45 Ways to Save Money on Your Holiday Feasts

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When it comes to Thanksgiving, it's not just the calories and fat content that many of us have to worry about--it's the price. The average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $42.91, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. (That's good news! It marks a 4 percent decrease since last year.)

This time of year, the added cost of a huge meal for the entire family can be intimidating. While we want to entertain our loved ones and give them a tasty, nutritious and bountiful spread, we also need to be able to keep food on the table for the rest of the month.

We know that for many of us, Thanksgiving is the beginning of a long--and often expensive--holiday season. We embrace frugal living and know you do, too. So we've asked readers, SparkPeople experts and few dietitians to share tips on how they save money on their Turkey Day dinner. We've got dozens of ideas to help you save money from Thanksgiving through the New Year.

  • Most cooks today are inexperienced at cooking a fresh from the farm bird. Unless you know what you are doing, stick to a name brand, pre-basted bird with a built-in thermometer, and buy it on sale. For those experienced cooks…yes, they can adventure into the world of grandma-style turkey roasting.
    SparkPeople Head Dietitian Becky Hand, Registered and Licensed Dietitian

  • Buy two turkeys when the Thanksgiving turkeys go on sale. Freeze it for a December holiday meal or for all your soups for winter.
    Meg Galvin, Master Chef and Healthy Recipe Developer

  • Consult a turkey buying chart so you know how much to buy. Factor in the desired amount of leftovers. If no one likes dark meat, then it is a better buy to get just a breast (yes, it costs more, but there will be less waste, in the long run).

  • Now’s the time to clean out your freezer, and make room for that second turkey—it will keep for a good year. Also, budget time and space for turkey casseroles and soups—at these prices, you can’t lose by investing now.
    Susan Burke March MS, RD, LD/N, CDE

  • Bone-in turkey breasts or turkey rolls offer more protein/meat for your dollar compared to whole turkeys which typically only yield about 40% meat/pound purchased. If you use the remaining bones/carcass to make soup stock, it may be worth it to purchase the entire bird on sale but if you tend to just throw them all away when the carving is finished, you will get more for your money from the other options.
    Tanya Jolliffe, SparkPeople Healthy Eating Expert and Community Moderator

  • If you do buy a turkey breast, buy one that still has the breast bone in it. It's much cheaper. Then use the bone for making stock.

  • Prices for turkey are competitive, so be on the lookout for coupons and specials, especially as we get closer to the holiday. Turkey lovers! Now is the time to buy three—cook one for Thanksgiving, use one for soup and casseroles to make and freeze while the price is right. Freeze the third for another holiday or family meal.
    Susan Burke March

  • I start saving my bread crusts and the last slice or two of the loaf for stuffing the turkey about 2 or 3 months before the holiday. I toast the slices on a light to medium setting on the toaster to dry out the bread without making it too crispy, then crumble or tear it into small pieces and keep in a bag until time to prepare the dressing. We feed about 20 or more people every holiday, and with 3 families saving the bread that would otherwise go to waste, we rarely have to purchase any bread or stuffing mixes.

  • The bread ends or "heels" can be saved for weeks in a bag in the freezer. Several days before your big meal, remove them from the freezer and use them to make your stuffing.

  • Reach for real: homemade stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie/cobbler are much less expensive than the boxed, instant or pre-made varieties. Call in the troops (partner and children) to peel potatoes, tear the bread, cut fresh green beans, etc.

  • Use the KISS method and Keep It (the menu) Simple. You don’t need four different types of salads, two types of stuffing, etc. Don’t make cranberry salad if the majority of folks don’t even like it. Stick to the basics-- food items that you are comfortable making, and make those items HIGH Quality.

  • Sweet potatoes are a Thanksgiving favorite that I love all year round. Scrub and prick them, then bake or microwave (wrapped in a damp paper towel) until just soft, about 4-5 minutes then turn over and repeat. Let cool until you can handle, split down the middle, brush with olive or canola oil and place under broiler until just toasty-topped. Serve with crushed, unsweetened pineapple.
    Susan Burke March

  • Many family favorites are not only costly but also high in calories, fat and sodium. Consider making this the year to make some changes and go with basics. For example, instead of super mashed potatoes filled with cream cheese and sour cream, try baking small red potatoes instead. Instead of the sweet potato casserole, go with simple baked sweet potatoes instead. Broccoli, rice and cheese casserole could easily become steamed broccoli and green bean casserole could easily become cooked green beans with almond slivers.

