Whether you’re hosting the big meal at home or preparing just a few dishes to pitch in with others, Thanksgiving dinner can get a little pricey. There are hostess gifts, decorations, dinnerware and, of course, turkey with all the trimmings.
I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving dinner for several years, and because of my girls’ food allergies, I prefer to buy it all myself. It serves two purposes—I can control the ingredients and stake a claim on all the leftovers.
However, I stick close to a $100 holiday dinner budget (for food, plates and decor). With careful planning, it is possible to serve even a large crowd with just a little money. Don’t spend too much on decor—a few natural centerpieces will go a long way. Core a few apples and insert taper candles or use mums that you can plant outside to enjoy for years. If you have table cloths & napkins tucked away, you’ll set a beautiful table without spending a penny on paper products.
This way, you can use the bulk of your funds on the main event—it’s all about the food! Start by making your Thanksgiving menu right now. Our basics stay the same from year to year—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie—but I throw in a new side dish every couple years or pull out old favorites, depending on sale prices. Be as generic as possible at first to give yourself wiggle room. For example, if a veggie tray is too expensive the week of Thanksgiving, you’ll have the option of buying a different appetizer.
Once you know what you’ll be serving, create a master ingredient list. This should include absolutely everything you will need to prepare each recipe, including quantities. Then comes the fun part—it’s time to go through the pantry.
Every November, my pantry gets a thorough cleaning so I can take stock of what I have, check expiration dates on things that have probably been there since last Thanksgiving and donate to the school’s annual food drive. As I put items back on the shelf, I compare them to my ingredients and cross off items I will not need to purchase. If I have a concern my family could eat something I will need, I label it with a sharpie or store everything in a large baggie with THANKSGIVING in big, bold letters so there is no question about it.
Whatever is left becomes the Thanksgiving grocery list. You have a couple weeks left to watch sales, clip coupons and buy everything you need within your budget. Grab a few things each week as they go on sale, and you can even stay out of the grocery store on the dreaded Wednesday before!
Originally published on 11/15/2010