How to Have a Thrifty Thanksgiving Dinner

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By the author of The Ultimate Guide to Frugal Living and What to Eat When You’re Broke

It’s rough out there for a lot of us. Money is tight. Inflation is high. Just covering the regular grocery bill can be tough some weeks. The concept of a thrifty Thanksgiving in these circumstances sounds about as likely as a purple unicorn wandering through your backyard.

But Frugalites know that it doesn’t have to be like that.

We know that the holidays are wonderful, but they sure can be expensive. We don’t want to spend a month’s grocery budget on just one meal. Other families are having a tough time financially, because of a job loss, a foreclosure, or exorbitant looming bills they can’t pay. When that’s the case, the holidays can be a time for stress instead of enjoyment.

This is an excerpt from my book, The Ultimate Guide to Frugal Living

Check out these tips for a thrifty Thanksgiving.

Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to sell a kidney on the black market to put together a memorable, delicious, and thrifty Thanksgiving dinner. You can make a lot of it right from your pantry, and other items from reasonably priced groceries at the store.

If you’ve been building a stockpile, then the food in your pantry contains all sorts of basics for scratch cooking, purchased at the lowest prices available. Because of this, you can focus on purchasing only a few special items, like a turkey or a must-have goodie that is a tradition in your family, while you enjoy delicious yet thrifty treats for the rest of your Thanksgiving dinner.

Break out the vintage cookbooks when looking for creative ways to use your pantry stockpile. My favorite cookbook is my old Fanny Farmer cookbook, which was written in 1896 and updated in the early 1900s.

With these types of recipes, you won’t be scurrying around looking for some of those crazy Martha Stewart-esque gourmet ingredients like the breath of a yellow garden snail, captured during the 2nd full moon of the month.

Make the presentation lovely, with fancy toothpicks in the appetizers, colorful napkins, and your nicest china. If served with the proper flair – think candles, cloth napkins, and a beautiful presentation – any dinner seems just a little more festive

Following are some ideas for a festive meal that will make your guests feel well-fed and pampered, without emptying your pockets.

You’ll discover that many of the ingredients already reside in your pantry or are standard groceries that you’ll have on hand, like eggs and cheese.

Thrifty Thanksgiving Appetizers and Party Snacks

  • Crackers (Usually on sale during the holidays)
  • Warm up a fruity jam and add some hot pepper flakes. Serve this over cream cheese for a deceptively elegant appetizer
  • Homemade yogurt mixed with herbs to make a dip for veggies
  • Breadsticks with marinara sauce
  • Chex mix made with melted white chocolate
  • Deviled eggs
  • Garlic-roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Make hummus from canned chickpeas
  • Soup
  • Slice a baguette and toast the slices. Serve with dishes of high-quality olive oil for dipping.

Festive Platters

Platters of cheeses and meats are pretty expensive choices. Simply removing things from jars and arranging them on a platter will make them look far more elegant than their humble origins.

  • Place a variety of pickles on a dish for a relish tray.
  • Olives and marinated vegetables create a lovely yet inexpensive antipasto
  • Don’t buy the readymade veggie tray from the grocery store. Instead, peel and slice your carrots and cut up other veggies that you can find at a reasonable price.
  • Instead of a fruit tray with out-of-season luxuries, go with fruits that are well-priced at this time of year, like mandarin oranges, pears, apples, and grapes.

Thrifty Thanksgiving dinner ideas

Don’t feel obligated to invest in out-of-season delicacies like fresh berries and asparagus in November. Splurge on a turkey and let the side dishes take a backseat.

And if you can’t afford the fanciest of dinners this year, don’t despair. Roast a chicken instead of a turkey or a ham, or make some homemade stuffing baked with drumsticks. Things like stuffing (or dressing, depending on what part of the country you hail from) were originally created as a way to use up something that would ordinarily be thrown out – stale bread.

Channel your Depression-era ancestors and make your goodies the frugal, old-fashioned way.

  • Homemade rolls or biscuits
  • Pasta or potato salad
  • Whip butter with a touch of honey- it makes the butter go further but looks fancy
  • Canned or frozen veggies will seem more festive when topped with breadcrumbs, bacon, and/or cheese
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Scalloped potatoes
  • Dumplings (maybe this is a Southern thing, but we always had dumplings with turkey dinner when I was a kid)
  • Stuffing – save up your bread scraps or make a batch of homemade cornbread for the base. Skip the fancy add-ins like water chestnuts and oysters and go back to the basics
  • Mashed sweet potatoes or winter squash with a sprinkle of brown sugar
  • Homemade cranberry sauce (far tastier and about the same price as canned)


Don’t go all out on a bakery-made dessert. Make it from scratch from basic ingredients. Consider these humble ideas.