  • Seasonal fruits and vegetables are the most economical and ecological. Save dollars on local produce, as well as lower the impact on the environment instead of buying produce that’s been shipped from miles away.
    Susan Burke March

  • I like to prepare some of my foods (i.e. sweet potato pie or casserole) in the summer/fall when the produce is cheap and plentiful). I also try to buy up a lot of the veggies when they are at the least expensive, and then freeze them, or parboil them, or make a casserole or dish out of them and then freeze it.

  • Use frozen veggies and fruits (like cranberries) to make your family's favorite dishes. Canned veggies/beans can be used, but rinse them to remove excess salt.

Sweets and desserts
  • Save butter wrappers to coat pans that need to be greased- the amount of butter is minimal.
    Chef Meg

  • I make my list of what cookies I will make for xmas at the end of Oct. And each week I pick up a ingredent I will need till I start making cookies and put it aside. When the time comes I just pull those ingredents and start baking.

  • My mom used to make six different kinds of pie--each person has a favorite. Now, we make just one or two kinds of pies. Apple and pumpkin are easy to make--and they're affordable. Make just enough pie for everyone to have one (or two) slices.
    Stepfanie Romine, dailySpark editor

  • Making cookie dough ahead and freezing it saves time and money. I can freeze the individual balls of dough and only take out the amount that I need. Also, it saves time when I'm ready to bake to have the dough ready to use. This prevents the temptation of buying the "ready to bake" dough in the grocery store. Bread is another item that I can make ahead from scratch and can freeze easily for a month or two.

  • Skip the whipped topping and whipped cream in a can. Make your own for a fraction of the cost--or skip it altogether and let the pie's natural flavors shine through.

  • Make it a BYOB---the alcohol is expensive, so let everyone share the cost by bringing their preferred drink of choice.

  • Make flavored ice cubes from juices instead of buying soda or expensive beverages.
    Chef Meg

  • Provide a simple punch for all do enjoy…this cuts back on the individual cans, bottles, juice pouches, Provide a punch, tea, hot coffee, hot tea, or hot apple cider drink for all to enjoy.

  • We usually do road trips for our holidays and stay in regular motels around the countryside. We now carry my own breakfast with us so we don't get trapped into starting the day with unhealthy fatty buffet breakfasts. We have a a cooler in the car and refreeze the icepack overnight so our food stays fresh and cold the next day. This is also great for carrying fruit and yogurt to eat on the drive instead of snacking on sweets. This also keeps us alert for the day and we aren't sitting in the car full of heavy food, We have yogurt, good cereal and buy fresh fruit daily. We keep nuts and dried fruits and plenty of water in the car too.
    SparkPeople member Maxine

  • This is a great time of year to stock up on nuts; pecans and almonds. Prices are usually the lowest of the year. Freeze what you won't use within two months.
    Chef Meg

  • I buy food and baking items at various locations, not just the grocery store. I look for the best prices at the big box stores, at the grocery stores, as well as stores like Aldi's that are "no frills" and at Farm and Fleet, a farm supply store, that has the best prices on bags of nuts.

  • Does the local farmers’ market have better prices?

  • Learn your substitutes: Log on to your SparkPeople Resource Center, and click on Food Charts. Now you know what you can substitute within food groups for any favorite recipe, and make it even more interesting. For example, if your recipe calls for blueberries, if peaches are in season, substitute. Snap up "buy one, get one free" offers!
    Susan Burke March

  • I buy food and baking items at various locations, not just the grocery store. I look for the best prices at the big box stores, at the grocery stores, as well as stores like Aldi's that are "no frills" and at Farm and Fleet, a farm supply store, that has the best prices on bags of nuts.

  • Check for store coupons and specials during the holidays. Plan the menu now and when those spuds (green beans, etc) go on sale…grab them. Check out stores for day old bread sales and freeze it now for stuffing.

