How to Have a Memorable Thanksgiving on a Budget

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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it can also be one of the most stressful. Between trying to plan your Thanksgiving dinner, relatives that may drive you three steps from insane and trying to stay on budget, it can quickly become a complicated holiday. It becomes especially complicated if you’re worrying about that third option I just mentioned; staying within your personal budget while trying to create this big, elaborate meal for your family. If you have the money and don’t need to worry too much about cost, consider yourself lucky, but if you, like most families, live paycheck to paycheck, you may be wondering how you will afford to have Thanksgiving. Try not to stress too much. Creating a Thanksgiving on a budget requires a bit of planning, but it absolutely can be done.

How to have Thanksgiving on a budget - Is Thanksgiving putting the squeeze on your budget? Let me show you how to have Thanksgiving on a budget without stress!


Before you even begin trying to find ways to save money on groceries and other things that you will need to do to have Thanksgiving on a budget, make sure that you have an amazing Thanksgiving planner to use.  You’ll need to know how many people will be attending your dinner, whether there are any special diets that you need to accommodate and so on. Having an actual pen and paper planner will help you to keep all of those little details straight.

How to Have a Memorable Thanksgiving on a Budget

If your personal budget is super tight, you’ll want to make sure that you start planning early. That is why this post is being updated in October. It gives you well over a month to start planning. If you need to plan longer, go for it. Take the time that you need so that you have time to update your personal budget, find ways to save on groceries and more. The more time you give yourself, the less stressful having a Thanksgiving on a budget will be.

Update your grocery budget – 

When you’re trying to have Thanksgiving on a budget, the first thing you need to do is actually look at your budget. If it has been a while since you have updated your grocery budget, now is the perfect time to do so since you will likely be spending extra money to fund your Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t forget to adjust the rest of your budget to account for higher grocery costs.

Boost your income –

 If you don’t have enough income to cover the additional groceries, don’t panic. There are a lot of things that you can do between now and Thanksgiving to earn extra income to help cover it. You could take a side job to make extra money. You can learn how to earn money online. You could even earn free gift cards online to help you buy your groceries. If you don’t do what you need to do beforehand, you will struggle when you actually buy the groceries that you need to buy.

Freezer cooking is your friend –

If you’re the type that cooks all week for Thanksgiving, take advantage of a few easy freezer cooking recipes to help cover dinners on the nights that you’re cooking. This doesn’t seem as if it would help you have Thanksgiving on a budget but it will. Did you know that one of the busiest nights of the year at a pizza place is the night before Thanksgiving? If you’re already on a tight budget, eating out even once or twice that week can do financial damage. By having a few meals ready in the freezer, you’ll eliminate the need and want to eat out. If you absolutely feel that you must order out, make sure to find a few ways to save money on eating out at least so that you can save a little bit that way.

Use the grocery store sales to your advantage –

Around the holidays, retailer sale cycles start to really be worth paying attention to. You can use these sale cycles to save money on groceries. The holidays are also the time of year when grocery stores will kick their competition into high gear. They want you and they want you to spend your money at their store instead of the guy down the street. Use this competition to your advantage and grab those deals while you can. Be sure to watch for combo deals, buy one get one deals, and high dollar coupons that can help you lower the cost of fixing Thanksgiving dinner.

On the flip side of this, make sure that you’re actually paying attention to sale prices. This is, unfortunately, also the time of year that retailers like to put things on “sale” when they may not really be at sale prices. Too many people make the mistake of trusting the sales ad and not doing the math themselves. In cases like this, your normal ways to save money on groceries will come in handy.

Use an app to help save on groceries – 

Not only are there sites like Ebates which will pay you cash back for shopping online, but there are also cash back apps that will pay you cash for buying the groceries that you already do! If you’re not already a member, head over and create an Ibotta account then pop over and create a Checkout 51 account. Both apps work the same way; choose your rebates, buy your groceries, scan the UPC barcode and submit your receipt. Once that is done, the rebate amount will be added to your account! It’s that easy!

Shop Online for your fixins –

Believe it or not, you may be able to find a few great deals for your Thanksgiving dinner online. I absolutely love using Amazon Prime Pantry to save money on groceries because the prices are usually really great. Aside from Amazon, be sure to check as well since they often have groceries on clearance. If you live near a location that offers it, Walmart Grocery Pickup will give you $10.00 off of your first order. I’ve found that certain items are actually cheaper when I order them with Walmart Grocery Pickup versus going into the store to get it myself.

Go simple for sides

I am no sure where the idea that Thanksgiving dinner must be this big elaborate meal, but the truth is that your family will love you just as much if you don’t go all out. If money is tight and you’re trying to have Thanksgiving dinner on a budget, splurge on your turkey or ham and keep your sides and desserts simple. Green beans can be dressed up with bacon and onions. Corn can be made into a southern corn pudding with just a few ingredients and mashed potatoes can be dressed up with sour cream and garlic. Homemade cranberry relish is super easy and cheap to make. Use what you have and dress it up with seasonings and a few add ins to make it seem like a super flashy dish that you spent hours on.

Make it a potluck –

If you’re hosting family for Thanksgiving, don’t be ashamed or afraid to ask them to bring a dish. Doing things this way will not only help you keep your costs down, but it will also help take some of the workload off your shoulders. If you’re ashamed to tell people that you need their help for cost reasons, request their “signature” recipe from them. It will make them feel good and help you lower your costs at the same time.

Let the community help – Most communities have at least one church or a food pantry that pass out Thanksgiving boxes. If your income is low enough, you may qualify to receive on of them. They usually don’t come with meat but they should have most of the sides that most people typically have for Thanksgiving. There is no shame in getting one of these food boxes if you truly need it. It could be the difference between your Thanksgiving being amazing and breaking your budget.

Get outside – The great thing about fall is that leaves, pine cones and things like that make fantastic centerpieces and decorations. These fall home decor ideas are usually very easy to make. Upcycled crafts, like these Upcycled Fall Bottle Vases, are made with items you typically have around your home and look fantastic with a few pieces of fall foliage in them.  Popcorn, dried leaves, and acorns are all other ideas that have an autumn theme and will work well for your decor.

Make leftovers last –

The biggest way to have a Thanksgiving on a budget actually comes after Thanksgiving. Take your leftovers and make them into as many meals as possible. If you had a turkey, pull all the meat off the bone and make it into casseroles. Use the turkey carcass to make homemade turkey stock. Leftover sides can be split across multiple meals. By using them as meals instead of allowing people to graze, you will be able to save money on your regular grocery budget.

If all else fails –

If, at the end of the day, you really can’t afford to buy everything you need for your Thanksgiving on a budget, do what I did one when Emma was so little and money was so tight. Fix a Thanksgiving lasagna and give thanks that you’re surrounded by those you love.




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Stacy Williams

Stacy Williams is a 37-year old wife to a USAF Gulf War Veteran, mother of two teen girls and fur-mamma to a rescued pit bull. The face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family, she also owns and manages Long Haul Wife, Republic Preparedness, The Genealogy Queen and a handful of others sites. By the age of 30, Stacy had overcome a drinking problem, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence, and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Stacy is passionate about homeless advocacy and addiction education.  Her first book, also called Six Dollar Family is available on Amazon.

Learn how to earn a full-time income from home by learning how to start a blog just like this one! Click HERE to check out Stacy's step-by-step tutorial.
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