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6 Ways to Save Big on Your Thanksgiving Meal This Year

6 Ways to Save Big on Your Thanksgiving Meal This Year

If you’re in charge of your family’s Thanksgiving meal, you know from experience how quickly the costs of hosting an elaborate celebration can add up.

According to USA Today, the average American spent about $49.87 on Thanksgiving last year (that’s for a dinner with 10 people, or about $5 per person). Of course, it depends on what you’re serving.

While that may sound reasonable, there are always ways to save big where it matters most.

Here are 6 ways you can save on Thanksgiving dinner this year:

1. Plan Ahead

Last minute shopping panic will add to your bottom line every time.

But if you start planning in late October or early November, you can save on everything from pantry staples to your Thanksgiving Day turkey.

Since turkey is the reason for the season, start shopping for your bird early, suggests financial reporter Brad Tuttle.

“[Major] grocery stores are always compelled to sell turkeys at phenomenally cheap prices at this time of year,” Tuttle explains at TIME.

“It’s become the traditional way to drum up business, because when customers come in for inexpensive turkeys, they’ll also be purchasing milk, eggs, bread, pies, cereal, and any number of other groceries,” he adds.

Constant promotions for turkeys through November can even cause grocery chains to lose money on the item - all for the sake of getting customers in the door and offering a competitive price.

While it’s true that hunting for the best deal on a turkey can help you keep costs low, so can menu planning and using existing ingredients in your pantry.

“Go through your pantry thoroughly, see what you have that will fill the need for Thanksgiving, and reduce your shopping list accordingly,” suggests personal finance expert Jim Wang. “This can be especially important in regard to small but high-priced items, such as spices. Not needing to buy those could cut your Thanksgiving grocery bill substantially.”

Finally, make a plan for your Thanksgiving leftovers, too.

Not only do most households cook too much food, but the food that’s left at holiday time can also easily go to waste. And wasted food adds up to wasted dollars.

Put a plan in place for addressing waste from the get-go, advise the editors of CBS Money.

“Consider using your leftover turkey creatively by including it in casseroles and salads, or perhaps a nice turkey chili,” the editors write.

In need of some more Thanksgiving leftover recipes and storage tricks? Check out this list of tried-and-true leftover recipes from The Los Angeles Times.

2. Scale Back

Do you know how many people are attending your family shindig this year?

Consider your serving ratios carefully, so you know how much - and what - to serve without letting food go to waste.

For Connie Perez, an experienced home cook, this all comes down to planning - how many people are going to be at your dinner and what kinds of traditional foods do they like to eat at holiday time?

"Be careful in your meal selection, making sure it's food you're going to eat," Perez suggested at AOL Finance.

Noticed a dud that no one touched last year? (Here’s looking at you, half-eaten green bean casserole.)

Then, by all means, it’s absolutely okay to skip it, says Perez.

If you’re new to menu planning or serving large dinner parties, check out this helpful guide from the Food Network for getting your numbers right.

3. Buy Seasonal Fruits & Veggies

One of the best parts of the holidays is the home-cooked staples: mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce.

Since these items are all in season and on your local grocer’s shelves - and for reasonable prices - don’t waste your money opting for food in a box.

"Use whatever produce is on sale for your side dishes," Teri Gault, grocery expert, told CNBC. "All those things are going to come together, so, so inexpensively."

Trying to speed things up with instant mashed potatoes or canned sweet potatoes might seem appealing at first, but you’ll often sacrifice both taste and quality. Plus, you’ll lose the ability to experiment.

“There are so many amazing specialty foods now available in mainstream stores that allow the cook to still achieve the homemade feel and freshness they want, while cutting down on effort,” Phil Kafarakis, the president of Specialty Food Association, told USA Today.

Use these special extras to add flair to - but not replace - the bulk foods and inexpensive seasonal produce that should form the foundation of your meal.

4. Shop Smart

If you’ve always shopped on a strict budget, you already know how much you can save buying in bulk.

This time of year, buying in bulk can actually cut down on your grocery bill, says Kyle James, who writes at Rather-Be-Shopping.com.

"Take advantage of your Costco membership when buying for the big meal," James suggests at U.S. News & World Report. "It's one of the only times of the year where you might consume the cheap, and big, bag of potatoes or ginormous box of stuffing."

Plus, if you start storing up on manufacturer coupons now, you’ll be well-stocked for the holidays.

Think holiday flyers, circulars, and - yes - even your friendly neighborhood chain’s app.

According to Gault, customer loyalty apps designed by bigger grocery stores will have "additional savings with digital coupons.”

5. Set Your Table

If you’re tempted to set out plastic flatware and paper plates to make clean-up easier, you may want to rethink that strategy, says personal finance expert Maura Judkis.

“Disposable dishes and utensils aren’t cheap,” Judkis warns at U.S. News & World Report. “And they fill landfills with unnecessary waste.”

Instead, Judkis suggests, try trotting out flatware that’s been passed down in your family for an extra festive - and green - touch.

“Pull out Grandma’s old china and make it a new tradition to give thanks over real dishware,” she adds.

You’ll save money and create new family memories, too.

6. Host a Potluck

Tired of figuring out the big day all by your lonesome? It’s okay to ask friends and relatives to contribute to your Thanksgiving meal - and it might even be worth throwing a potluck this year.

According to personal finance expert John Schmoll, hosting a Thanksgiving potluck still requires a bit of planning.

“Decide together what the meal will entail and divide up the cooking responsibilities so that each family is responsible for bringing two items,” Schmoll suggests at U.S. News & World Report.

“Keep in mind as the hosting family you will likely want to do the turkey or other meats as it’ll keep others from the hassle of transporting the main course,” he adds.

When it comes to sharing costs at holiday time, the host will really save big on higher-priced items like booze.

Whether you go BYOB for drinks or make a big holiday punch, encouraging friends and family to contribute to the party’s alcohol cache will help you put money where you really need it - toward the meal.

Looking for a few Thanksgiving cocktail ideas that won’t put you under the table? This list of low-alcohol spirits from Food & Wine will put you in the holiday mood.

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