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How To Do Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget — 5 Tips from Our Readers

Gobble up those savings.

Last year, the cost of hosting Thanksgiving dinner jumped by 14 percent, a number that experts say will rise again this year. But that doesn’t mean you have to make a modest meal. We reached out to FIRST readers for their advice on Thanksgiving meal grocery shopping on a budget, and they had excellent ideas. Here are easy ways to save money on Thanksgiving dinner without forfeiting the flavors you love.

Expensive grocery bill? Takeout may be cheaper.

“Last year, after years of spending hundreds of dollars and way too many hours in the kitchen cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to let a restaurant do the work. I found great offers at Cracker Barrel and Boston Market and ended up choosing Denny’s take-out meal for $49.99. It included sliced turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and a side of Southwest creamed corn — enough to feed four. It came with reheating instructions and I even added a pie for $8.99. I spent less on that dinner than the year before, when I made everything from scratch! I was shocked at how cheap, delicious, and easy it was.”

—Emma Curtis, mom of two, Lansing, MI

Too much turkey? Skip the whole and save $20 buying parts.

“Instead of spending over $30 on an entire turkey, consider purchasing only the parts your family likes to eat most. The meat you get from just serving a package of turkey breast or turkey thighs, which cost about $10 each, is enough to serve four people. You end up saving $20 and you don’t get stuck with lots of leftover meat you won’t end up eating. Another option? Buy Cornish hens and split them in half. At about $5 per bird, you’ll get enough meat to feed four for just $10. Plus, these smaller portions are so much easier to cook!”

—Julie Hartigan chef and culinary consultant at

Very pricey vino? Choose boxed wine.

“The price of wine has skyrocketed — a mid-priced bottle costs $28 now — and will continue to climb due to a shortage of glass bottles. Opt for boxed wine like Bota Box instead. In a comparison of boxed wines, Consumer Reports gave the brand top marks, and at just $19, it’s a bargain! (One box is equal to four 750 ml. bottles.) On the fence about taste? Use it to make mulled wine. Pour the wine into a slow cooker, add ¼ cup honey, sliced oranges, cranberries, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, and let it simmer.”

—Melissa Riker, founder of

Costly desserts? Wow guests with a hot cocoa bar.

“After splashing out for a big holiday dinner, offering cakes or pies for dessert can add another $30 to your grocery bill. A better option? Grab a $5 box of assorted cookies and snap up marshmallows, peppermint sticks, whipped cream, sprinkles — anything you can find at the dollar store — and set up a DIY hot cocoa bar for guests. Use your slow cooker to make a large batch of hot cocoa, then let guests choose their add-ins!”

—Christine Pittman, founder

Fancy flowers? DIY your decor.

“My secret to a luxe-looking table on a budget? Instead of splurging on a fancy tablecloth, I use a copper-colored window panel I found for $12 at Walmart. Then, rather than pay for a lavish centerpiece that can cost $30 or more, I pick up a few “carvable” pumpkins (on sale for $1 each at craft stores right after Halloween). I hollow them out and fill them with freshly fallen leaves and pine cones from the yard!”

—Geri Banks, grandmother of five, Cedar Rapids, IA

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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