There’s just nothing quite like Thanksgiving weekend: a morning preparing the turkey and learning Grandma’s famous casserole recipe, parades and football on the TV, political comments from Uncle Charlie, long afternoon naps and . . . mad dashes to the mall.
Between eating and shopping, it’s hard to keep track of where your money is going. (Those little runs to the store to get another forgotten ingredient add up quick!) You usually end up spending a ton of money in a short amount of time—only to wake up from your turkey-induced coma with loads of regret.
But it doesn’t have to be like that this year! I’ve got eight ways to help you save money this Thanksgiving, so you can spend less time stressing over your finances and more time enjoying your family.
8 Ways to Save Money This Thanksgiving
1. Prioritize your holiday plans.
It happens every year—once Thanksgiving comes around, the rest of the year zooms by faster than you can say “White Christmas.” How you spend money on Thanksgiving weekend sets the tone for the kind of money habits you’ll have for the rest of the year.
So, as you’re thinking about how much you might spend this season, write out all the things you’re planning to do between now and the new year. Travel, gifts, food, parties, traditions—include it all. Then, take some time to prioritize your holiday wish list so if you have to adjust your budget, you know what to cut first.
For example, if you know you really want big, homemade Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, you can scale back on the presents to have more money for the food. If visiting family is your priority, maybe you’ll choose to trim your Christmas budget and spend that money on a Thanksgiving trip to visit loved ones you haven’t seen in a while. The important thing is to plan for what matters to you before the holidays begin.
2. Make a budget and check it often.
Now that you’ve got your holiday priorities in order, it’s time to prepare your budget for the season. This way, you’ll know your spending limits before you do the actual spending this Thanksgiving. Go ahead and create your budget in your favorite budget app (I use EveryDollar)—and be sure to include all your holiday plans and how much you think you’ll spend for each event or gift.
If you find yourself going over budget, this is the time to do some adjusting. Remember, it’s okay to cut back on some things to make more room for what matters to you. When you’ve already made those tough decisions ahead of time, it’ll be easier to stick to your budget as you’re grabbing groceries or eyeing some good deals online.
3. Be a smart shopper.
How much should you spend on Black Friday and Cyber Monday? Well, there really isn’t a magic number—as long as you’re getting good deals, buying stuff you already planned to buy, staying in your budget, and not using a credit card. Don’t get caught up with buying more than you thought you would!
Do some research in advance to find the best sales and make a shopping list to help keep you on track. It’s easy to get sidetracked by a flashy “75% Off” sign if you don’t have a game plan when you get to the store. Remember: no deal is worth going into debt for—so keep to your budget and list!
4. Go easy on the decorations.
In our social media-obsessed world, you might think your house needs to look like the cover of Magnolia magazine for the holidays (Guilty!). You can still make your home feel festive without dropping a lot on expensive decor.
Encourage your kids to trace their hands to make paper turkeys for a fun garland. Go outside and gather pine cones from the backyard for a pretty centerpiece. Or stretch a roll of butcher paper across the table with prompts like “I’m thankful for . . .” and place a bunch of markers or crayons on the table for your guests to write their answers. Remember, good food and good company mean way more to people than an elaborate display on your mantle.
5. Keep dinner simple.
Even though it’s the main event, you don’t really need to go all out for Thanksgiving dinner. Focus on a couple key dishes like the turkey or a ham, a few of your favorite sides, and maybe a dessert or two. A little goes a long way. So, unless cooking for others is something that brings you joy, don’t feel like you have to give Martha Stewart a run for her money. You can also swap expensive casserole dishes and fancy china for disposable plates and pans (bonus: easy cleanup!). Just keep it simple, and you’ll save yourself a ton of time, money and stress.
6. Accept invitations from others.
Did you get an invitation to join family or friends at someone else’s place for Thanksgiving? Take them up on the offer! While it’s fun to host (and you should certainly open your home if you want to), it’s just as fun (and cheaper) to be a guest. Show your gratitude by offering to bring a dish and help with cleanup after dinner. You’ll get to enjoy all the best parts of Thanksgiving—without spending a ton of money.
7. Volunteer your time.
Call me crazy, but there’s really no better way to save money over the Thanksgiving weekend than to skip your own fancy dinner and provide one for someone else in need. Contact a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter and ask if you can donate items, cook food, or help serve a meal. Plus, you can invite your friends and family along. You might just make a new favorite Thanksgiving tradition!
8. Focus on what’s really important.
We all enjoy the holidays more when they’re not crammed with activities and stress. Less really does give us more. As you approach the start of this busy season, look for opportunities to slow down. Build space into your day and into your budget. Allow yourself a little breathing room so you have the chance to really take in the joy that’s happening around you. When you take time to appreciate your blessings, you’re less likely to spend money you don’t have and more likely to be content with what you do have.