Tips for a Thrifty Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Spread by CarbonNYC on Flickr!Thanksgiving is in two days, and it’s likely that most of you have plans of some sort: getting together with family, eating a tremendously large meal, enjoying some football on television, getting caught up on your sleep, and so on. Some of you may have already begun on those plans – I know that for my own family’s Thanksgiving, the turkey is already slowly thawing as you read this.

Of course, with such a big spread (and also with the requisite travel for many), Thanksgiving can often be a very expensive holiday. Here are seven tactics I’ve found over the last year that can help mitigate the expenses of this costly day.

7 Tactics to Cut Down Thanksgiving Costs

1. Freeze leftovers in manageable containers

Sure, freezing leftover turkey is a common tactic, but many people make one big mistake when doing it: they jam multiple pounds of turkey into individual bags, then when they go to thaw some out for later use, they either talk themselves out of it (thinking that they don’t need so much food) or they thaw a multi-pound bag and let much of it go to waste.

Instead of freezing such a tremendous amount of food in a few big containers, pare it down into a lot of smaller containers (Ziploc freezer bags work well). This way, when you do choose to thaw some over the next several months (frozen turkey is good for six months or so), you can easily thaw just the amount you need – and no food goes to waste.

2. Don’t waste the carcass

Many people are happy to toss the leftover bones and small amount of meat left over after carving up the turkey. Don’t. That carcass can be used to create a lot of tremendous broth that can also be frozen and used to make simple, flavorful dishes.

Just take the entire carcass and toss it into the biggest pan you have. You can also toss in the neck of the turkey and the giblets (but not the liver). Add a chopped yellow onion, a cup of dry white wine, a bit of pepper, and a chopped stalk of celery, and let the whole thing simmer for three or four hours until the broth tastes tremendous.

When it’s done, remove all of the large solid pieces (bone, etc.), leaving nothing but broth, and store that broth in Ziploc bags in the freezer, two cups or so to a bag. This stuff is tremendous for any homemade soup or anything you wish to make – just add egg noodles to it for an amazing homemade soup. You can also use it in casseroles to great effect.

3. Go potluck

If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, go potluck with it. Encourage all guests to bring a side dish, then just focus your efforts (and expenses) on the turkey and other staples. This not only saves money, but greatly reduces stress as well, as you have far fewer dishes to prepare.

For some, this may seem too forward, but remember that quite often people volunteer to bring a side dish – and when they volunteer, you should always accept that dish. It makes the person volunteering happy and takes stress off of your shoulders as well.

4. Use the environment for decorations

Instead of using tired, store-purchased decorations to make your setting look festive, take a walk outdoors the day before Thanksgiving and look for appropriate natural decorations. Pine cones, acorns, bright red maple leaves, cuttings from a pine tree, and other such decorations, laid carefully at the center of the table, are not only free, but they also look gorgeous and can smell quite nice, too.

Parks and wooded areas are great places to gather this material. Take along a small bag and pick up anything that appears to have potential – you don’t have to use everything that you pick up. Plus, a walk in nature the day before the big meal can help you de-stress if the holiday season is dragging you down.

5. Encourage guests to bring their own leftover container

This does several things at once. First, it encourages people to take leftover food with them, giving you less to deal with in the cleanup process.

More importantly, it eliminates the risk of (accidentally) losing a leftover container if someone forgets to return it – and it also saves the guests the effort of having to remember to return the container. My parents have lost many nice food storage containers over the years when packing them full of leftovers and sending them with guests. The guests often simply forget to return the containers.

6. Don’t overspend on the “extra” items – like wine

At many holiday meals, hosts often sweat and worry about making sure that all of the minor details are perfect – and often overspend on those details. One of my relatives, for example, obsesses over wine – often winding up buying several bottles, most of which go untasted or only partially drunk.

Instead of getting caught up in the details, take it easy. The joy of the holiday comes not from the “perfect” bottle of wine, but from enjoying time with family. For the details, just pick something simple and inexpensive – stop by your local wine shop and just get a bottle or two of a very low cost but solid table wine. Virtually everyone at your table will be thrilled with it, it will all get enjoyed, and you won’t have several expensive and only partially empty bottles left at the end of the meal. Best of all, you will have saved yourself quite a bit of money.

Similar logic applies to almost every side dish you can prepare: go simple and don’t prepare tons of options. This reduces your cost greatly without reducing the quality of the meal at all.

7. Use the opportunity when family is gathered to discuss important matters

For many families, Thanksgiving is the only time when everyone is gathered together in one place. That also means it can be the perfect time to discuss family matters – how to help your parents in their golden years, for example, or other such issues.

Many people opt not to talk about such things at Thanksgiving, not wanting to “ruin” a family moment, but often the reverse is true: if such things are not talked about, they end up painting the holiday with a sense of regret, of an opportunity missed. Take advantage of the holiday – or the day after – to handle such important discussions while everyone is gathered, reasonably rested, and relaxed. Doing so can save you a great deal of peace of mind – and also likely save you all some money as well.

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