Thanksgiving Dinner: Budget Buster?

Does a Thanksgiving Dinner really have to break the budget? I’m sure it can if there are a lot of dishes involved and a lot of ingredients that aren’t normally on the shopping list.

But what about the “typical” Thanksgiving meal? I’m thinking of one that would include:

Mashed Potatoes
Sausage Dressing
Vegetable (ours is Broccoli Parmesan or green beans- but not the soupy recipe)
Cranberry sauce
Rolls (my, this is a high-carb meal!)
Pie (berry, please)

In my family, no one typically has to make all the dishes for the holiday dinner, but I know some might need to, and I make a “mini” meal each year for our immediate family (usually on the Saturday after the holiday) because I always like to have a whole turkey and the leftover meat and bones.

So I’m wondering, can I apply the “Ways to Save” principles I’ve been using to lower our food bill (from over $500 to less that $375) in the past months to the holidays? I think I can and to illustrate, here are some of the principles and what I’ve done already:

1. Shop the sales.
There are big sales this time of year with a lot of stores vying for your holiday dollar, obviously hoping you’re going to throw caution to the wind and blow the budget in their store.

So, prove them wrong, stick to your budget and list, but take advantage of their sales.

For example, yesterday I made my monthly trip to WinCo to purchase my bulk items and staples and they had Norbest turkeys for .22/lb when you buy $50 of groceries. Well, I always spend $80-$100 on my monthly trip there, so that was no big deal. I ended up spending just $84 even with the turkey, so it didn’t cause me to go over my budget. I also bought a bag of cranberries for $1.98, to which I’ll add an orange for .20 (I like homemade sauce – if you like canned, it’s only .79 at most stores), and broccoli for .69/lb.

16 lb. turkey @ .22/lb = $3.52
items for cranberry sauce = $2.20
2 lbs. broccoli = 1.38

2. Stockpile at the lowest prices.
I already have sausage in the freezer that I bought last month when I saw it marked $1.00 off. I have seasonings and onions that will last through the month, as well as homemade broth in the freezer. But Fred Meyers had their store brand broth for .33 a can last week, and I’ve seen a few others, so buying this wouldn’t break the bank, either.

sausage= $1.99
broth= .33

3. Cook from scratch.
Baking a loaf of artisan bread for .65 will save you at least $3 over a comparable loaf and it makes the best dressing/stuffing ever! Heck, it’s even cheaper that those bags of dry cubes that are .75-$1 each and, well, dry. And I don’t dry my bread cubes- once I cut it up, I mix the dressing up with the fresh bread. Maybe that’s why it tastes so good.

Rolls and a pie crust are so cheap to make- basically costing the amount of the cube of butter involved in each. Since I’ve been getting butter at $1.50/lb. regularly, that’s .60 plus .10 for flour for the crust, and maybe .50 for the rolls.

bread for cubes = .65
pie crust = .70
rolls = $1.10

4. Use coupons on items our family uses.
There aren’t too many items for the dinner that I’ve got coupons for, but I’ve been using coupons combined with sales and stockpiling the items over the last few weeks for flour, C&H sugar, chocolate chips, butter, and sour cream.

butter and sour cream for mashed potatoes = .30 & .50
sugar for pie = .20

5. Use what you have.
I garden, so I have potatoes and onions in storage as well as vegetables and berries in the freezer so I don’t have to buy these things. However, potatoes and onions are usually inexpensive and frozen vegetables are a good buy. The berries might cost $3 or so, but again very do-able within a monthly budget.

Has someone gifted you with fruit, vegetables, or a venison roast? Change up your menu to reflect what you’ve got. Who knows? You might even start a new tradition. :-)

Let’s assume we’re buying, though for the total:
5 lbs. potatoes = $1.25
onion = .40
berries = $3
frozen beans = $2

So far the total is $19.52. I’ll just round up the total to $21 to cover any extras I’ve missed (whipped cream for the pie? celery for the dressing?).

$21. I can easily find that in my monthly budget (which is one of the reasons I use a monthly and not a weekly budget- I find it much more flexible to accommodate holidays, birthdays, vacations). And this is feeding a large group with leftovers (I love turkey soup made with the carcass!) that I can usually make at least two more meals from.

What do you think? Do you have to break the budget to have a good holiday?

This is linked to LifeasMOM’s Frugal Friday and Money Saving Mom.






  1. says

    LOL- I was just sitting here trying to figure out how our Holiday meal was going to be possible this year. We had a medical emergency last week and the grocery budget went to emergency room fees. After reading your post, however, I looked in the pantry and realized I have 99% of what I need already! I just have to pick up some cranberry sauce and whipping cream. And, thanks to a friends gifting me with her extra turkey, I don’t even have to worry about that! Thanks for reminding me to check what I already have!

  2. Jenelle says

    You are so right. Holiday’s definitely do not need to break the budget. I’ve been picking up the things I will need as they go on sale and have almost everything I need already. I think cooking from scratch helps a lot. I’m going to be making dinner rolls this year instead of buying. This will be a first for me.

    I think what can kill you if you are not careful is all theose impulse buys when you are at the store especially if you are hosting a large crowd. I know that in past years when I have spent a lot, once we get it all home I realize I have purchased WAY too many things. Did I really need that pre-made veggie tray? Heck no!

    I’ve learned a lot over the past year about shopping wisely and I think I will easily be able to fit our Thanksgiving dinner into my budget.

  3. Donna says

    OK, now I’m hungry and Thanksgiving is still a week away. I too, have a monthly, not weekly budget. It seems much easier to me. Thanks for the great mouth watering post.

  4. says

    Interesting prices.

    Potatoes here are on sale 10lbs for $1.50.

    Frozen beans are .50 a package.

    But, since I’m in the desert and not in the northwest, the berries would be MUCH more than that to have enough for a pie. $3 might buy a pint of berries. Frozen berries are on sale this week, though–$2.50 for 12 ounces. A can of berry pie filling is only about half berries–mostly a thick syrup–and runs around $5! (OUCH!)

    I’m making pumpkin pie and someone else is bringing pecan pie.

    Celery is 2 bunches for $1 (you have to buy 2). I bought 6 and I am drying them. dried celery is great to throw into soups.

  5. Jami@An Oregon Cottage says

    It’s true that most of the time there are great sales during this time of year on these items, but my prices were just averaging what I’ve seen lately. Regular russets are dirt cheap, so I took a middle ground because I often buy red or yukon potatoes and spend the extra dollar (I like the flavor better).

    You can tell it’s been awhile since I’ve bought frozen green beans! But they are not ever .50 a package here. :-( Pound-size packages of frozen veggies run $1 to $1.50 on sale here. And the only berries I would buy out of season are frozen, so it’s still in the ballpark. :-)
    Hope you have a great meal!
    (PS- I’ve never thought to dehydrate celery, I’ll have to try that!)

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