The first year I had enough space, I eagerly volunteered to host Thanksgiving for my family. I love to cook and hosting a great party is one of my favorite pastimes, so it seemed to make sense that I give the holidays a try.
The week of Thanksgiving, I found myself face-to-face with a very costly bird. With my cart already crammed full of decorations and the ingredients necessary for the side dishes I planned to cook, I felt overwhelmed by just how much I was going to spend on a single dinner for my family. That year, I learned the hard way how costly throwing a large meal can be especially if you don’t have a plan or budget in place. Learn from my mistake, plan ahead and employ these tips for hosting your first Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving without going broke.
Throw a potluck
Hosting dinner in your home doesn’t necessarily mean you are obligated to prepare an entire meal for your guests. Take responsibility for the turkey and drinks, but ask your guests to bring along a side dish or a dessert.
Be careful! Without clear communication, you might end up with five pumpkin pies and no mashed potatoes. Create a menu in advance and don’t be afraid to ask your guests to bring specific items.
Team up on cost and cooking
When I think about Thanksgiving as a child, I barely remember what happened when we all sat down at the table. Instead, I recall standing at the counter peeling potatoes with my mother and learning how to make pie crust from my great-grandmother.
For many, the tradition of cooking the meal is just as meaningful as the meal itself. Carry on this tradition, and cut back on costs, by asking family members or friends to team up with you on the cooking. Early in the week, make a group trip to the grocery store or split up the list. Start Thanksgiving day early with a pot of coffee and a pan of cinnamon rolls and then enjoy spending the day preparing the meal with the people you care about the most.
Know when to splurge and when to save
Some items on your menu may not necessitate spending big bucks. In my opinion, side items like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or even pumpkin pie are just as good when made with generic ingredients.
If you are going to splurge on anything, make room in your budget for purchasing quality meat, whether you are getting a ham or a turkey. Do you plan to serve alcohol at your dinner? You don’t have to buy top shelf, but you should avoid buying cheap wine.
Don’t be afraid to abandon tradition
Make a new tradition of your own and ditch the conventional (and costly) Thanksgiving menu. Instead of turkey, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole, consider making a more affordable meal. Lasagna or chili are typically crowd pleasers and they are fairly affordable to prepare. One year, we didn’t even cook, we ordered Chinese take-out and then saw a movie together as a family.
If you aren’t quite ready to abandon tradition altogether, you can still make budget-friendly alterations to your menu. Chicken is generally less expensive than turkey and easier to prepare. Consider roasting two chickens instead of buying a big bird. Since alcohol can easily eat up a big part of your budget, consider skipping boozy beverages altogether and making hot apple cider or iced tea instead.
If you find yourself stressing out about money or worrying that your budget-friendly meal won’t be a hit with your guests, remember the time together and good things in your life are what really make the Thanksgiving holiday. In a season intended to be centered around gratitude, there is no better time to embrace the practice of enjoying what you have.
Originally published November 15, 2016.