We know Thanksgiving (and the other big holidays) can be an expensive time of year, especially when you’re the one hosting. Here at Real Simple we’ve come up with a handful of smart and easy ways you can stay conscious of your budget without compromising on the festivities.

By Real Simple
Updated November 11, 2016
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images


Like most big projects organization is key; making a plan will save time, money and energy over the next couple of weeks. First thing you need to do is make a menu, decide what you’re going to contribute and what you can outsource. And be realistic: there’s nothing worse than taking on too much and ending up “in the weeds.” Determine how many people you’re having and do the math. You want to have enough to eat that day but enough for guests to pack up for leftovers. A good bet is to plan on serving about 1½ times the number of guests you’ll have, that way everybody gets enough for a turkey sandwich or two.


Now that you’ve made your menu you can prepare a shopping list. But before you head to the store it’s a good idea to do a survey of what you already have and what you need. How many times have you bought brown sugar only to realize you already have three boxes at home? Checking before you head to the store will keep your costs down and your cupboards tidy. This goes back to organization, the more cluttered our kitchens and pantries the less efficiently we can work which is super important this time of year (but really all year long). And don’t just give it a once over—test the sugar to make sure it’s still soft, look at the olive oil in the light to make sure there’s still some in the bottle. Be thorough, it’ll save you money and potential frustration.


We all know the Thanksgiving meal is a BIG one but you don’t have to make it all yourself. Instead, give everyone a dish to bring. Maybe you’re making the turkey and stuffing, but assign sides or desserts. Be specific so you don’t end up with three dishes of candied yams and five things that need to be reheated at different temperatures. This engages your guests, cuts back on some of your costs, and saves you time and money.


Make your list and stick to it. Now is not the time to buy the turkey shaped cookies from the bakery section at the grocery store. Also, seasonal shopping is key. Produce that’s in season is inherently less expensive because it doesn’t have to travel as far or be stored as long. A lot of us have a green bean casserole on the table but green beans are actually best in high summer. Instead look for produce at its peak. Some great choices right now are squash, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and sturdy greens like kale.


Keep your eye on pricier ingredients like dairy or nuts. Skip an elaborate cheese platter before the meal. Nuts can be pricey too so consider making a pumpkin pie vs. pecan. We did the math and you’ll spend about $25 dollars on the ingredients to make a pecan pie versus about $16 to make a pumpkin pie. But if you want to try something new we have a bunch of great new pumpkin desserts.

Also, this isn’t a time to shell out a ton of money on premium ingredients for every step of every recipe. A pound of organic butter can cost you $9 but it’s likely ending up buried in the stuffing. Instead, opt for conventional butter and focus your spending on the main attraction, the big bird, OR if you’re vegetarian, some of those great seasonal ingredients mentioned above.