  • Decorate a cake (or cupcakes) with fall-colored sprinkles
  • Pies can be more expensive if you make the crust with pounds and pounds of butter. Try a single crust pie or make it with shortening.
  • Banana bread or pumpkin bread
  • Homemade cookies
  • A fruit crisp
  • Pudding with whipped cream
  • Brownies
  • Ice cream (put it in cones or add some toppings to jazz things up)

The most important ingredient.

Remember, Thanksgiving is a tradition based on gratitude for a good harvest. We have so many things to be thankful for in this country, even when times are tough.

The most important element of your Thanksgiving dinner isn’t on the table – it’s the ones sitting at your table.

What are your thrifty Thanksgiving tips? Share them in the comments!

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.

Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

How to Have a Thrifty Thanksgiving Dinner
Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

19 thoughts on “How to Have a Thrifty Thanksgiving Dinner”

  1. You can also go cheap and beautiful on decorations – small pumpkins and squashes on the table, any pretty fall leaves the kids find (great excuse for a walk outside), interesting twigs and branches for wreaths or other decorations. Let’s not forget ye olde hand-shape turkey drawings! Dollar store table runners/table cloths.

  2. Another inexpensive option: My mom, God bless her, always used to do cultural Thanksgivings, which — in many cases — feature foods much cheaper than the standard US spread. She’d prepare traditional foods from Russia, or Mexico, or India, etc. She generally stayed with one theme per year, so there were only foods from that specific country. Not only did it give us some exposure to foods we wouldn’t normally try, but it was really memorable.

  3. Mom disliked making stuffing, or stuffing the bird, so my Dad did the deeds. As an Elder in our Church he was always on the Communion preparation committee so he was accomplished at cutting white bread slices into precision cubes. Flawless. Without even a smidgeon of crust. My mom made the best ever cranberry sauce from bags of whole berries from the Produce section of the supermarket. My parents passed 34 and 2 years ago, i miss them, the traditions they taught us, and their wise council in all matters of Life.

  4. Thanksgiving is much cheaper if you make it yourself. I never understood why people will pay much more for some company to make things like mashed potatoes at a substantial mark up when it’s just such an easy thing to make yourself. Same with buns, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pie. The dinner need not be fancy, it just needs to be filling and pleasant. The people you share Thanksgiving with are the wonderful part.

    As Daisy mentioned, items can be purchased over time and reserved for your holiday celebrations. Items such as pie filling, cranberries (freeze beautifully – just toss in the whole bag), sausage for the stuffing (freeze also), green beans and cream of mushroom, etc. I almost always have these things in my pantry and freezer anyway. Turkey is so cheap at this time of year that I always get 2-3 extra for the coming year. Same with ham at Christmas time.

    Most of our family celebrations involve everyone bringing a dish to pass. Making a couple of pans of homemade buns and a couple of pumpkin pies will cost me about $10 and my family loves them. (Pumpkin for 2 pies is around $3 a can and evaporated milk $1.25 each right now – 2 are needed.) Can’t bake? Anyone can mix up a green bean casserole or make scalloped corn. We always split the leftovers as well. I’ve never been at a Thanksgiving where it wasn’t a potluck, and now that I think of it, I’ve never been at a Thanksgiving get together that wasn’t one of the best days of the year.

  5. Some grocery stores (Weis here in the mid-Atlantic, there are probably others) will GIVE you a turkey if you collect enough points on your store loyalty card. Check with the store’s customer service desk and be prepared for next year.

  6. I’m going to be a total outsider here and confess: my holiday traditions usually involve a fine dining experience. Since it’s just me, there’s no reason to cook. Sure the meal is going to cost me, but I’m supporting local jobs, and it’s 3x per year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday. A $50 steak cooked by a professional is in fact quite stellar, and I’m very grateful that I can afford one for special occasions. Gratitude is the most important ingredient!

  7. DH prefers ham, I prefer turkey. When the kids were here, I did both. As they slowly moved on, I downsized to a turkey breast and a quarter ham. Now just us two. I am thinking just cornish hen and a hamsteak. Sides will stay just in smaller portions. Also saw an interesting recipe on Rachel Ray for turkey and cornbread meatballs. Maybe I’ll try that for Christmas!

  8. If one is celebrating in the spirit of the holiday, one is thankful for the food on the table. There is a lot to be said about knowing from where your next meals comes.

  9. Of note: If you have the Ibotta app you already know about the Wal-Mart Thanksgiving dinner giveaway. $25 worth of food including $15.00 off a turkey (my wife picked up a 16.75 pounder, marked at 89 cents a pound FOR FREE). Other things include a package of corn bread, frozen veggies, a gravy pack, instant mashed potatoes (and a few other things I forgot).

    I’m not an Ibotta promoter. In fact, since we’re going out of town for Thanksgiving, we gave away the turkey to a family in need (through our church).

