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How to Plan a (Relatively) Cheap Thanksgiving

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Grocery prices are being what they are in 2022, I’m not looking forward to Thanksgiving shopping. I recently noted my much-needed 12-packs of Diet Coke, which I buy at least twice a week, are costing me around $8 ($3 or $4 more than last year), making my Coke habit a lot harder to budget for. Thus, I began to suspect my holiday hosting budget would soon face a similar reckoning.

It turns out my fears were founded! This year’s Thanksgiving dinner will indeed likely cost you more to make than it did last year. According to TODAY.com, many of the foods and ingredients that are needed to make the classic turkey dinner have increased in price (including the bird itself):

Leading the food price increases over the past 12 months: margarine, up 44%; flour and prepared flour mixes, up 24.2%; frozen and refrigerated bakery products like pies, tarts and turnovers, up 20.4%.

While the collective category of meats, poultry, fish and eggs rose by 9% compared to September 2021, the price of eggs by itself is up 31% year over year.

…Uncooked turkey prices were up 17%, and processed fruits and vegetables were up 16%.

I do not have the power to lower food prices, but I do have some suggestions for cutting down costs if, like me, you do not have infinite income to lavish on your holiday feast.

Don’t bother with a fancy turkey (or skip it entirely)

I have cooked and eaten cheap Butterballs, turkeys that are even cheaper than Butterballs, and expensive heritage birds, and for the most part, I thought they all tasted like turkey. In all my turkey cooking and eating years, I’ve found that the way your prepare the turkey is more important than where you bought it (though I will not fault someone for forking over the extra cash for a humanely raised bird if they can afford it). This buttermilk brine and this smoking method can help you turn out juicy birds with well-browned skin and without fancy ingredients (or heritage birds).

You can also abandon the bird entirely and adopt a more flexible approach by purchasing whatever roast or large-format meat happens to be on sale at your local grocery store. The freezer is your friend here: You can buy a deeply-discounted roast now, then put it on ice until the big day.

Be ruthless with your menu

Think back to Thanksgivings past, and be brutally honest with yourself. What got eaten? What got ignored? Was the brioche savory bread pudding you made really that much of an upgrade over a simple stovetop stuffing? Do you really need an hors d’oeuvres spread? Did anyone eat your salad? Answer these questions with unflinching honesty, and you’ll find things to cut.

Stretch your booze budget

Thanksgiving is holiday, and people like to drink on holidays. It’s easy to get lost in the Trader Joe’s wine aisle trying to provide a pairing for every palate, but my number one cheap-o dirtbag wine hack is to provide one kind of wine: The absurdly cost-effective, yet incredibly drinkable six-dollar Blanc de Blancs. To quote myself: “It is from ‘somewhere in France,’ incredibly dry, and way better than it has any right to be at that price point.” (Other, more expensive bubbly works as well, but providing one type of wine can keep costs low.)

Another move you could execute is making a big ol’ punch, like this last-minute option I came up with five years ago. Grapefruit and elderflower may not sound especially autumnal, but this bev has incredible palate cleansing abilities, which is a big plus when you’re serving up the saltiest, fattiest meal of the year.

The most effective cost-cutting measure is to simply make the dinner a BYOB affair. If you’re cooking the turkey, or most of the meal, outsourcing booze to someone who can’t cook is completely fair. Anyone above the age of 21 can contribute this way, which makes it the perfect choice for the “What can I bring?”-asking bachelor, nephew, or of-age college student.

Shop early

As I mentioned last week, grabbing non-perishables now, especially when you see them on sale, helps spread out your costs and avoid supply chain crises, should they arise.

Thrift your servingware

If I have said it once, I have said it at least three times, but Goodwill and other thrift stores are the best, cheapest places to get your platters, pitchers, soup tureens, punch bowls, serving spoons, flatware, and any other random pieces of servingware you need. You can also find good deals at the restaurant supply store, but Goodwill is more likely to have prettier pieces.

Don’t be a hero

I struggle with the urge to make the entire Thanksgiving meal myself, and tend to be very territorial about certain dishes (turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn casserole). If there was ever a year to let go, it’s 2022. Let people bring things. Turn the whole affair into a potluck if you can. Not only will you spread out the costs, but you’ll free up some of your time and alleviate some of your stress. Thanksgiving should be an enjoyable day spent with family and friends. Being stressed out is not that enjoyable.

  

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