Consumer IQ, How To

Cut Down on Thanksgiving Costs

Compared with the $516 the average U.S. consumer will spend on holiday gifts this year, less than $50 on a turkey and all the trimmings for Thanksgiving is a drop in the bucket. But it’s an expense that’s worth cutting, if you can.

Last year, the American Farm Bureau estimated the average Thanksgiving dinner for 10 – including turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee and milk — cost $45. They haven’t released their latest survey yet, but with big price hikes this year and the USDA projecting widespread increases of 3.5% to 4.5% next year, it’s bound to be somewhat pricier.

If you’re not careful, anyway. Shoppers who want to save have plenty of opportunity to do Thanksgiving, cheaper. Here’s how to cut your costs: 

Collect coupons. This time of year, most supermarkets run promotions offering a free or cheap bird based on how much you spend in store, says self-described extreme couponer Marcia Layton Turner. (BJs, for example, has one through Nov. 16.) Also look for sales on common ingredients, like stuffing mix and pie crust, leading up to Thanksgiving. “Between Sunday newspaper inserts, manufacturer web sites, coupon sites and clipping services, you should have no trouble amassing coupons for nearly every item on that shopping list,” she says.

Go big. Butterball recommends planning for a pound and a half per person, but with turkey prices at their cheapest and plenty of free birds to be had, why not get more? That way you’ll have plenty for leftovers.

But not too big. “Be realistic about what you will eat at dinner and what you can consume in leftovers,” says Kevin Gallegos, the vice president of Phoenix operations with Freedom Debt Relief, LLC. Send some home with guests, and freeze what you can. You might also consider donating some extras to a soup kitchen, he says.

Let guests help. You don’t have to do it all. “’What can I bring’ is the typical response following a dinner invitation, so indulge yourself and your guests by taking them up on the offer,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert with TheFrugals.com. It’ll save prep time and cash.

Assess prepared foods. “Buying a frozen apple pie on sale with a coupon may cost less than 
making it from scratch and it’s certainly easier,” says Stephanie Nelson, a.k.a. the Coupon Mom. Buying a pumpkin pie, on the other hand, might be more expensive than making one — which is a pretty easy recipe to follow. Weigh the cost in time and ingredients against the price of premade. Woroch says some pre-prepared foods carry a premium of 40%.

Bulk-buy alcohol. Hit up the warehouse club for single bottles of wine or packs of beer, even bigger bottles of liquor for cocktails. “Their selection borders on overwhelming, but with deals at 30% less than those offered by grocery stores, it’s easy to pick up a few guest favorites on the cheap,” Woroch says.

Break out the good china. Or at least forego plastic and paper ware to reduce waste and cut costs, Gallegos says. Borrow extras from family or friends if you’re short on place settings.  

Brine. It’ll spruce up even a so-so sale turkey, making the cooked bird juicy and delicious, says chef Eric Gruber of Shore lodge, Whitetail Club and The Cove in McCall, Idaho. Combine a gallon water, four cups bourbon, four cups salt, two cups honey, a cup Dijon mustard, a quarter-cup dry mustard, two tablespoons paprika, six cloves garlic, two tablespoons black peppercorns, two bay leaves and a cup cider vinegar in a stock pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Chill the brine and then strain it. Pour the brine into a sealable container, place the turkey in the brine and put it all in the refrigerator. Let the bird marinate for 12 to 24 hours before cooking.

 Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie http://www.twitter.com/mintfoodie.