  • Make a grocery and supply shopping list and “stick to it”. Then you won’t be tempted by fancy end of the aisle displays at the store. This holds true for food items and also decorations and table décor. Do you really need a new table centerpiece or Pilgrim candle holders?

  • Based on what I need, I begin buying various staples in the fall, such as sugar, flour, baking chips, etc., to spread out the cost of the things I know I will need. This goes for canned and frozen foods as well. I have an extra refrigerator and freezer, so I can preserve some of these items for a length of time. STORMTMB

  • Planning, planning, planning, and inventory. Make a concise list of what you need for the December holidays before cooking Thanksgiving dinner. As you’re cooking for Thanksgiving do an inventory. Did you find a bag of powdered sugar you didn’t know you had? Evaporated milk in the back of the cupboard? Finalize the shopping list and keep it on the fridge. While doing your regular shopping, keep the holiday list with you and watch for specials on the non-perishable items on your list. If you need flour and you see a coupon or loyalty card saving for 30 cents off a bag, buy it then but only buy what you need and don’t be afraid to buy generic which will often be on sale more often if it’s the store’s brand. And to help the especially calorie conscious – save your wallet and your healthy lifestyle by not over planning the cookies! How many cookies do friends and neighbors bring by around the holidays? Serve those at your holiday festivities and save on buying your own ingredients as well as your cookie dough intake!

  • I begin by working on a plan for the meals I will be hosting or to which I will be contributing. I also consider food gifts that I will be giving. I break it down by holiday, month, date, so I know what food items I need to have or make and when I need them. The master list is helpful for planning, especially when there are sales in the grocery and other stores.

  • Some recipes call for expensive macadamia nuts and cashews so choose more wallet-friendly walnuts, almonds and peanuts—they’re dramatically less expensive, very tasty, and offer similar nutritional value. The same goes for cooking oil; canola and regular olive oil are perfectly fine for cooking and salad dressings—and much less expensive than extra virgin.
    Susan Burke March

  • Also, in October and November, I look for ways to double a batch of whatever I am making for dinner. If the dish can be frozen, then it's a meal that I can pull out and warm up easily when I'm in a crunch. It saves me from buying take-out or delivery. I also benefit because the food is homemade and more nutritious.

  • We keep the old tradition of potluck alive. Each guest usually has a dish they're very good, love to make at or have a soft spot for. They bring that. My mother is a big contributor simply because locale deprives her of the chance to host the meal. She brings candied yams (everyone prefers her recipe) and some of her pies: apple for my older daughter, mince for herself and my youngest, and rum cream for the adults in general. My brother makes fantastic garlic mashed potatoes. My 82-year-old father-in-law brings cranberry sauce (because he likes to watch the little ones play with it as much as he likes to eat it) and my brother in law brings extra olives (because he knows he eats more of them than the rest of us). No matter what, no one pays for the whole meal!

  • Make your own simmer pot by placing fruit skin in a saucepan with a cinnamon stick and cloves, simmer on low to make your whole house smell great- do this instead of buying expensive candles. Meg Can you and the children make the decorations? Go to the local library, check the craft books, and make it a simple, easy and fun family activity. Ideas: name cards, napkin rings, a simple centerpiece, etc. Check the second-hand store for items too.

  • Decorate the center of the table with fruits of the season not flowers or decorate your table from the outside- Holley branches, twigs, rosemary.
    Chef Meg

  • Have someone else cook the meal. Splitting the cost between the members of a family can be a great way to reduce the financial impact on one family’s budget.
    Debi Silber, MS, RD, WHC, The Mojo Coach

  • Make your own gift tags--I make mine out of gingerbread.
    Chef Meg

  • Instead of a huge turkey and loads of side dishes, consider a turkey breast, fresh vegetables and one starchy side (potatoes OR stuffing instead of several versions of each). Keep the dishes that mean the most to you, and let go of the idea of an overflowing table.
    Debi Silber

  • Have each family member bring one dish to spread the cost around. Ask for specific contributions to avoid duplicates.
    Debi Silber

  • Make it a pitch-in meal and everyone can bring their favorite side dish. Becky Coordinate the side dishes or assign the side dishes so one does not end up with 3 green bean casseroles.

