4 Ways You Can Save Money on Your Thanksgiving Meal, According to an Ex-Chef and Personal Finance Blogger

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People have been doing things differently all year, and the holidays will be no exception.

While you’re making plans, starting with Thanksgiving, we’re here to tell you it’s easier than you might think to save money on this unusual holiday season. 

We talked to Julien Saunders, half of the duo behind the personal finance blog rich & REGULAR and an ex-professional chef, who has some tips for getting the most out of your holiday meal: 

1. Don’t Bank on Leftovers

Be careful not to over-buy for your meal with the hope that you and your family will eat on Thanksgiving dishes for days to come. 

“We claim we love leftovers, but in reality I think most of us throw everything away after the second day,” Saunders says. “There’s this idea that you’re buying a lot of food, you know you’re buying way too much, but it’s fine because it’s feeding everyone for like the next three days.”

Try to buy only what you need so you don’t end up with uneaten food in the trash — or get creative with any leftovers you do have by cross-utilizing ingredients.

2. Cross-Utilize Ingredients

Cross-utilization of ingredients is key with a big meal like Thanksgiving, Saunders says. 

“Cross utilization is really about ‘how do we use a particular ingredient for multiple applications?’” Saunders says, “So take the turkey, for example. If you have a 15-pound turkey, by maybe the second or third meal you’re probably a little bored, and your palate is definitely adjusting to the same flavor profile, so you really have to switch it up.”

Saunders recommends easy and different recipes for making your ingredients stretch beyond the fourth Thursday in November. Try shredded turkey quesadillas, turkey fried rice, or a chopped salad with your leftovers. Exploring different food genres can help you go past the classic turkey-and-gravy approach you might tire of soon after the holiday.

One way to use a lot of your ingredients is to make soup or chowder. “Soups are a great way to hide and cram a bunch of ingredients,” Saunders says. 

Pro Tip

Think ahead to meals beyond Thanksgiving, and how you can reuse ingredients in clever ways.

Saunders says a good cross-utilization strategy will save you money in the long run.

“Before you know it you’ve gone a week, and you actually have eaten the same turkey. But you’re not as tempted by the second or third day to just go out because you’re tired of eating leftovers. Because it doesn’t feel like leftovers, you do actually end up using every single ingredient that you normally had with traditional Thanksgiving.”

3. Skip the Wine, Not the Fun

A cocktail can go further than individual bottles of wine or other beverages.

“When you’re thinking about adult or alcoholic beverages, the instinct is to just pick up wine and beer,” Saunders says. “But a punch is a great way to get a really great bang for your buck.”

While this tip might go even further in future years when bigger gatherings re-enter the picture, there are many fun cocktail recipes that can be different and more cost-efficient than the usual beer and wine approach.

“It’s a little more interesting and fun, but a lot more cost effective, and definitely better than getting a lot of individual bottles of wine that you think whoever’s coming over might like. It’s simple, it’s affordable” says Saunders.

4. Turkey Isn’t Mandatory

If turkey isn’t your cup of tea, there’s no rule saying you can’t have another type of meat that may also be more cost-effective, like chicken or pork. 

And there’s “also nothing wrong with going completely vegetarian. Nine times out of 10 someone messes up the turkey anyway,” Saunders says. 

And if the pandemic is preventing you from meeting with your normal Thanksgiving group, Saunders says it might be a good excuse to test-drive a vegetarian Thanksgiving if you’re interested. 

But if turkey is your tradition, Saunders recommends checking out wholesalers like Costco or Sam’s Club for the best prices. Another option you might overlook is buying just a turkey breast, or even a half turkey. If you can’t get that at a major grocery store, try a local butcher’s market.

Bottom Line

However you celebrate, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to break the bank. Check out NextAdvisor’s guide for how to save money on groceries, and remember it’s completely OK to cut back on spending this holiday season