathon. So limber up and let's tackle this topic head on.

 

1. Figure out Your Guest List

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This is step one, because all other planning hinges on how many people you're entertaining. Now, I don't mean to sound like the Thanksgiving equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge, but you don't need to invite half the neighborhood.

If your family alone is enough to fill your table (and then some), then make sure you know who's getting an invite: It's going to have major impact on the amount of food needed. The good news is that more people mean more offers of help (and more people to chip in with dishes) but we'll get to that later. The point is that a small guest list means greater savings. But if you plan on feeding an army, then keep reading.

2. Limit Your Menu

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Don't do what I do at this time of year, which is to get all misty-eyed over some 78-ingredient recipe you find in Posh Gourmet: Recipes That Call for Stupid-Pricey Ingredients.

Stick to the basics. You need turkey. You need green beans and mashed potatoes. You need pie. Write that down: P-I-E. I hear pecans are more expensive than apples; choose wisely. Maybe your clan has a few traditional items that are "must-haves," so decide what those are early on in the process and plan around them.

Then take a hard look at the "traditional" foods that you serve up every year and always have leftover: If no one ever touches the cranberry "sauce" that's in the exact shape of the aluminum can, then don't feel bad about omitting it. I know, that'll only save you a buck fifty, but that's a stocking stuffer right there.

3. Use What You Have

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Speaking of money adding up ... Scan the pantry and make sure you use that can of pumpkin, the spices, the dried onions, and any other ingredients you probably have on hand so you don't buy doubles.

If during your pantry excavations you find something interesting that you want to use, another strategy is to search for recipes that use specific ingredients on AllRecipes.com. You just may end up with a new family classic.

4. Have a Potluck

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When anybody asks, "Can I bring something?" the answer is YES! PLEASE! ABSOLUTELY! Don't feel bad about it. It's a lot of work for the host or hostess to shop for everything, prep the dinner and then deal with the clean up. So when someone offers, be nice to yourself and accept.

Supplying a dinner party's worth of wine is an expensive proposition -- consider asking guests to bring their favorite red or white, a vegetable, or the pumpkin pie. In a perfect world, you're only dealing with the turkey and the rest of your guests are chipping in with side dishes, pies and booze.

5. Buy Produce in Season

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Unless your must-have traditions involve some weird ingredients, this should be a simple rule to follow. Whatever produce is in season is usually the cheapest, freshest and in peak condition because it's not being trucked in from some far-out locale. Check out this Seasonal Ingredient Map to see what produce is fresh in your area this month. And keep in mind that a lot of the Thanksgiving classics are already based around in-season vegetables (that's what made them classics in the first place). There's a reason your forefathers didn't serve strawberry shortcake in November in New England.

6. Only Make What You Need

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It makes me a little bit sad to offer this piece of advice, but it's solid and so I feel I must include it: Don't aim for leftovers.

Here's the thing. We all love Thanksgiving leftovers, and you're going to wind up with them whether you plan for them or not. But when we plan for them, we wind up throwing food away after the fifth day in a row of turkey, and when the mashed potatoes have permanently attached themselves to the side of the serving bowl.

So enjoy a few leftovers -- just don't make so much food that you wind up leaving it outside to use nature as a refrigerator because there's no room in yours.

7. Make From Scratch

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What can you make from scratch? If you've got flour, butter, sugar, and all the other basic ingredients of baking, you can probably pretty much make your breads and pies for "free." If you need to go out and purchase spices or other pricey ingredients, you might want to add up the dollars and cents between a homemade pie vs. store bought. (Oh, but homemade is so much more delicious!) If you've already got the goods on hand, then it's cheaper and more festive to start baking.

8. Set a Budget

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After you've followed all the other items on this list, write up a budget. We've worked backwards here, but it's an easier way to set a budget than shooting in the dark. If you add it all up and the number makes your eyes tear, then think about who can help out with some items on the menu, and don't be shy about asking.

If you're only making chestnut stuffing because you know that Cousin Jenette is going to make a big stink if it's absent (while everyone else prefers the boxed stuffing), then call her and ask her to bring it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and honestly, telling Cousin Jenette to bring her favorite dish isn't a drastic action.

When you hit the store, keep your eyes on your shopping list so that you'll stick to your budget and you won't make impulse purchases, and buy generic or use coupons to save on the most popular items. Trust us: Your friends and family will be just as full and happy whether you bought the store-brand or the name-brand.

Bon appetit!

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