Thanksgiving on a Budget – A Harvest of Abundance, Frugal Style

Thanksgiving’s roots go back to November 1621, when a group of pilgrims wanting to celebrate their first successful harvest invited a few friendly Native Americans to a three-day feast.

Their feast they had probably looked very different than what we serve today. According to, the pilgrims had very little sugar left from their voyage so cakes, pies, and desserts were probably void from their menu. More than likely, they feasted on deer provided by their Native American guests rather than turkey. And I’m pretty sure they didn’t have the pleasure of a Green Bean Casserole topped with fried onion rings!

A few things have changed but the driving principle of sitting down with friends and family while celebrating the abundance of blessings in our lives has not wavered over the holiday’s 400-year tradition in our country.

The other major difference between 1621 and the 21st century Thanksgiving celebrations is today’s stress and the cost of preparations. Anyone who has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner knows how stressful it can be to make sure the table has copious amounts of food and drink. If worrying about cooking a 25-pound bird for hours on end wasn’t enough to worry about, our gracious hosts have the stress of footing the bill for this large dinner.

Thanksgiving can be an expensive holiday when you are feeding family and friends. So, I thought I’d share with you that it is indeed possible to plan Thanksgiving on a budget.

1. Plan ahead.

I’m writing this blog two and a half weeks ahead of the holiday in order to motivate you to do some planning! The earlier you plan, the more you will save. Stores are already having sales for Thanksgiving and now is the time to take advantage of them. Also, when you spread your time out over a few weeks, it makes the week of Thanksgiving much more relaxed!

2. Serve dinner potluck-style.

I am a true believer in this type of celebration. My family has the great pleasure of celebrating Thanksgiving twice each year: once with my family earlier on Thanksgiving Day and later in the evening with Jon’s family. At both homes, we all bring dishes to share. This helps take the burden off of the hosts and gives everyone a chance to participate in the celebration.

Don’t be shy about asking your guests to bring a dish or two. Bringing the rolls or wine would be an easy thing to ask people who are coming from out of town. When you ask your guests to bring something, give them some a general idea of what you need them to add to the menu, like salads, potatoes, or a relish tray.

3. Use the benefit of your rewards program at various grocery stores.

Alberston’s and Safeway both offer various discounts or bonuses during this month. Right now at Albertson’s, if you buy two Chateau St. Jean wines, you will receive $20.00 off turkey or other meat purchases. Plus, when you spend $40 or more you will earn a 5% off coupon which you can combine with others for a total of 20% off. There wasn’t anything which caught my eye in the Safeway ad this last week, but I anticipate this Wednesday’s ad will have some Thanksgiving savings in it.


4. Consider homemade instead of store-bought.

This will save you big bucks. Some of you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking, “Yeah right, Erin!” But something as easy as a pie crust is so much cheaper than buying a pre-made crust. (Plus, it tastes so much better!)

I discovered this a few years ago when I offered to bring pies for our families’ dinners. It was late one night and I realized I had forgotten to get the pie crusts from the store. I really didn’t want to run out at 10 p.m. to buy a crust, so I got the notion to make my own instead. To make two crusts it took me a whopping 10 minutes. I would have just been walking into the store at that point if I had decided to run out and buy them. The crust was so good that I quickly became the “pie-bringer” permanently! So, homemade can save time in addition to saving money. You can make the crusts today and freeze them until Thanksgiving.

Depending on your menu, there are lots of preparations you can do now and then freeze until the big day. If you absolutely can’t do the homemade thing, think beyond the grocery stores for food. The Heirloom Winter Market is now in full swing and you can get some great local, homegrown food for a low cost there. Check with your neighbors or friends to see if anyone has carrots, apples, or potatoes from this year’s harvest which you can either trade for, buy for a low cost, or even just have for free.

5. Keep your cornucopia of food in check.

For my husband and me, it is very hard to keep the abundance of food in check. We both love to cook and love serving a variety of foods to our guests. Yet there is a fine line between plenty and excess.

Look at your year-to-year menu and evaluate what gets eaten and what doesn’t. Do you serve cranberries every year just because it seems like the right thing to do, only to be left with a full bowl of cranberries at the end of the night? It may be time to throw that tradition out the window!

Every ounce of food adds up to more money spent so if you can provide an adequate bounty of food for the amount of guests while not going overboard, you will keep your budget in line. If you know you will use leftovers and they won’t go to waste, then be sure to accommodate those needs. Getting more meals out of Thanksgiving dinner makes for a lower bottom line cost. I always look forward to a few Turkey Tetrazzini dinners after Thanksgiving. Mmmm!


Quinn Turner shares his blessings during the family's Thanksgiving "Talking Fork" tradition. Each person takes a turn sharing their blessings while holding the wooden fork carved by Erin's dad.

6. Set the table in style, without busting the budget.

Decorations and table settings can add up and cost lots more than you anticipated. Since we don’t have snow on the ground (yet), I would suggest taking a walk and looking for some beautiful fall decorations.(Check this out for some more fall decorating ideas.)

Our dried hydrangeas are gorgeous and would make the perfect addition to some pinecones, small pumpkins, Indian corn, and some fall-colored leaves for a stunning centerpiece.

Go green this Thanksgiving while saving some green! Don’t spend money on paper plates thinking it will save you the hassle of doing dishes. You have a house full of helpers, ask for a hand in clean up so you can use your grandmother’s china, crystal, and silverware. Not only will it save you money and be better for the environment but it will also create a special feel for you and your guests.

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the abundance we have in our lives. It’s more about the intangible blessings in our lives rather than what is in our wallets. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a memorable and fulfilling holiday this year. This year, celebrate Thanksgiving on a budget by preparing a simple meal to share with family and friends. It can be just as abundant and appreciated as an extraordinarily expensive feast.

However you celebrate this year, be thankful for the blessings of family, friends, and living in this beautiful country of America where our bounty is always full!


Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, and sticking to a budget in her previous posts: Plan and Shop Ahead for Christmas, Teaching Money to Kids and Teens, or Decorating for Fall on a Frugal Budget. Be sure to check out the Missoula Save it Club – just look for the Daily Missoula Fix buttons on the homepage.

   Visit the Coupon Queen’s “Save It” archive.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.