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Thanksgiving will soon be here. Once Halloween is over, Thanksgiving seems to sneak up on us, as we are often busy with school projects and the changing seasons. Here in Idaho, we tend to get our first snow around Thanksgiving, so the weeks before are spent doing all those fun “autumn” activities, like visiting the corn maze, raking leaves, preparing our home for winter and the like. Next thing we know, Thanksgiving is here, and it can take us, and our wallets by surprise. Whether you have a huge feast for dozens of people, or just a quiet family meal, it’s never too early to start planning your Thanksgiving celebration. Here are a few tips to help you get started and not blow the bank.
Thanksgiving can be a real budget-buster if you’re not careful. Plan your menu early so you can keep an eye out for the best sales and coupons. If you stock up on pantry items like stuffing and broth a few weeks early when they’re on sale, you won’t wind up with a monster grocery bill the week of the holiday.
My local grocery store has a points program that rewards customers with a discount on their holiday turkey. Unfortunately, this store has much higher prices than other stores I shop. So, I check their weekly sale ad and stock up on things I can freeze, like bread or meat that’s at a good price. Because it’s less than a mile from my home, it’s also my go-to spot when I realize an hour before dinner that I’m out of an ingredient. I not only save money by not purchasing the majority of my groceries there, but it allows my points to build up. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, I can usually buy my turkey for just a few dollars.
Save more money by only planning the dishes your family will eat. Why make stuffing and mashed potatoes and rolls, and triple your work and expenses, if your family will only eat one or the other? Think carefully about what they really eat and use that as your guideline. Great Aunt Myrtle’s mincemeat pie might be a family tradition, but if no one eats it, it’s a waste of your time, money and effort. Of course you want to stay connected to Great Aunt Myrtle, so be sure to take the opportunity to reflect on her and her contributions to your family during the meal. But if you can keep that menu simple, the holiday will be a breeze.
Don’t overlook the bulk bins. This is a great way to stock up on common holiday ingredients like sugar, flour, dried fruit, rice, and nuts. (Have you ever considered serving a rice pilaf with your Thanksgiving turkey, instead of stuffing or potatoes? You can make it very inexpensively this way.) These are ingredients that will have a relatively long shelf life when stored properly, and you’ll save big. Before you hit the main aisles of your grocery store, take a trip back to the bulk bins and compare prices. Chances are you’ll be surprised. And besides, all that Christmas baking is right around the corner, so don’t fret that you might not use it all.
Rely on in-season ingredients for the majority of your dishes and you’ll save money. Squash and apples are in abundance right now, so they’re at low prices. Remember last year when canned pumpkin was scarce? Even when you could find it, the price was so high it was nearly prohibitive. When that’s the case, smart cooks let go of their traditional pumpkin pie plans and make apple pies. You can also try roasted squash as a side dish or a delicious butternut squash soup as a first course. Winter squash can last for months, so stock up.
And speaking of squash, who says you have to spend tons of money on a pricey floral centerpiece? A large wooden bowl filled with a variety of squash makes a lovely statement on your Thanksgiving table. All the colors are perfect for autumn, and you don’t have to throw them out when the holiday’s over. In fact, you can enjoy them all winter long as part of your meals. That’s a really smart buy.