  10. This will be my first thanksgiving alone in my 74 years. The lady who brings my Meals on Wheels lunch said she had put my name in a drawing. She put my address on the card. So a stranger will bring me a plate of food. I’ll be thankful. But I’ll miss the leftovers.

    I bought a 20lb turkey for a newly divorced Mom with 5 kids. I’m giving her a big table, a long dresser, 4 new towels I’d bought before my husband died in September, and a set of knives. Next month I’ll take them 4 big containers of Christmas decorations. I’ll use a small artificial tree we were given 2 yearsago. The kids will enjoy what I no longer need. And it makes me happy giving to others.

    1. While you may be alone on T-Day, you’re really not alone. You’ll be in the thoughts of the family to whom you graciously gifted food and hard goods. Your kindness will resonate with that family – likely one or more family member will never forget. And likely pay it forward long after you and I are both gone. Sorry to hear about your husband, the grief will less over time but the memories will not.

    2. God bless you. What a wonderful spirit you are showing.
      I will be alone also, only because I had Covid and am still in isolation. But friends will bring me a plate and, really, I could just eat pumpkin pie all day and be perfectly happy!
      Love your idea of sharing Christmas things you no longer need. I’m going to look around and give over half of my treasures away. The older we get, the less energy we have to decorate seasonally anyway.

  11. Good tips.

    I was able to get Turkeys for $0.49/lb. at 2 different stores. Winn Dixie and Publix. Ok… I bought 5 of them, plus one I had in the freezer since last Thanksgiving. Hey, when meat….any meat is $0.49/lb, you buy it and buy lots of it. And these weren’t mystery meat turkeys. They were Honeysuckle Turkeys (12lbs to 18lbs).

    Sweet Potatoes from the garden, Green Beans from the garden. All herbs used from the garden. Cranberries…from the store (Cranberries don’t do Florida weather). Mac & Cheese from scratch, home made biscuits.

    Daisy, y’all have a Happy & Blessed Thanksgiving

    1. Debs in Central Texas

      At 49¢ a pound, those Turkeys are cheaper than dry dog by the pound! I thought I did well getting Turkey for 99¢ per pound. And yes, we are eating last year’s frozen turkey. This one will keep.
      We’ll also have a blackberry cobbler from blackberries in our garden, which we traded elderberry trees for blackberry starts. Of course, the usual pumpkin pie, plus side dishes. One of my daughters and her family will be here. If it were just the two of us, I’d cook a turkey breast instead, and cut back to one dessert. Here turkey breast is still cheaper than hamburger meat.

  12. Fast forward to now – this year the only thing I really had to pay much for was the turkey breast, which really was a lot because I chose a free range responsibly raised organic turkey from a known and trusted farm. That was pure extravagance but a chosen one that I can afford.

    However all the sides were pretty reasonable! Some stuff from the pantry, a few $1.50 cans of pumpkin from Misfits Market, sugar on sale, a loaf of sourdough from previously bought ingredients. Herbs from the garden! We have decided we no longer like boxed stuffing mix so have switched to buying big bags of bread cubes from the store bakery and flavoring those ourselves. I wouldn’t be able to buy that many loaves of bread for $1.50 and the flour to bake that much would be about the same, so ultimately that’s a labor savings.

    All our herbs are now custom mixes and I’m so passionately looking forward to freshly making my own pumpkin spice when I bake the pie, since freshly grated nutmeg really is the best. Cheaper, too, and the shelf life is excellent.

    It’s nice to see some of these principles in application, giving me different things to be thankful for!

  13. Long ago just before every Thanksgiving my father would take his shotgun and go hunting. A few hours later he would return with a pheasant newly introduced to buckshot. After my mother cooked that bird for the family dinner us kids learned quickly to eat slowly (to avoid breaking a tooth) because of some remaining buckshot in that meat. I still have the huge painting of a family of pheasants that my mother created (at my request) that today hangs over my fireplace. The cost of that annual Thanksgiving dinner was very minor and temporary. In comparison the lifelong memories today remain priceless.


  14. It’s just me and my mom, so we decided to just have a regular meal on Thanksgiving. Since Mom doesn’t like turkey, I’m making a favorite of hers, canned crab baked with buttered bread crumbs and garlic, mashed potatoes and green beans. Jello for dessert. Easy to fix, we each have two meals so we don’t get sick of it, and I got everything at the beginning of the month, so no last minute runs to the store. Also, all shelf stable (except the butter), so prepper friendly! 😉
    It isn’t about what’s on the table so much as what’s in your mind and heart.

    1. It’s just me and one daughter this year so we’re doing the same – we decided on steak (from the freezer) with butter and mushrooms, asparagus, risotto, and Caesar salad.The only thing I’m splurging on is a fancy ice cream bar for each of us. We’re both looking forward to it!

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