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By Kristen Bahler
November 15, 2016

So you’ve decided to host Thanksgiving. For the first time. Ever.

Kudos — and godspeed. This is a big undertaking, and one you’re no doubt approaching with a string of expletives and a list of questions. (How much is this *$!& going to cost? How many people can I invite? What’s a giblet?)

First off, don’t freak out. With a little planning, and some smart decisions at the grocery store, it can be as easy as pumpkin pie.

Whether you’re the Pinterest type or a hands-off host, here’s some expert advice for a cheaper, more Instagram-able meal.

Make a Plan

The first order of business: Relax. If there’s too much riding on the meal, you won’t have any fun — and neither will your guests. So take what your yoga instructor calls a cleansing breath and then jot down the number of a 24/7 pizza place. Just in case.

Next, decide who you’re going to invite. Lizzie Post, cohost of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, urges first-time hosts to be realistic about the number of people they can comfortably entertain. “If this is your first Thanksgiving, and you live in a studio apartment, how many people can you really accommodate?” she says. “Plan and invite clearly — let them know if they can bring partners or guests up front.”

Before you send out invitations, decide if you’re going to make the feast yourself or if it’s going to be a crowd-sourced affair. Post says she highly recommends the latter, particularly for first-timers: You’ll keep the cost manageable, and everyone will have a hand in making the meal memorable.

Then, plan your menu. As you outsource dishes, offer to provide your guests with recipes, as needed — Real Simple has a good list of some Thanksgiving staples. Get a feel for any dietary restrictions in your guest list as you plan, Post says. You can ask your vegetarian — or gluten-intolerant, or dairy-free — friends to bring dishes that suit their diet, but you need to work that out ahead of time.

Manage the Cost

Last year, the average Thanksgiving dinner for 10 hovered around $50, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation (the group will announce the 2017 price in the coming days). That tab included turkey, stuffing, cranberries, peas, sweet potatoes, rolls, a relish tray, pumpkin pie, and coffee. If you have more than 10 people — or if you’re venturing beyond those staples, live in an expensive area, or are planning an all-organic menu — it can cost a lot more.

As host, you’ll take on a greater share of the expenses, even if you’re sharing cooking duties. It’s good form to provide the bird yourself, Post says. And unless you’ve explicitly asked people to bring a bottle to share (or it’s a sober event), expect to provide wine for your guests. Experts advise buying a range of wines at a low price point — don’t go higher than $25 — rather than splurging on an expensive bottle.

For hors d’oeuvres on a budget, party planner Michelle Bachman suggests taking a nut mixture, tossing it with spices and olive oil, and baking it until golden brown. Or for a sweet appetizer, grab some filo dough cups from the freezer section of your supermarket and fill them with a little brie and a dollop of raspberry jam.

One thing that will keep costs down automatically: Thanksgiving’s traditional starchy side dishes, like potatoes and rolls, tend to fill people up fast. That will let you scale back on the number of other courses you have to provide, Bachman says.

Another tip from Bachman: Ask your friends to see if anyone else is hosting at their house — maybe they’d be willing to share some ingredients. “One year, a friend and I went in together on things like cinnamon sticks, spice mixtures, and other expensive items we were only going to use once,” she says. “It’s an easy way to split the cost of groceries.”

Upgrade the Presentation

If this is your first big gathering, you probably don’t have a lot of dinner plates, serving platters, or wine glasses lying around. If you have limited shelf space, ask friends and neighbors to lend you some — or use eco friendly one-use items, like biodegradable paper plates.

If you opt for new dinnerware, Bachman suggests sticking with an all-white palette — which will never go out of style, and can be mixed and matched with pretty much any dishes you already own. Don’t splurge on gravy boats, butter dishes or other speciality table top items — just use what you’ve already got. (A square, white bowl for gravy? Très chic.)

The same goes for decor. Flowers are expensive, so Bachman suggests soaking the label off an old jar and throwing in a bouquet of herbs instead. (Rosemary makes for a pretty, fragrant option.) For a centerpiece, fill a bowl with pieces of fruit that nod to the meal (cranberries are an obvious choice), and add a few candles you have lying around.

When the big day comes, it’s bordering on bad form to solicit help, but don’t turn it down, either. From an etiquette standpoint, Post suggests letting casual acquaintances and plus-ones help with lighter tasks, like filling water glasses. Guests who are closer to you, like your older brother, can take care of bigger things — like washing dishes and taking out the trash at the end of the evening.

Still, be prepared to host: Show people where to put their coats, and refill beverages as needed.

And have some fun. It sounds corny, but Thanksgiving is a celebration of abundance — love, carbs and wine. You got this. (But maybe get a fire extinguisher just in case.)

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