Home cooks are feeling the pinch for keeping costs under control for this year's Thanksgiving meal.
While some home cooks consider Thanksgiving an appropriate time to splurge and spend the extra cash for a special meal, some shoppers simply can't afford an extravagant feast. With that in mind, we turned to home cooks, professional coupon clippers, chefs and catering experts to find budget-cutting ideas for anyone looking to trim a little cash from a big Thanksgiving dinner. Read on.
1. Outsource: Dear Aunt Marge, can you please bring your famous yam casserole?
Kristi Dohring, owner of Paprika Catering in Olympia, Wash., has three words of advice: Assign side dishes. "Don't be afraid to ask people in your family to bring items for the menu; this will help lower cost and stress," she said.
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2. Put your meal on a diet. Do you really need 11 courses? "Don't go crazy with a big menu; keep it simple. If your family always does a traditional menu and you notice that there are certain menu items that are not a favorite, leave it off the menu," said Dohring.
"Be flexible on your menu," said Heather Clarke, who runs the coupon-clipping website Queen Bee Coupons. "What's traditional might not always be what's best for the pocketbook. Think outside the box and try to make a deal into a meal."
Consider buying a much smaller bird and serve smaller portions.
"Thanksgiving leftovers are part of the tradition, but really how many leftovers do you need? By carefully planning and portioning your meal items you won't be overdoing it and overspending," said Clarke.
3. Make more of what costs less. "Something like mashed potatoes is a lot less per serving than, say, ham or turkey. Think of inexpensive ways to fancy up those less expensive dishes — such as adding a little garlic and Parmesan cheese to the potatoes," said Clarke.
4. Be creative. Find substitutions that cost less. Tacoma, Wash., chef Diana Prine urges shoppers to consider cheaper alternatives. "A New York strip is less expensive this time of year than a prime rib and it can be prepared in the same way. I prefer it because it is more lean," said Prine.
For reader Julie Butler of Puyallup, Wash., saving money means buying her turkey in parts, which means more meat and less waste. "I buy a fresh whole turkey breast, then four thighs. I assemble the same veggies and wine, stock and seasonings in my roaster. ... You can get the breast for about the same as a frozen one, but it is much bigger and fresh speaks volumes over frozen. The thighs, just like drumsticks, are very inexpensive bought alone."
5. Cook ahead. Making your meal from scratch will save more. "I find that cooking from scratch is almost always more affordable than prepared foods. My mom used to save the ends of bread loaves for weeks ahead for the stuffing. The ends tend to be drier anyway, and you can easily dry them the rest of the way by leaving them in your (turned off) oven racks overnight. Then she would boil the giblets from the bird, chop them fine and use them and the broth to moisten the bread, along with onions and celery, sauteed in butter. Just add some salt, pepper and sage and heat it all in a casserole dish. Costs almost nothing extra, just an onion and a couple stalks of celery. We also always make the gravy from the meat drippings. It's not as hard as people think," said reader LuAnn Lukens of Tacoma.
"Using one's leftover pumpkin to make pies is good," said reader Laura Nicholson, of Parkland, Wash. "Without having to peel the pumpkin, just scrape the seeds ... and cook in microwave 20-25 minutes depending on size of pieces. When cool enough to touch, put in the blender or food processor. If the pulp is soupier than canned pumpkin, add extra egg and lessen the evaporated milk by 1⁄3 cup. This makes a slightly creamy, more custardy-like but still firm pie."
6. Free is good. Save up your shopping to get the free bird, but only if it really is free.
"We always do our regular shopping at (our local grocery store), which has done a free or reduced turkey price for spending a certain dollar amount in groceries. I get a 20-pound bird as soon as they advertise the special, planning my major monthly purchases for things I would normally buy anyway," said reader Angela McKee of University Place, Wash.
Clarke advised to be careful about the promotion and don't get sucked into buying more than you need just to meet a minimum price threshold. "So you fill your cart with items you may (or may not) need to get your free turkey. Carefully consider whether it would just be cheaper to buy the turkey without the other items."
7. Get out your scissors. Clip coupons for savings, and shop the sales. Is it worth it to shop a few stores to check prices? You bet, said Clarke. "Especially on the most expensive items, you want to compare store ads and pick them up at the best price. Remember stores like Target and Walmart will price match competitor's ads."
8. Buy big, and visit the Farmers Market. "If you have a bulk section at your grocery store, buy your spices from there versus the jars. You can buy what you need at a lower cost and won't end up with unused spices sitting in your cupboard," said Dohring. She added that sometimes it's worth stopping at produce stands or farms. "Many times your local farmer will have produce that's not quite nice enough to sell at the market but is still really good. You can get deals sometimes by asking them and they will many times sell it at a lower cost to move the product. You have to do this ahead of time; farmers don't bring produce like this to the market. If fresh vegetables are out of your price range you can get some vegetables that are flash frozen that are less expensive than fresh," said Dohring.
Five last minute money-saving tips
While shoppers — or maybe just me — have been focused on Black Friday, there is a holiday happening in a couple days. If you haven't already prepared for Thanksgiving by buying items for your gathering as they've been on sale, you may have to work harder to cut costs.
Get moving with these quick tips and visit websites such as Savingsangel.com, Money Talks News, Grandparents.com for more ways to save.
■ Shop your pantry. See if you already have items you need for your recipes at home or if there are items you can substitute for other ingredients rather than buying more. Shop store brands, smaller stores and ethnic markets.
■ Use smaller plates. This one made me laugh, but really, we do eat a lot on Thanksgiving. Using smaller plates will trick guests into thinking they've had more to eat, while helping them avoid that Thanksgiving Day coma.
If you must buy additional ingredients, store brands generally offer the same quality as name brands but at a lower cost. Get last minute basic ingredients, spices and grains at smaller grocery stores or ethnic markets.
■ Go outside to get your decor. DIY decorations from nature are quick and will help you save money. Gather leaves, twigs and acorns to create a centerpiece. Turn drinking glasses or mismatched stemware upside down and top them with tea lights.
■ Trim turkey costs. Choose one meat — Turkey is pretty much a requisite but lamb, ham and ribs are not. Turkey is the one item you may be better off buying this week. Many stores put Turkeys on sale so comparison shop even at stores you may not typically frequent.
Nedra Rhone, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution