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Thanksgiving on a Budget

rustic Thanksgiving dinner place setting

Celebrating Thanksgiving on a budget doesn't have to leave you wanting for more. Check out these simple ways to cut costs before this year's big dinner. Your wallet will thank you, and your appetite for giving back will grow.

Beckon Your Inner Earlybird

Get an early start on saving by drafting your menu as soon as possible. Not only will you catch early specials at the supermarket, you also will avoid the last-minute scramble that strips the grocery shelves of budget-friendlier items.

Cost-Cut With Coupons

Keep your eyes peeled for coupons and special offers, even when it comes to stores you don't frequently shop. Grocers are vying for your business, and often offer screaming deals just to get you in the door.

Trim the Fat

Keep it simple with fewer ingredients and recipes using things you already have. For example, instead of an expensive, 10-ingredient salad that requires buying additional salad dressing, make a fresh kale salad with minced garlic, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and olive oil, and savor the full flavor of Thanksgiving on a budget.

Consider the Alternatives

List all the ingredients your menu calls for and group like items. Then search online for less expensive alternatives or options to buy in bulk.

Bulk Up

Don’t limit your Costco and Sam’s Club trips to toilet paper. Stock up on high-quality ingredients such as organic greens, olive oil, milk and butter in bulk for cost-effective cooking that doesn’t skimp on nutritional goodness. Also look for bulk-quantities of meat and dairy that you use more of during the holidays.

Bumper-Crop Swap

Barter with friends and neighbors who garden. Chances are, someone in your circle is up to their ears in corn, chard, zucchini, tomatoes or herbs. If you didn't inherit Aunt Martha’s green thumb or you have nothing to swap, offer to help with weeding and prepping their garden beds for next year.

Splurge on Herbs

Celebrate Thanksgiving on a budget by paying a visit to your local nursery for herb plants instead of dropping cash for prepackaged sage, rosemary and thyme or other herbs you will only use once. Small potted herbs can cost the same as store-bought sprigs from the supermarket. And by investing in an indoor herb garden now, you’ll save for months to come.

Squash Old Notions

Think outside the recipe box and explore options using winter squash. Many varieties of this nutrient-packed vegetable are inexpensive and interchangeable in main dishes (and even in pie). Because of its long shelf life, winter squash can add to your autumn décor while you search for the perfect recipe.

Veg Out

Go vegetarian this Thanksgiving and start a new tradition of saving. Not only will you spare yourself the expense of buying a bird and roasting your day away, your informal turkey pardoning might be the beginning of an eco-friendly holiday season.

Downsize Your Main Dish

If your response to the turkey-free idea above went something like, “When pigs fly,” consider other, more economical alternatives such as baked ham, turkey breast or roasted chicken. Especially for smaller gatherings, you could shave off nearly half of what you would pay for the bigger bird.

Make Your Own Mirepoix

Substitute store-bought chicken broth with a homemade vegetable stock such as mirepoix. Made from carrots, celery and onions, this palate-pleasing base costs less than premade broths, even when prepared with organic ingredients.

Go Less Nuts

Buy the exact amount of nuts you will need by shopping the bulk bins of your local natural food stores. For extra savings, look for nut pieces instead of whole nuts. Often, these go for about half the price.

Share the Love

Ask guests to bring a side dish or dessert deeply rooted in their own family traditions. Or, if you’re a guest, offer to do the same. Perhaps Grandma’s stuffing or Uncle Elliot’s “Idaho Mashterpiece” will make a cameo. A cornucopia of your guests’ favorite family recipes brings extra warmth to the table.

Assign the Wine

Ask each guest to bring a bottle (or their preferred beverage) to dinner. Or, make your own festive punch, hot spiced cider or apple pie sangria made with (often inexpensive) white table wine. Of course, keep a handful of mixers and nonalcoholic drinks on hand.

Mull Over Leftovers

Think about the savings (and leftovers) you will enjoy when you stretch your Thanksgiving dinner beyond Thursday. The more creative you get — think turkey enchiladas, soups, and shepherd’s pie—the easier it is to swallow the upfront expense.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]