Family and friends standing around the oven making Thanksgiving dinner
Budgeting & Saving

Key takeaways

  • In 2021, the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in the U.S. was $53.31.
  • The first step to an affordable Thanksgiving dinner is developing a budget and a plan.
  • Start shopping early, watch for sales and shop with a list to keep costs down.

Fall. It brings football, pumpkins, piles of leaves, and the holiday season that starts with Thanksgiving Day. For many, Thanksgiving means getting together with friends and family. Of course, the holiday isn’t complete without the delicious Thanksgiving feast. While Thanksgiving is different for everyone, the traditional meal consists of roast turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and more.

While a bountiful Thanksgiving dinner sounds appealing in principle, for the person paying the grocery bill, the cost for that big holiday spread could be a burden. Let’s explore some ways to celebrate Thanksgiving on a budget — without losing the tradition of a fun and delicious meal.

How much should I budget for Thanksgiving dinner?

Costs could be controlled by setting a budget. Decide weeks ahead how much to spend on the meal and any other part of the celebration. Once you settle on an amount, next steps may include making a guest list, determining the cost per person, and building your shopping list. Let’s review some facts.

What is the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10?

In 2021, the average cost for a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in the U.S. was $53.31. That’s for a basic holiday meal: turkey, a few side dishes, pie, milk, and coffee. It works out to $5.33 per person. On the surface, that sounds manageable, but Thanksgiving cooks often go beyond the basics. A dining room table might groan under the weight of extra desserts, side items, decorations, and garnishes. Add to that the cost of beer, wine, and specialty cocktails and you’re quickly over budget.

How much does the average person spend on Thanksgiving?

In 2021, consumers planned, on average, to spend $448 for a Thanksgiving meal. (Unless you’re feeding a hundred people, that comes to much more than $5 a person.) It just goes to show how easily the cost of hosting Thanksgiving could get out of hand. And it also shows why a budget can be important to keep those expenses under control. Know what you’re comfortable spending and track costs in order to stay within a tight budget.

Thanksgiving on a budget

There are many ways to save money when it comes to hosting Thanksgiving. We’ve talked about planning and budgeting, so let’s look at some other budget friendly ideas that could help you host Thanksgiving meals, save holiday bucks, and see that everyone has a good time.

Start shopping early

Look for sales on items you might need for the big meal. Things like canned pumpkin, evaporated or condensed milk, brown sugar, and other shelf-stable items can last for months. Stock up when there’s a two-for-one sale or other bargains. Keep your shopping list up-to-date, so you’ll be able to take advantage of any sales when you head to the grocery.

Watch the ads

Leading up to Thanksgiving, it’s common for grocery stores to offer astounding deals to lure customers. The trick is to buy only what’s on sale and a good deal. Don’t stock up on the entire shopping list when you’re buying discounted items. And shop around — you don’t need to get everything at one store. Go where the deals are.

Have trouble with impulse buys?

Consider ordering groceries online — or use a shopping app. Have your shopping list handy, and buy only what you’ve listed. That may help keep extra items out of your cart and money in your wallet.

Inventory your pantry

Buying extra food or supplies isn’t necessary if you already have enough. Not being aware of what you already have could lead to overstocking. That could waste food and money. Say you need 2 pounds of packed brown sugar, and you already have a pound. Buy only enough to make up the difference. Don’t pick up 5 more pounds, “just to be safe.”

Borrow before you buy

Will you need extra pots, pans, a roasting rack, or a large bowl? Check with your friends, neighbors, or family members to see if they’ll need theirs this year. A turkey roasting pan runs $25 to $50. Save money by borrowing one – but be sure it’s clean before you return it.

Hit the dollar stores for décor and more

You might find seasonal decorations at discount stores like Dollar Tree. They have cooking supplies and tools, too — all at lower prices than bigger stores. Why spend $25 on pretty vases if you can find them for a buck? And don’t overlook local thrift stores for low-cost holiday decorations, utensils, pans, and more.

Go simple, not glam

You don’t need to live up to Food Network Thanksgiving specials. A simple meal, well prepared, could satisfy everyone. Use a home-made pie crust. Make your own turkey gravy. Serve grandma’s stuffing recipe and Aunt Jo’s green bean casserole. Decorate your Thanksgiving table and home with family-themed items. Emphasize the meaning over the material.

Limit your drink menu

Offer the basics: tea, coffee, milk — and maybe add a bowl of holiday punch. Perhaps put out a single bottle of rum or whiskey. Let folks add it to their own punch glass as they desire. Or invite guests to bring their own spirits and provide a few mixers.

Avoid expensive recipes and pricey ingredients

Tasty Thanksgiving dishes don’t have to cost a fortune. A fancy dish could be budget conscious by substituting less expensive ingredients. Replace that $120 bottle of fancy olive oil with something simpler. Swap expensive imported Italian sausage for local varieties. No one will notice. Stuffing made with marked-down, day-old bread tastes just as good (some say better) as stuffing made with expensive croutons.

Buy frozen or canned

Maybe you don’t see the point in using instant mashed potatoes instead of real, and relatively inexpensive, spuds for your famous mashed potatoes. But when making a butternut squash casserole, for instance, you might buy frozen diced squash instead of whole. Even if the cost is the same, you save time cleaning, cooking, and skinning a whole squash. Hosting Thanksgiving dinner is hard enough; cut down on prep, cooking time, and energy costs by using frozen. You may get an extra bonusif you can find frozen veggies at a BOGO sale.

Be reasonable about your Thanksgiving turkey needs

Allocate a pound of turkey (uncooked) per person. Consider buying individual pieces instead of a whole bird. Just leg quarters and a turkey breast could save much of the cooking and prep, compared to a whole turkey. Even if you run out of meat, you’ll have plenty other good stuff to eat. And they’ll be more room for dessert, right?

Speaking of turkey, go with a store brand

Frozen birds are just as good as fresh, and they’re usually cheaper. Look for those “draw-you-in” pre-Thanksgiving sales. You’ve seen them: the kind where the birds are 10 cents a pound. Or where you get a free turkey if you buy $50 worth of groceries. But remember, that $50 should only go for items you need — and only if they’re on sale. (That’s when a shopping list and a pantry inventory could work for you.)

Consider the pot-luck option

Make a list of needed dishes, post it online, and have guests sign up to bring food. Give friends and family a chance to show off their tasty recipes. Prebaring just one dish seems like a treat compared to cooking (and paying for) a whole meal. No one is likely to complain about that, and you’ll work less and spend less.

Stock up when you can

Hit those after-holiday sales for the best prices. Buy everything you need that won’t spoil before next year. Paper plates, napkins, utensils, decorations, candles — get it when it’s half off. Pack it up, mark it as your “T-Day box,” and store it where it won’t get lost. Then, next year, enjoy the savings — you’ll have one less thing to put on the budget.

 

This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide financial, tax or legal advice. You should consult a professional for specific advice. Best Egg is not responsible for the information contained in third-party sites cited or hyperlinked in this article. Best Egg is not responsible for, and does not provide or endorse third party products, services or other third-party content.

Happy family unpacking boxes

A major purchase doesn’t have to be a major hassle

Get the funds you need without the stress with a loan from Best Egg

Learn more

Resources

Learn more about managing debt

7 minute read
4 minute read
3 minute read
3 minute read
4 minute read
6 minute read
6 minute read
5 minute read
4 minute read

Financial confidence starts here

We have the information and insights you need to take control of your financial health.

Get started