How I Make Thanksgiving dinner for under $50 (for more than 10 people)

One of my favorite times of the year is Thanksgiving. Because I love spending time with my family.  I love to eat and I have so much to be thankful for.  But preparing a meal for a large family gathering can reek havoc on your budget if not planned correctly. With family gatherings adding to the amount of food needed this can be a budget buster.  If you prepare for it ahead of time you can save your budget before it’s busted.

In 2017, the average price of ingredients for a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner amounted to $49.12 U.S. dollars according to The Statistics Portal.  As turkey plays a central role in the feast, the component took the largest share of the meal’s expenditure.  

I’ve been preparing Thanksgiving dinner for more than a decade now.  I’ve managed to get the whole dinner prepared for less than $50 by doing a few nifty frugal things in the past.  There’s several things I do to cut down on cost for food.   You may be thinking it can’t be done but it can, use these tips that I use year after year.  Combine several or all the options below to save big on Thanksgiving day. 

1. Open a separate saving account 

Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November every year.  So, it’s no surprise as to what day it will be, so start saving for it ahead of time.  At the beginning of the year create a separate savings account in order to save money for food and décor.  As soon as this Thanksgiving is over start to save for next Thanksgiving.  If you bank at a traditional bank but don’t want to go traditional for your Thanksgivings saving account open an online bank account.  I have an online bank account with Chime.  They are FDIC protected just like brick and mortar banks.  There’s no minimum amount to open the account, no monthly service fee, and no over draft fees.  Chime also has automatic savings that saves your change from every purchase.  Sign up now through my link and get $50 (that will cover your entire dinner) you’re welcome, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

2. Create a menu (meal plan) and a shopping list

This helps so you don’t grab things that catch your eye (or your stomach) in the store.  Use the meal plan to plan out the budget amount that you will spend ahead of time.  List all the food you “want” to include on the list.  Then write the prices of each item beside the food names to see which items you can actually buy within your $50 budget.  I know everyone’s budget is different but we are all trying to save, you may have to adjust your menu according to the budget.  Bonus: DON’T go shopping on an empty stomach (that’s always a no no!)

3. Make a guest list

Now that we have a meal plan and a shopping list, its time to put together the invite list.  I know we think we can remember everyone that may come by.  Truth be told sometimes you might forget that last year Uncle James got married and he’s bringing Aunt Jackie this year.  Prepare a guest list a head of time.  Use the list (along with you meal plan & shopping list) to figure out the cost per person you can afford (don’t forget to budget for uninvited guests.) 

4. Buy your non-perishables a head of time

Most grocery stores sale turkeys and hams year round.  According to Butterball, you can buy a turkey in advance and keep it frozen for up to two years.  If you buy your turkey before the holiday rush you may be able to get it cheaper before the prices are raised.  You may also want to purchase next years’ turkey right after Christmas or New Years when the price drops, and keep it frozen until the following Thanksgiving.  Don’t forget to grab those can goods and butter (that can be frozen as well) when you see them on sale throughout the year or you find a coupon for a great deal.

Related Read: Christmas the Frugal Way!

5. Create a pot-luck style dinner

Menu, check, guest list, check.  Use the menu and guest list to determine who will bring what.  Ask the guests on your list to bring certain things from the menu.  This will also allow them to take leftovers home so they’ll save money as well.  You can make the meats and ask the guest to bring the side dishes or their own specialty dish (everyone has something they can cook good, I think.)  Need a dessert?  Cousin Barbara makes an excellent sweet potato pie (my favorite) ask her to bring it when she comes.  She’ll love bringing it when you tell her how much you love it and how she makes the best pie in the world (hint, hint.)

6. Don’t buy prepackaged items

Items like boxed potatoes can be costly and they make such a small amount compared to a full bag of raw potatoes.  Cooking from scratch will also taste much better, I guarantee it.  I can purchase a 5lb bag of red or brown potatoes for less that $2 a bag.  Normally, I see the boxed potatoes priced around $2 or more for one box.  One box of potato “flakes” makes less than half the amount of a bag of potatoes.  The savings in this area is tremendous.  Prepackaged is out!

7. DON’T OVER COOK

Just because you are saving on food doesn’t mean you should cook every recipe you’ve ever learned.  That’s the whole reason you make a menu so you don’t cook more than you plan to eat in order to minimize the leftovers and being wasteful.  SIMPLE, DON’T OVER COOK.  

8. Plan a non-traditional menu

Turkeys can be expensive.  If you have a small family, roast a whole chicken instead of a turkey.  If you can’t do without the turkey, make a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.  Make only one are two of your favorite dishes instead of a pan large pan of dressing with the trimmings. If you like Ham (like I do) make half of a ham or get the boneless spiral cut ham it costs a 3rd of bone-in hams.

Host a Thanksgivings brunch, lunch or breakfast instead of dinner.  Breakfast is much cheaper,cooks quicker and requires less work.  When it’s your turn to host bring up the idea to your family of having a brunch.  Then go to another family members house for the traditional fixin’s and the Thanksgiving dinner.

9. Use coupons/apps/and money back cards

I use printed manufacture coupons from Swagbucks stacked with the cash back rewards from the Ibotta app, and pay with my rewards debit card registered with Dosh.  This gives me 3 saving on one purchase. For example, cake mix is $1.29 a box.  I have a printed coupon for $0.50 off, I will upload my receipt to Ibotta for $0.25 cashback.  Then, I use my debit card that I registered with Dosh as a money back card to get 4% back on the entire order (4% is $0.05 of the total purchase if I only buy cake mix) that box of cake mix now only cost $0.49. Awesome!

10. Use the grocery ads to compare prices

Most grocery ads can be pulled up online.  Pull up your favorite stores (and some you may not like) and find the store with the cheapest items on your list.  I normally stay within about a 20 minute driving area for the grocery stores I like to visit.  I live in a large city so I have plenty of options.  I don’t want to waste time or gas  driving 40 minutes across town for a $0.10 deal.  Shop the stores closest to you that have the best deal on the most items listed on your shopping list.

That’s it, that’s how I cook my Thanksgiving dinner on a budget of $50 and feed my entire immediate family.  I still have leftovers after everyone has eaten.  Everyone is always completely satisfied and stuffed by the end of the day with no complaints. We have so much to be thankful for, we should concentrate on that and enjoy our families while not worrying about taking out a loan to purchase Thanksgiving dinner. Enjoy family and friends.  Happy Thanksgiving!!!
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