5 Steps for Sticking to a Thanksgiving Budget

November 6, 2015 | Lisa Chappell

I have served more than a few Thanksgiving dinners over the years and in doing so, I realized very quickly how costs can add up. As Mission Fed VP Facilities Management, I learned the secrets to budgeting a big event successfully.

It turns out that planning a large tenant improvement project, like our Carmel Mountain Ranch Branch or moving our Oceanside Branch to its new location, is pretty similar to planning a large Thanksgiving dinner on a budget for family and friends. Both new branch openings and big holiday events require planning, prioritizing, budgeting and then celebrating the results of your efforts with others. Over time I learned to apply the lessons I've learned from planning new branch celebrations to hosting Thanksgiving on a budget.

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t mean you have to spend hundreds of dollars prepping, planning and shopping. Here are six tips you can use to stay within a budget and put on a great dinner for your family and friends.

One: Set a budget.

To stay within a budget, you first have to determine how much you are willing to spend. Identify a number that works for you and make a commitment to stick to it. Whether your budget is $75 or somewhere in the hundreds, you can find a way to make a wonderful Thanksgiving within your means, with the tips we’ll share with you.

Two: Determine your priorities. Before you head to the grocery store or start deep cleaning and decorating, decide what you want the day to look like. Do you want to:

  • Spend time with only immediate family?
  • Include friends and extended family?
  • Have a low-key, non-traditional dinner?
  • Or, provide a lavish meal with holiday-themed décor?

By choosing the kind of Thanksgiving you want to host in advance, you’ll be better able to allocate your funds to best realize your vision.

Three: Plan your menu.

A traditional Thanksgiving dinner budget can get pretty expensive, but there are some ways you can manage your expenses to keep things reasonable and leave some money to decorate your Thanksgiving table.

  • Plan your entire menu, including appetizers, drinks, entrees and desserts.
  • Consider having a potluck style meal, where each guests brings a dish.
  • Based on your menu, create a shopping list and only buy those items.

Four: Shopping on a budget.

  • Next, it’s time to review your guest list to see what groceries you’ll need. If you are having a lot of people over, buying in bulk at a local club warehouse store may save you money. If bulk shopping doesn’t work with your guest list, use your weekly grocery store ads to buy items on sale.
  • Clip coupons from the paper or search for them online or via your preferred grocery store’s mobile app. You may be surprised at how many “digital coupons” there are.
  • Check local ads for specials. Many grocers will offer exclusive sales to compete with each other. Perhaps you can spread your shopping across several grocery stores, taking advantage of each one’s unique deals.
  • You don’t have to buy everything at once. Purchase sale items in advance if possible and do your shopping over several weeks. Don’t wait until the last minute to shop, though, or you may lose out on some of your key sides (cranberry sauce, anyone?).
  • If you are having guests, ask them to bring something. Having a partial or complete potluck atmosphere can be a great way to have a fun Thanksgiving on a budget. When guests bring something, they feel more connected to the festivities and it helps you put together a great Thanksgiving dinner on a budget.
  • When in doubt, keep it simple. Thanksgiving is a time of tradition. Simple dishes like turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing will be well received. You can make a delicious dinner on a budget.

Five: Decorations.

Decorating for Thanksgiving on a budget can be one of the more challenging parts of preparing for the holiday festivities; however, you have options beyond simply going to the store and buying expensive Thanksgiving-themed decorations.

First, keep in mind that you don’t have to have matching place settings for everyone when you’re hosting a large group. Mixing and matching can be just as fun and festive! If you need extra silverware or dishes, you can borrow some from friends who are traveling, instead of going out and buying dishes that you won’t need after the holidays.

You can decorate your house beautifully for Thanksgiving on a budget with low-cost, do-it-yourself decorations. Check online for inspiration. Websites like Pinterest are full of decorating ideas that either use things you have around the house or low-cost items you can find at dollar stores and craft stores. You can even find great decorative pieces in your own backyard. Pine cones, fallen tree branches and leaves can make beautiful centerpieces.

Six: Relax and enjoy Thanksgiving!

When the big day arrives, your home is decorated and you have all the food you need—enjoy it! You can be thankful for providing a great time for your friends and family within your budget, which removes stress. Now it’s time for hugs, yummy food and great company.

Lisa Chappell

Lisa Chappell

Lisa Chappell is Mission Federal Credit Union’s Vice President Corporate Facilities. She has too many years of banking and facilities management experience on her resume to count! Lisa thoroughly enjoys her job and Mission Fed, and is also very active in the Facilities Management, Corporate Real Estate, Leadership and Banking communities. Together with her team of dynamic and enthusiastic employees, and the newly formed Green Team, Lisa is dedicated to guiding Mission Fed and its employees to new levels of greenness.

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