  • Find a new holiday tradition instead of the big meal. Maybe you’ll all go volunteer at a homeless shelter. Maybe your family will spend the day at a museum. Maybe a neighborhood touch football tournament. Maybe a bike ride to admire the changing leaves or a walk to soak in all of the beautiful decorations. Instead of sitting around the table overstuffing yourselves, participating in an activity that celebrates your togetherness and the things you truly want to celebrate can save your wallet and your waistline.
    Debi Silber
For more information on healthy holidays, check out these dailySpark posts: 11 Healthy Party Appetizers

Holiday Party Tip: Slim Down Your Dips

Want to Prevent Holiday Weight Gain? Burn It to Earn It!

How do you save money on holiday meals and parties? Share your tip in the comments below.

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I didn't know people cut off the crusts of bread and don't eat the "heel" of bread, why is that? That's the best part, lol. Report
Some really good tips.
My (large) family has a different household host get togethers on a rotating schedule. Everyone brings a dish to pass. It usually ends up only costing the host the price of the main dish (turkey, ham, lasagna, etc.) We spread the cost out so no one household "goes broke"feeding us all. Report
I didn't know that turkey has a year shelf-life in the freezer! That is great news - this year Walmart put them on sale $.40 per pound and I bought 2! Report
It saves money to search out great recipes and prepare meals and dishes at home instead of hiring a caterer. Pot luck events are fun and everyone takes a special part in the success of the event's menu. Report
Local store is giving great deals!!!! Report
For #52 - Vegan,

Turkeys are cheap because there is a glut in the poultry market this year and prices are 18 - 20% down from last year.

As a vegan, you have let your viewpoint overflow into a discussion of the cost of a Thanksgiving meal.
Yes, we all know there are bad farmers. However, you don't know that is the case here. This isn't the venue to discuss farming practice.

# 52 has made a lot of assumptions about how the "cheaper" turkeys were raised. Stores buy in bulk and often will reduce a popular item to bring in customers because they know if the customers buys the loss leader (the $0.49 turkey) the customer will buy a lot of extras. The store knows how much additional spending the customer will do, and it is worth it to cut the price of the turkey to bring in the extra dollars.
My turkey was a sale bird for frequent shoppers with a store card, & at $0.49/lb - $ 1.50 without the card - dinner will be very reasonable, with wine & dessert at about $2/person.

Happy Thanksgiving to all & enjoy your meal whatever you serve. Report
those are some great ideas!! Report
Some really good tips - am saving this to remind me of them for Christmas Report
I save money simply by keeping it simple.....new healthy lifestyle includes making family and friends the focus of the holidays.....not the food!!! Report
Nice to know I was taught well by my frugal mother and have been doing holidays the most economical ways over the last thirty years since I began my family! I shall add a few tips learned here - like how to use the left over butter from the wrappings! Thanks! n16351d Report
Some are questioning the validity of the $42.91. I have been a market basket shopper for the American Farm Bureau, and I do believe it is accurate. Every shopper has the exact same list, and quantity, that they are looking for. We can use specials, but not buy one get one free items. All the lists from around the country are then compiled, and an average is figured.

Keep in mind that the average American eats more than the suggested servings sizes of most foods, which alters our perceptions on how much food will feed 10 people. Report
Great blog. Sounds like I'm on the right track with a lot of these ideas. This year, I am cutting out the sweet potatoes, going with just mashed potatoes and stuffing. I wouldn't ordinarily have both of these starches in a meal, but at least I've dropped one starch. Going with plain old applesauce instead of cranberry salad since my husband and Dad don't care for the cranberry. And although my mother and I love it, neither of us needs the extra sugar required for cranberries. I have low sodium Stove Top stuffing mix on hand that I really am being tempted to use, but I have some bread in the freezer that I should get out and use and my homemade stuffing is usually a great hit. We'll see which wins out. Sometimes it is tough to balance between the time and cost element.

In past years when we had Thanksgiving out of town with my husband's family, I always brought the pies and the items for veggie/relish tray. I also took an assortment of cheeses, ring bologna, etc. and crackers for the following day's dinner. Along with that, I would cook the turkey carcass and make turkey rice soup, using up all the little turkey bits and the leftover vegetables. I would serve the leftover veggies/relish tray with the meal. This became a tradition that I was expected to keep. Quite a tasty and frugal one as well.

