Older Caucasian couple preparing Thanksgiving dinner
Older Caucasian couple preparing Thanksgiving dinner

thanksgiving on a budget: 5 tips

Common-sense ways to save this holiday season

What’s that big, gobbling sound? It may be your Thanksgiving meal eating into your budget – if you’re not careful.

The average Thanksgiving meal could cost nearly $50 this year, based on previous years’ spending. That’s up about 4% from 2020, when retailers cut the prices of turkey and other foods in an effort to entice people to shop.1

Now, consumers can anticipate inflated turkey prices – nearly 20 cents more per pound – due to a combination of reduced production and rising demand.2 The cost of other Thanksgiving food staples, including dairy, pumpkins, and apples, might rise as well, because of pests, plant disease, and more expensive feed.3, 4

That’s just the cost for food. Factor in travel and post-Thanksgiving traditions (movies, Black Friday shopping), and the long weekend can cause many people to run short on cash.

But financial planning can apply to more than just retirement – it can apply to the dinner table as well. Here are five areas where consumers can “preheat” their holiday budget to manage their expenses ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

1. Make a list

Detailed lists that include estimated prices force us to plan and therefore are an excellent device for staying disciplined while shopping. A list will enable you to budget for ingredients and take advantage of early sales. Those sweet potatoes can last longer than one thinks – up to three months in the refrigerator and one month in the pantry5 – and milk and buttermilk can be frozen.6 List-making applies to Black Friday shopping as well, which could be done as a family activity.

2. Rethink those thighs and legs

A small Thanksgiving table likely doesn’t require a neck-to-ankle 24-pound bird, especially if the guests prefer turkey breast. Bonus: The breast takes less room in the refrigerator and less time to cook, making it an energy saver.7 Note: Breast meat alone can be priced higher than a whole bird, so if dark-meat lovers are present, try a whole, but smaller, turkey.

3. Resist experimentation

The Thanksgiving table is not the place to introduce a novel dish while on a budget. Know your audience, stick with what those guests will eat, and focus on making those dishes delicious. Save the oyster-stuffed pumpkin blossoms for an intimate meal with a more adventurous guest.

4. Share the expense

While many people are eager to host at their home, it doesn’t have to be formal. An open-house, pot-luck Thanksgiving, served buffet-style to accommodate guests as they come and go, offsets the workload and the cost of food. It’s an opportunity to catch up with friends and family in a more relaxed environment.

5. Learn now to get more bang per mile

If flying for the holiday, consider that flights on Thanksgiving Day typically are less expensive than the day before, according to Smarter Travel.8 If driving, fill ‘er up early and if crossing state borders, check gas prices in other states to learn if they are lower. Some apps help travelers find less-expensive gas while on the go, and reward programs can equate to cents off the gallon.

Spend in ways your future self will be thankful for

Thanksgiving kicks off a joyous, indulgent period, but it shouldn’t require our financial budgets to go overboard. The best-spent currency over the holidays is that of time enjoyed with loved ones. Any money saved can go toward investments to take care of you and loved ones down the road.

Happy holidays to all, and to all a good balance!


1 “Farm Bureau. Survey: Thanksgiving Cost Down 4%," by Mike Tomko, Farm Bureau, Nov. 19, 2020; https://www.fb.org/newsroom/farm-bureau-survey-thanksgiving-dinner-cost-down-4

2 “Inflationary pressure hits turkey ahead of Thanksgiving,” by Mark Jordan, Sept. 9 , 2021, WATTPoultry.com; https://www.wattagnet.com/articles/43511-inflationary-pressure-hits-turkey-ahead-of-thanksgiving?v=preview

3 “4 Holiday Food Shortages You Should Know About,” by Amanda McDonald, Sept. 24, 2021, Eat This, Not That, https://www.eatthis.com/news-holiday-food-shortages/

4 “Higher feed costs driving tighter margins for dairy products,” by Bob Cropp, Sept. 21, 2021, Wisconsin State Farmer; https://www.wisfarmer.com/story/news/2021/09/21/higher-feed-costs-driving-tighter-margins-dairy-producers/5802599001/

5 “How to Store Sweet Potatoes So They Last Longer,” AllRecipes.com; https://www.allrecipes.com/article/how-to-store-sweet-potatoes/

6 “How long can you keep dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese in the refrigerator?,” July 17, 2019; https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-long-can-you-keep-dairy-products-like-yogurt-milk-and-cheese-in-the-refrigerator

7 “The Ideal Turkey? Well It All Depends; For Ease, Roast Only the Breast,” By Mark Bittman, The New York Times, Nov. 18, 2018; https://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/18/dining/minimalist-ideal-turkey-well-it-all-depends-for-ease-roast-only-breast.html

8 “Best and Worst Days to Fly,” by Caroline Costello, Smarter Travel, Dec. 23, 2019; https://www.smartertravel.com/best-worst-days-fly/

The information on this page is accurate as of October 2021 and is subject to change. First Financial Bank is not affiliated with any third-parties or third-party websites mentioned above. Any reference to any person, organization, activity, product, and/or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement. By clicking on a third-party link, you acknowledge you are leaving bankatfirst.com.

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