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Thanksgiving on a Budget: 13 Tips

Thanksgiving on a Budget: 13 Tips

There are so many ways to celebrate Thanksgiving on a budget! We’ve found ways that you can save money on your food, decorations and more while still having an amazing time with your family and friends. I hope these tips help you have a wonderful turkey day!

Save money on food with these cheap Thanksgiving meals and sides.

For most of us, food is the most expensive part of our Thanksgiving celebration. After all, Thanksgiving is all about that huge traditional feast with turkey, mashed potatoes and all the usual sides. It can seem impossible to find alternative cheap Thanksgiving meals when everyone is expecting the standard staples.

Fortunately, we found some fun alternatives that can help you satisfy all the Thanksgiving flavors without breaking the budget. We’ve even started making lists of affordable meal prep tools on Amazon!

Save money on your Thanksgiving Turkey!

If you’re enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving turkey feast, the turkey is probably the most expensive single item on your menu. According to the most recent USDA retail turkey report, turkey costs approximately $1.72 per pound right now. That adds up fast when you’re feeding a crowd!

How much turkey per person at Thanksgiving?

The easiest way to save money on turkey is to buy less of it. I’m not the only one who has stood in the grocery store and searched online to find out how much turkey per person at Thanksgiving, right?

Although Martha Stewart officially recommends between 1.5 to 2 pounds per person, this is usually far more than you need. Most people agree that between one and 1.25 pounds is perfectly reasonable. So, if you’re wondering how much turkey per person at Thanksgiving and you’re celebrating Thanksgiving on a budget, just don’t ask Martha Stewart.

Use coupons and rewarded shopping apps to save even more money!

If you’re doing Thanksgiving on a budget, then you absolutely need to consider using grocery coupons and rewarded shopping apps like Ibotta. You can combine the two to save even more money!

You may be able to get a FREE turkey for Thanksgiving!

Need a free turkey for Thanksgiving? You may be able to get one! There are three typical ways that people in need can acquire a free turkey on Thanksgiving:

You can always check your local food banks! If you’re low income, your local food bank can be a huge help. Often, food banks have special Thanksgiving food drives to help families acquire their Thanksgiving staples. In some cases, they may even offer you a free turkey for Thanksgiving!

Another easy way to acquire a free turkey for Thanksgiving is to pay attention to local grocery ads. Many stores, including ACME, Albertson’s, Shoprite, Safeway and more, offer special turkey deals around the holidays. In order to get the turkey, you usually need to buy specific products or spend a certain amount of money in the store (usually around $100).

Before you get started on one of those deals, be sure to read all the terms of the offer and check out competitor’s prices. Even though the turkey is free, you may pay more overall than you would’ve at a competing retailer like Walmart. That’s not helpful when you’re doing Thanksgiving on a budget!

Use cheap Thanksgiving side dishes to stretch your meal.

You can offset the expensive turkey purchase with some cheap Thanksgiving side dishes. Surprisingly, many traditional Thanksgiving side dishes can be very cheap to make! They can also help stretch your meal so you don’t need to buy as much turkey per person.

If you focus on the cheaper ingredients like grains and vegetables, you’ll save a lot of money. Expensive ingredients like butter, cheese and meat can add up quickly.

Many of these cheap Thanksgiving side dishes are deceptively simple and delightfully cheap! Nobody will guess that you made these treats because you’re doing Thanksgiving on a budget!

Baked Apples

Apples are a favorite fall treat. This cheap Thanksgiving side dish also doubles as a dessert!

For this, you’ll need:

  • 4 apples
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

The steps are just as simple.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Scoop out the apple core but don’t cut all the way through the apple. Leave a space where the core once was.
  3. Stuff two tablespoons brown sugar and one teaspoon butter into the core area.
  4. Place the apples next to each other on a baking dish. Sprinkle them with cinnamon.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, until the apples are soft and the sugar begins to caramelize.

Classic Green Bean Casserole

This classic green bean casserole is a staple in many Thanksgiving feasts. It uses just six ingredients, including Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup.

You’ll need:

  • 2 cans green beans
  • 1 1/3 cup French’s French Fried onions
  • 1 can Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom soup
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper

The steps are so simple!

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Stir the soup, milk, pepper, beans and 2/3 cup onions into a casserole dish.
  3. Bake for 25 minutes. The mixture should be hot and bubbling.
  4. Sprinkle with the remaining onions.
  5. Bake for an additional five minutes, until the onion topping is golden brown.

Garlic Parmesan Roasted Butternut Squash

This dish features chunked squash with delightful seasonings. It’s bright, colorful and delicious. It’s also very affordable. Butternut Squash is currently less than a dollar per pound at my local Walmart!

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and chunked
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter,melted
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

There are just a few simple steps to create this dish:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Peel the squash with a peeler. Remove the pulp and seeds with a spoon. Cut into cubes and small chunks.
  3. Add the ingredients (except the cheese)  into a mixing bowl. Toss to coat the squash with the butter and seasonings.
  4. Pour into a baking dish. Spread into an even layer.
  5. Roast for 40 minutes. When it is done, the squash will become soft, tender and golden brown.
  6. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Allow the cheese to melt in the oven for about five minutes. Serve when cheese is melted.