Love the great ideas in the blog. Report
I believe that a $42 for ten people can be done. Here's what a friend of mine planned for much less. Her calculations are more for a family of 5 or 6 but buying a bigger turkey is about all it would take to make it to ten. These are all store bought items. But it wouldn't cost much more to make it more homeade.

WalMart Super Center $20 Thanksgiving:
12lb Jennie O Turkey (40cents per lb)
3 Cans Green Giant Vegetables
1 can Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce
1 can Turkey Gravy... Read More
3 boxes stove top stuffing
1 5lb bag red potatoes
1 package Sara Lee dinner rolls (12 count)
1 22oz pumpkin roll cake

I am Canadian and our Thanksgiving begins in October, giving us a little bit more time between feasts and also to put away, if you have a freezer. I plan on Christmas all year long for frugality reasons. I don't wait until it is the actual holiday, be in Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter etc., before I start buying things, making things etc. I plan all year long. I'm part of a couple of really great Yahoo groups and I'm signed up for some organizing newsletters etc. These help keep me focussed that there is a holiday or special day coming up that is not a holiday, but still needs to be prepared for. A little bit each day makes stress and work more like play!!!!! :) Report
Worthwhile tips...and some sound fun! Report
Wow - there is a lot of useful info in here. Definitely saving! Report
Thanks for the tips, it's very helpful. Report
The tips were great how about no turkey, That is one big savings. Chicken is a cheaper alterative if you have to have bird or a great pot roast is even better. yes I really hate eating turkey at anytime of the year. not my favorite meat and living on the pacific coast salmon is even a better idea. Report
These are defnitely all great tips!! Will put them to use this weekend. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!! Report
I couldn't find the Resource Center and Food Charts referenced in one tip. Any ideas of where they are? Would appreciate a message to my SparkPage if you know since I will in all likelihood forget to check back!! Thanks all!! Report
Great ideas, I'm sending to my husband since he'll be cooking. Report
A couple years ago, I started making soup with all the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner; everything goes in: potatoes, stuffing, gravy, turkey, vegetables and casseroles! It's so very yummy. Report
great tips, thanks so much , blessings to ya lucy june7 Report
Years ago I cut back on the amount of food I serve on Thanksgiving and Christmas day it made my life easier not so many left overs to store or give away. Report
The best collection of great T-Day tips I've ever seen! Thanks, SparkPeeps! Report
Thank you for all the wonderful ideas... Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Report
Great ideas. Thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone Report
Nothing makes me sadder around the holidays than seeing all the cheap (or freebie) turkeys. To have a turkey be a (ridiculous) 35¢ a pound requires some incredibly cruel, intensive farming methods. It makes me shudder to think of it.

This year, why not get a turkey that wasn't tortured. It'll be more money but the benefits to the animals, your health, the environment and the farmers more than makes up for a bit extra money. I know Whole Foods has frozen natural non-factory farmed birds for $1.39ish/ lb. Yeah, it's a buck more a pound. The average family of four would end up paying, what, $5- $10 extra on a smallish (8-10lb) bird?

