10 Tactics for a Frugal Thanksgiving Dinner

By this time next week, most Americans will have gathered with friends and family and eaten the traditional Thanksgiving meal. I’ll be gathering for three separate Thanksgiving dinners during this holiday weekend.

Quite often, I’ll see people spend exorbitant amounts of money on lavish Thanksgiving spreads. While I completely understand the reason for doing this – often, it’s the one time in the year that we can gather around one table with a lot of people we love – there’s still a lot of simple things we can do to reduce the financial outlay and the stress of the meal without reducing the quality of the day in any way (and often improving it).

10 Tactics for a Cheaper (and Saner) Thanksgiving

1. Cook and slice the turkey on Tuesday

What? No beautiful turkey on the table? Whatever will we do? In truth, though, the turkey on the table during Thanksgiving dinner often results in lots of problems: it keeps someone away from the meal because they’re carving the bird, the bird is often dry because it hasn’t had a lot of time to rest, and the finished bird often arrives later than expected, delaying the whole meal and often reducing the quality of the other food. Solve all of these problems by cooking the bird on Tuesday or Wednesday, slicing it at your own pace, then putting all of the meat on a platter along with all of the juice and a few pats of butter. Cover the serving platter and put it in the fridge, then just turn on the oven (or the electric roaster) on Thanksgiving to thoroughly warm the meat.

2. Use nature for your decorations

During the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, there are thousands of colorful leaves all over the place, free for the taking. Be picky – go outside and look for some nice, clean, colorful leaves. All you need is a plain tablecloth and a row of colorful leaves sprinkled down the middle to create a very festive setting.

3. Get the slow cooker into the act

Many Thanksgiving side dishes can easily be prepared in a slow cooker. Slow cookers consume less energy and quite often can be used in a “fix-it-and-forget-it” mindset. It’s the perfect tool to make cranberry sauce, for example.

4. Be creative with your Thanksgiving dinner leftovers

By the third day, turkey sandwiches start to get tired. Instead of allowing that to happen, share some of your extra food with people in need (for example, make a couple plates of food for shut-ins you know and deliver the plates) or make something interesting, like kugel or tetrazzini, out of the leftovers.

5. Round up when you estimate

I’ve been to two different Thanksgiving dinners in the past three years where there was just barely enough food to make ends meet for the number of guests (to put it politely). People showed up bringing unexpected dining companions and estimates for how much each person would eat were strangely low. Don’t fall into that trap. Estimate high, but estimate realistic. After all, you can always eat leftovers, but you can’t undo unhappy guests.

6. Don’t be afraid of potlucking it

Ask your guests to bring a dish or two with them so that you can focus your time, energy, and money on a few key dishes. Most people are quite willing to help (provided, of course, that they’re not coming from out of town).

7. Save the bones

Seriously. Put the entire carcass in a large Ziploc bag and save the bones and small pieces of meat for a day or two. Then, take all of the leftover vegetables (potatoes, corn, non-glazed carrots, etc.) and the carcass, stick them all in a crock pot, then add enough water to just cover the bones. Turn it on low overnight (this is perfect to do on Saturday evening after Thanksgiving). Then, in the morning, save the liquid. What will you do with this delicious turkey broth? Freeze it (along with a pound or two of leftover diced turkey meat). Then, in a few weeks, use it as the base for an amazing soup – just add vegetables and/or dumplings to the stock and the turkey (along with perhaps a bit of water to thin it).

8. Have appetizers

Inexpensive appetizers – like a selection of vegetables – helps people keep the edge off of their appetites and keeps them from over-eating during the main meal. Not only does this make the overall meal more healthy, it often makes it cheaper, since a vegetable tray can be really inexpensive. Much like the turkey, this can also be assembled the day before.

9. Don’t try to “impress” with your wine

There are countless great wines under $10. Don’t feel the need to buy an expensive bottle of wine to impress anyone. Just stop by your local wine and liquor store and ask for a low-cost full bodied wine for the Thanksgiving table. They’ll be happy to point out something great for you.

10. Save your recyclable containers for leftovers

Instead of just tossing large containers of items like margarine or whipped topping, save the containers. Then, on Thanksgiving, fill the containers with leftovers and give them to your guests. There’s no responsibility at all for them to return the container and it gets an extra use out of the items that would normally be tossed.

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