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How to Do This Turkey Day Cheap

November 16, 2020

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Thanksgiving tables are looking a little different this year for many Americans, but you can still make it special on a budget.

Whether you’re keeping your celebration small or joining a small gathering out of town, we’ve got tips to make this an unforgettable Thanksgiving that won’t break the bank.

Turkey Duty Only

If you’re on turkey duty, you’re the star of the show. But that also means a lot of pressure.

Roast or grill? Air fry or smoke? 

Take a Headcount

Get a headcount of how many people will be around your table before you buy your turkey so you know how much bird you need.

Set a Budget

A Thanksgiving turkey costs aBOUT $1.30 per pound, or just under $20 for a 15-pound bird, according to the Farm Bureau’s survey.

Remember that doesn’t include seasoning, stuffing, potatoes, veggies, and none of the tasty dessert.

The best way to save is to keep an eye on local grocery stores for turkey sales or promotions. Big box stores like Costco and Target often also have deals. 

Many local grocery chains offer free turkeys if you have enough points, so see if you qualify.

Plan For Leftovers

And don’t forget to use up all the leftovers — they are good for your palate and your wallet. 

We like these turkey sequels from Bon Appétit:

Running The Whole Table

The Farm Bureau survey puts the total cost for Thanksgiving dinner at $48.91 if you stick to the classic menu items of turkey, rolls, cranberry sauce, peas, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

But who has only one kind of vegetable and one kind of potato dish and—gasp—one dessert? 

Like with the turkey, keep an eye on deals from your local grocer. 

If you can’t find anything good, check online. Websites like Groupon, and Honey can save you money with deals, coupons, online savings, and shopping tips.

Then download cash back apps like Ibotta or Swagbucks, which let you earn money back on groceries you would’ve bought anyway. 

Here are a few other money-saving food tips:

  • Use low-cost cooking staples like rice, pasta, and potatoes to pad out your Thanksgiving spread.

  • Split bulk items with friends or family members who are also cooking.

  • Throw a potluck-style Thanksgiving and have everyone make their favorite dish to share.

  • Make dishes yourself. Frozen pie crusts will cost you about $3, but butter, flour, salt, and water will cost about half that.

  • Check your pantry so you don’t double up on items.

If You’re Hitting the Road

There are still many ways to save if you’re headed out of town this year.

If you decide to road trip, this year is a great time to do it. Gas prices are holding steady at $2.18 per gallon on average, 45  cents less than time last year, despite increased demand. 

If you aren’t staying with family this year, consider booking an Airbnb. Not only will you have less contact with other holiday travelers, you could save hundreds of dollars. 

If you go for Airbnb, you can save on meals out by cooking breakfast and other meals in the rental and storing snacks, drinks and coffee in the kitchen.

Here are a few other ways to save cash when traveling at the holidays:

  • Bring snacks and sandwiches on the road instead of dining out. 

  • Use an app like Gas Buddy to find the cheapest prices on your route. 

  • Buy a gift for your Turkey Day host from your area, such as a local craft beer or a fun treat you can only get near you. It’s probably cheaper and more unique than flowers or expensive booze.

Sometimes It’s Okay to Spend Extra (If You Have It)

Sometimes, it pays more in sanity to spend a little extra. Permission granted if:

  • Your house is a mess and hiring someone to clean will save you hours

Cost: An average of about $17 an hour (expect to pay a bit more during the holiday rush)

  • You need to buy your wine by the case to make it through a family dinner

Cost: An average of $15.66 per bottle of red wine and $14.41 for white

  • You totally ruin dinner and need to order pizza 

Cost: Between $7.25 and $14 per cheese pizza.

However you choose to celebrate your holiday, make sure you stay safe and healthy. Check out the CDC’s recommendations for COVID-19 Thanksgiving precautions

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of Varo Bank, N.A. Member FDIC (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

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Sarah Netter

Sarah Netter

Sarah Netter is a freelance writer based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News and

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