Slow Cooker Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are a popular Thanksgiving staple. However, you can easily make mashed sweet potatoes in your Crockpot or slow cooker!

You’ll need:

  • 5-6 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Because this is a slow-cooker meal, it’s so easy to put together!

  1. Cut a lengthwise slit into each of the sweet potatoes. Place them along the bottom of the slow cooker.
  2. Add water. You’ll need approximately one cup, just enough to cover the bottom of the cooker with about 1/4 inch of water.
  3. Set on ‘low’ and cook for 8 hours.
  4. Carefully remove each potato from the cooker. Peel away the skin and scoop the insides into a mixing bowl.
  5. Add the butter and cinnamon. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Sprinkle the brown sugar over the top. You can also add pecans if desired.

Thanksgiving Stuffing

Stuffing is flavorful, delicious, and super cheap. It’s also easy to customize! Some of the best recipes include apples, nuts, or other ingredients. This basic recipe can be modified however you like!

You’ll need:

  • 13 cups dry bread cubes
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 1.5 cups butter
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1.5 tablespoons poultry seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 eggs

Here’s what you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Saute the onion and celery in the butter for 10-12 minutes (or until tender).
  3. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl.
  4. Pour the butter, onion and celery mixture over the bread crumbs and mix.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix well.
  6. Prepare a casserole dish with cooking spray. Pour the stuffing into the pan.
  7. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through.

Got another cheap Thanksgiving side dish? Share it in the comments!

We’ve found inexpensive Thanksgiving table decorations, too!

There are many different ways you can decorate for Thanksgiving on a budget.  Thanksgiving decorations can be costly. Since the meal itself tends to consume most of our budget, we tend to favor homemade decorations but if you’re looking for something a little fancier, you can check out our list of the cheapest Thanksgiving decorations on Amazon!

Create a Thanksgiving Memories tablecloth to use every year.

When is a tablecloth more than a tablecloth? When it’s a keepsake record of all your family gatherings.

A Thanksgiving Memories tablecloth is easy to create. Just purchase a new white fabric tablecloth and some Sharpies or fabric markers. Before your guests arrive, write “We are thankful for…” in a prominent place. Encourage your guests to write what they are thankful for.

If you want to reuse your tablecloth each year, use different colors for each year or encourage your guests to also document the year. That way, you’ll be able to easily identify when each grateful memory was recorded.

Alternately, if you would rather not use this as a tablecloth, you can hang the fabric on a door or wall and encourage people to document their thankfulness there.

Create your own fall-themed Thanksgiving tablecloth.

Once again, you’ll start with a plain white fabric tablecloth. You’ll also need red, yellow, orange and bronze fabric paint. Find some fall leaves or leaf-shaped stamps to use. Just paint the stamps and use them to decorate your table cloth. It’s an easy way to enjoy Thanksgiving on a budget!

Use tea candles in carved apples or gourds for a fragrant and festive centerpiece.

Candles are always a stylish centerpiece. Make it even more unique by carving apples, gourds and branches into candle-holders!

For apples, you will need to cut a tealight-shaped hole in the top center of the apple. You can use a melon-baller and a pairing knife to get the shape. Rub lemon juice over the exposed area of the apple to prevent it from browning. Insert the tealights and refrigerate until ready to use.

For gourds, you will need to cut away the top for the tealight. Many tutorials recommend using a drill to gently carve away enough space for the candle. Don’t go too deep or cut away too much, though!

Create your own glitter pumpkins and pinecones for a sparkling centerpiece.

Not into candles? Gather some paints and glitter to create your own festive Thanksgiving pumpkin or pinecone centerpieces.

Almost every retailer offers these sparkling pumpkin centerpieces, but you can make your own for cheap.

Before you start, you should cover your area with newspaper. Glitter is notoriously messy, so you’ll want to be careful!

Set your pumpkin or pine cones in the middle of your work area. Coat them with a spray adhesive, using painter’s tape to protect any areas that you don’t want covered in glitter. Many people choose to protect the stem, for example.

Use a spoon to sprinkle glitter over the sticky surface. Distribute the glitter gently and evenly, going over and over until you have reached a satisfactory coat.

Pick it up and gently shake it to remove any excess glitter. You can roll the newspaper into a funnel to preserve any glitter that falls away.

If you choose, you can also paint the stem to help it stand out better!

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving on a budget? Share in the comments!

Got any other cheap Thanksgiving side dishes or inexpensive Thanksgiving table decorations to recommend? I would love to hear about them in the comments!

Got Thanksgiving leftovers? Here are 40 incredible recipes you should try right now.

Nicole is the founder and lead researcher of Low Income Relief. After a personal experience with poverty and homelessness following her husband's sudden medical discharge from the U.S. Army, Nicole discovered the life-changing impact of community resources. This experience ignited her passion for empowering others to navigate similar crises. Nicole launched her writing career at age 16, working for various newspapers and publications. Her commitment to in-depth research and accessible content has been recognized by Google for Publishers and other industry leaders. For over 20 years, she has applied her investigative skills to uncover the most helpful, up-to-date information on benefits programs and community resources, ensuring Low Income Relief maintains the most extensive resource databases available.