How to do Thanksgiving on a budget Hosting a successful Thanksgiving on a budget starts with smart shopping strategies and a manageable guest list. November 1, 2023 Every November, family and friends gather to reflect on what they’re grateful for and indulge in a home-cooked meal. But with food costs steadily increasing, Thanksgiving can easily be one of the most stressful and costly holidays of the year. The good news? You don’t have to break the bank to host a holiday dinner that leaves your guests full and impressed. Here are some tips for hosting Thanksgiving on a budget without compromising on the warmth and joy of the holiday season. 1. Get a head start on planning It’s never too early to start preparing for the holidays, especially if you’ve volunteered to host. Haley and Justin Brown-Woods, financial coaches and hosts of the Price of Avocado Toast podcast, recommend thinking about what type of Thanksgiving you’d like to create. Will it be casual or elegant? A full, traditional meal or just heavy appetizers? Most importantly: How big will the celebration be? Having a rough idea of how many people you’ll be hosting will provide a better sense of how much food and drink you’ll need, which can help you set a realistic budget. One tip: If you’ve previously hosted Thanksgiving, review bank statements from those years to approximate your expenses for this year’s dinner. 2. Keep your guest list in check The more, the merrier, right? Not necessarily. Too many Thanksgiving guests mean more mouths to feed—and more money spent. “One of the first steps we’d suggest when doing Thanksgiving on a budget is being modest in who you invite,” Haley says. More guests can mean you might need to plan for considerations like dietary restrictions or picky kids. To keep it simple, invite only close family members or just your immediate household. “As you add to the list of guests, you need to ask yourself how much more of each dish you’ll need to make,” Haley says. “Boiling a few extra potatoes is wildly different from making an entire new casserole pan of dressing. Do you plan on giving out leftovers to all? Do you have disposable containers to send it all home in? Ask yourself what kind of post-meal situation you’re comfortable with and then build around that.” 3. Commit to a budget and build your savings fund Once you’ve figured out the guest list and your overall style, determine a budget for food, decorations, and other expenses based on how many guests you plan to invite. Then, pad your final budget to cover any unexpected costs that might pop up. Try to keep your budget limited to the essentials. “You do not need to buy or serve everything,” Haley says. “Potatoes don’t need to be curated into four styles, and you don’t need every extra casserole you saw on social media.” Having a rough estimate for expenses is the first step toward building your holiday fund. To help your savings go even further, consider opening a high-yield online savings account to take advantage of the compound interest it earns every month. Start saving with no minimum balance Learn more Discover Bank, Member FDIC “We suggest having a sinking fund in a high-yield savings account built specifically for holidays that you can add to each month and then pull from when needed,” Justin says. “This could be for things like groceries, gifts, excursions, or any other expenses that come with the holiday season. When we save in advance for our goals, not only do we feel empowered, but we spend more intentionally because we recognize the work and planning that went into getting to that point.” Not to mention, you’ll experience lower overall stress if you come out of the holidays without considerable debt to pay back in the new year. 4. Take inventory of what you have One simple trick to ensuring a successful Thanksgiving dinner on a budget? Figure out what you already have at home to reduce unnecessary expenses. Pantry staples, like sugar and flour, can last for many months, and there’s no need to buy them brand new just for one dinner. If you’re missing a certain-sized pot or baking tray, consider borrowing cookware from a guest before the big day. Thrift stores are also an inexpensive place to find what you need to help keep your Thanksgiving spending under control. “Remind yourself of what your values for the holiday are. If feeding people is a value, then how can we do that comfortably without breaking the bank?” 5. Shop with a budget-first mindset Haley recommends several money-saving tips when shopping for Thanksgiving dinner on a budget. “Buy off-brand when possible,” Haley says. “You don’t need name-brand condensed soup for a green bean casserole. Your guests will still love whatever is made. The flavors meld together anyway, so cut costs as much as possible.” Another tip: To curb spending, buy certain items ahead of time to avoid last-minute and unnecessary purchases. “Start stocking up on the nonperishables months in advance,” Haley adds. “You’ll be tempted to buy straight from the Thanksgiving display if you shop too close to the holiday. And you know what else is on that display? Decor, extra desserts, favors, and other stuff you absolutely do not need.” 6. Save money on the decor You don’t need to spend a fortune to enhance the Thanksgiving mood. Decorating for Thanksgiving on a budget is a chance for you to exercise creativity and maybe even enlist the help of guests for a night of crafting. Instead of buying that fancy centerpiece you saw online, use it as inspiration to create a centerpiece with decorations you already own or can thrift on the cheap. Better yet: Take a minimalist approach to your Thanksgiving decorations. “As far as decor, less is more,” Haley says. “A comforting table setting, maybe one from years past, is just enough. Sometimes we forget that ‘more’ can really mean ‘busy,’ which detracts from the connection we crave on this holiday.” 7. Consider hosting dinner potluck-style Want to really limit the stress and spending? Offer to host a potluck Thanksgiving or “Friendsgiving” dinner. As the host, you can still cook the main entrees like the turkey, but a potluck allows you to delegate smaller side dishes to your guests—especially if you can’t trim down your guest list. Justin says: “We are big fans of potluck style. If your extended family is so close that you can’t avoid the invites, consider asking all to contribute meaningfully, in alignment with their budget. Find spaces where folks can contribute, and then ask if that works or if they’d like to adjust. An example could be, ‘Hey, we’re so excited to have you for Thanksgiving. We’re asking everyone to contribute a dish so the meal is easier on all. Would you be comfortable bringing that famous dish you make?’” Granted, there are certain circumstances where guests may not be able to contribute. For example, family members visiting from out of town might not be able to bring a home-cooked dish or have time to visit the store before dinner. If traveling guests offer, feel free to accept their contribution. Otherwise, it’s probably best not to ask. Don’t let hosting duties stress you out Most importantly, Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, and loved ones to reflect on all they’re grateful for and to enjoy each other’s company. Hosting should be fun—not gray hair-inducing, and it’s important to remember that who you invite is more important than how much you spend on the tablecloths. “Remind yourself of what your values for the holiday are,” Haley says. “If feeding people is a value, then how can we do that comfortably, without breaking the bank? If connecting with loved ones matters more, maybe you can save on the meal in some capacity. Value-based spending is key to enjoying your money and your life, so identify the value and then spend intentionally within that framework.” Ready to raise your hand to host this year’s Thanksgiving on a budget? Check out the features of a Discover® Online Savings Account to see how it can support your holiday savings efforts today. Articles may contain information from third-parties. 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