Thanksgiving is a time to gather with loved ones for a satisfying meal and kick off the holiday season. If you pay current prices for your menu items, though, you could blow a chunk of your holiday budget before you even get to the pumpkin pie. Use these tips to keep your Thanksgiving festive and thrifty.
Get a free turkey
The turkey, which cost an average of about $23 in 2015, is easily the most expensive item on a traditional Thanksgiving table — but you can often get one for free. Many supermarkets offer them as loyalty rewards, and even allow shoppers to select the turkey.
If your local supermarket doesn't participate in this type of rewards program, opt for a frozen bird. It can be significantly cheaper, and odds are your guests won't know the difference.
Choose reusable dinnerware
Disposable cutlery, tablecloths and dinnerware simplify holiday cleanup, but the costs really add up, especially if you spring for higher end items. Save money, reduce waste and create a warm, elegant atmosphere by using cloth napkins and tablecloths as well as real flatware, glassware and dishes.
Make your own sides with store brands
Purchasing prepared gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and desserts is convenient, but it's also an unnecessary expense. Making your own sides, condiments and desserts is cheaper and often a lot tastier, too.
When cooking for a large Thanksgiving crowd, avoid brand name ingredients. You should be able to find substitutes that keep costs down without sacrificing flavor.
Simplify the menu
It's tempting to get ambitious and create a Thanksgiving menu with more courses than your guests could possibly eat in a sitting. But to prevent spending your whole holiday budget on the Thanksgiving meal, skip the saffron, truffles and endless appetizers. Instead, plan a simple menu with a few hearty sides and stick with seasonal produce, such as apples, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and Brussels sprouts. These will be much more reasonably priced than imported fruits and vegetables.
Make smart Black Friday shopping decisions
Thanksgiving has also become a time to start shopping for the ensuing holidays. But Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other Thanksgiving weekend sales tend to inspire a shopping frenzy that doesn't always result in the wisest choices. To keep your cool:
• Make a list — and a budget — to head off impulse buys.
• Compare prices online before making purchases.
• Avoid opening multiple store credit cards at once. This can lower your credit scores and make it easier to overspend.
• Hold off on buying toys, which tend to be cheaper during December's first two weeks.
Making smarter Thanksgiving spending choices keeps dinner and shopping costs under control without putting a damper on family fun. And when the weekend is over, you'll still have enough cash to make your winter holidays sparkle.
Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet
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