With the holiday coming up, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite ways to save on Thanksgiving dinner. It's easy to overspend on the feast, but with a bit of planning, it can be cheaper. Sorry it's a little late, but hopefully you can still use some of the tips.
* Even if you aren't responsible for buying the turkey for the family gathering or if you are a very small family, buying a big turkey may be worthwhile. There is a lot of meat for a good price during the Thanksgiving sales. I always stock up on groceries a week or two before Thanksgiving (staples or sale items that we need) at a store that has a promotion that gives $10 or $20 off of the cost of a turkey if you spend a certain amount. I commonly get 20 lb turkeys for around $7. I toss it into the freezer until February or so when I'm no longer sick of turkey and roast it on a cold day. After we have roast turkey one day and leftovers the next, I package the meat up into chunks or shreds (to use every last bit of the meat) and freeze in meal-sized portions. I make s big batch of stock from the carcass. We get dozens of meals from that one turkey, making it a fantastic deal, even for a household of two (Here's a post on how I make the most of chicken; use turkey the same way).
* Make your own gravy instead of buying those packets. It's easy and pretty close to free when you use pan drippings, flour and water. If you'd like, you can use stock instead of the water for even more flavor.
* Start saving bread ends or stale bread for stuffing; you can start up to a month before the holiday. Cut into small pieces and allow to thoroughly air dry. As long as it gets really dry (if it's humid, use a dehydrator, then store in air-tight packaging), it won't mold. Make your own stuffing for cost savings, better flavor and fewer questionable ingredients. When bakeries sell bread cubes or crumbs, all they do is save the bread leftover at the end of the day, cube it and dry it in a low oven. Then they bag it up and save it for up to a month or longer before the holiday. It keeps well. Doing it yourself not only saves on the purchase price of the bread cubes, but also reduces your waste since it is the perfect way to use up bread that gets stale before you can use it.
* Make you own pies, even if you have to buy the pie dough. The cost savings of making it yourself versus buying it is phenomenal. At the bakeries I've worked at, pies sell for $12-20, so it is worthwhile.
* Load up on veggie sides. Vegetables are cheap, and if one is going to overindulge, it's better to overindulge on corn, green beans and carrots than turkey and pie.
* As you prep vegetable dishes for main meal, save the peels and trimmings from sweet potatoes, pumpkin rinds, green bean ends and strings, onion skins, carrot peels, celery leaves, garlic skins, winter squash rinds or corn cobs. Put them in a large freezer bag and toss into the freezer. After dinner, package up the turkey carcass in a couple of freezer bags. Later on you can use all this goodness to make a massive batch of turkey stock that will be perfect for warming, healing and practically free winter soups.
* It may be too late for this year, but in future years you can always plan a potluck. My mother's family does this with the host family supplying the turkey and drinks and everyone else bringing sides, desserts and breads. It's not expensive for anyone, and lower income families can bring cheaper dishes. When we were on a very tight budget, I was able to bring bread that I got for free from my jobs. Everyone enjoyed the bread that was fancier than we'd usually had, and no one knew that I hadn't spent a penny. There's always enough leftover for anyone who wants to bring home something to eat later.
* Excess is not necessary. I don't know where "thankful" turned into "stuffed-full". Especially if you're trying to watch your weight/eat healthfully, avoid going to extremes. It's not a failure if you don't have to undo your pants buttons. Plan a nice, special meal with plenty for everyone to eat, but there is no need for everyone to have 4 desserts.
What are your favorite ways to save money on Thanksgiving?