I'd think $5 - $10 is worth it knowing that the alternative is supporting some truly horrible practices. Not to mention an improved flavor for you meat-eaters and a safer meal for your kids and yourself.
I can't believe I read that one should buy a prebasted bird on SP! That stuff is full of transfats. Give me the old-fashioned way any time! Report
There is a lot of great information in this blog. I'm impressed by the number of things I already do that others consider to be money/calorie/time savers. Makes me feel better about my meal plans. :~)
Thanks for providing such great articles. *S* Report
Great ideas. This year I am cooking for my husband, son and I. Some years we go to a friend's house where everyone takes a dish to pass. I make the desserts the day before and try to keep it simple. 2 or 3 pies, jello and a cake. I have cut down on the amount of side dishes and it also cut down the hassle and stress. Report
Great list of very useful ideas! But the share button doesn't allow sending to Sparkmail, boohoo. Report
Wonderful tips and comments. Learned a lot. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Report
Hope you all in the USA enjoy your Thanksgiving. I'm not from the USA and right now, turkeys are not on sale, so those tips wouldn't work out. I'm single, so I don't make the big meal. Even single I know that I cannot make a full meal for under $5 per person. Grocery bill has increased over the years, especially in the north and it simply won't happen. I'd really like to know how SP figures that out. As for all the tips on freezing, I'd love to see a balance with tips on not freezing - how to cook smaller and economically - as I am not alone with having a tiny fridge freezer and no extra room for months of food. Plus its alot of food to freeze up for those of us in smaller familes. (or single) I will share these with my team and hopefully some tips will help out members. Report
Our families use many of the tips written here. In addition we also split the duties. We have many good cooks, so each one picks a dish to prepare. It gets shared with everyone. The not so good cooks buy the drinks, rolls, cranberry sauce, etc. It really helps keep stress and cost to a minimum for each family. Report
I have to say that I'm pretty happy that I already use some of the posted tips. I'm looking forward to trying some of the other ones. Happy Thanksgiving to all! Report
We do potluck. Mom does the turkey and pumpkin pie and us kids and families bring the rest. I'm bringing 2 vegetable side dishes this year and we usually have a veggie tray to snack on beforehand. Now if we were willing to give up the stuffing....
Plus, my mom sends us home with most of the leftovers so we save money on meals over the following week!!! Report
At the beginning of this article, I expected a menu for serving 10 people for $4.29 each. That seems very low to me even with sales and coupons, unless they only count what the host buys for the table and not the potluck and BYOB contributions. Report
Lots of great tips. Thanks. However, I am questioning how you can spend as little as $42 for a family of 10. Are you kidding? I consider myself a frugal shopper but $42 is definitely too good to be true. Report
I was really disappointed to read the first tip, especially from SP: "Unless you know what you are doing, stick to a name brand, pre-basted bird with a built-in thermometer." Pre-basted birds are so high in fat, sodium, etc. Why not experiment this year with a fresh / farm raised / organic turkey, like your grandma did in years gone by? Report
These are all great ideas, thanks SP! Love the ideas for stripped down, less caloric side dishes. It would be impossible for my husband not to overeat on Thanksgiving with loads of gravy, mashed potatoes and stuffing, but I figure eating like that one day per year can't be that bad (I would never cook so much for one meal). I also did get my mom to pare down her meal and trim some dishes to make her day easier. Report
All this talk about turkey, and my family doesnit.LOL
I buy a few roasting hens and keep them for Thanksgiving. Sometimes my Father wins the coin toss of what meat we will serve, and I end up doing a tri-tip or a rack of lamb.
I think that any family get together can be pulled off inexpensively with some planning, and some freezer space.
In our family 2 of my sisters-in-law and I take turns hosting Christmas dinner. So every third year we each host. The host supplies the turkey and decorates the table. The others are assigned what ot bring. We can have up to 24 people depending on who is home that year. No one gets stuck doing everything and the non cooks do dishes, bring rolls, wine or help in other ways. Report
Great tips! Thanks. Report
$42 for 10 - people! I wish! Eat frugally with fresh veggies, fruit and of course a turkey ( should be on sale) and forget the extras and maybe you could achieve this. As for the extras- dessert, wine, appetizers- no. Report
Wow I really found some good tips here. Report
I always wonder what to do with leftovers and so because I wanted something different I decided to try my sweet and sour pork recipe and switch it with turkey and save some of the broth for the recipe. Its not the usual turkey sandwich or the hot turkey with potatoes but rice with the pineapple and the peppers and onions cooked in the sauce with turkey added. I get chinese and american at the same time. Report
Great ideas, some of which I learned to do from growing up in a family with limited budgeting. We ALWAYS saved leftover turkey from Thanksgiving for Christmas. Having hunters in the family, some years we got the turkey that way. Report
Fantastic ideas...can't wait to try them! Report
Lots of great tips . Thank you. We always buy the largest turkey we can find. We split it up into portions , & freeze them for leftovers. We usually get about a weeks worth of meals from the turkey. I also make my own pumpkin pies to save money. Report
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