thanksgiving table

Thanksgiving on a Budget: Tips for Both Hosts & Guests



Thanksgiving is supposed to be about celebrating your bounty, not spending it. Still, it can be tough to get through the holiday meal and festivities without gobbling up your bank account.

If you’re already working on a budget for the winter holidays—between Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and New Year’s—why not back things up a bit and include Thanksgiving in your plan? That way you won’t be in the red before you even get to Black Friday.

Whether you’re the host or a guest, being creative and proactive can be key. Here are some tips on how to save money. (No thanks necessary.)

If You’re the Host:

1. Set Your Budget

Determining how much you can afford to spend will help you make all the other decisions for the day, from the number of guests and the menu, to the table settings and other decorations.

Try to avoid the temptation to use your credit cards to cover these costs. If you plan to use them to order holiday gifts online, you don’t want to blow up those account balances to the point that they’re unmanageable in the new year.

2. Make Your Guest List

If your group is huge and your budget is small, invite only your A-list: the family and friends you really want to spend the day with. That’s it. If you’re worried about hurt feelings and drama because of FOMO, keep the invite off Facebook and the photos off Instagram.

3. Plan Your Menu

If you’re a clever, cost-conscious cook, you may be able to do dinner on the cheap . An estimate from the American Farm Bureau Federation ® of the cost of a basic turkey dinner for 10 has been about $50 for several years now. Otherwise, consider hosting a potluck—it can save you big. But you may still want to take some precautions to keep your spending (and time spent over the stove) in check.

Never say “whatever” when someone asks what to bring. Assign sides, desserts, snacks, and beverages (beer, cocktails, and non-alcoholic drinks), and check back to see what you’re actually getting. Keep vegetarian guests in mind and those who’ve gone gluten-free. And make sure everyone understands you can get only so many dishes in the oven at one time, so they should plan to reheat but not prepare their offerings at your home.

4. Set the Table in Your Mind First

Unless you want to go with paper plates, napkins, and placemats—which you can buy in bulk (generally) for less at Costco ®, Sam’s Club , or a big box store—think about borrowing what you need to make your table work: extra chairs, plates, serving pieces, etc.

Don’t fret about using random place settings; matchy-matchy is so passé, and you can always use your decorations to tie things together with a color scheme or harvest theme.

5. Oh Yes, You’ll Need Decorations

But don’t freak: You can reuse a lot of the stuff you already have from Halloween, or get pumpkins and other harvest decor on clearance. Add colorful leaves and gourds (real or fake) to complete the fall feel. Check out Pinterest for some Thanksgiving savings tips or ask your crafty sister to help out (and share the cost with her).

6. Keep It Fun

Entertaining your guests before and after the meal doesn’t have to cost a cent, but you should be prepared. Do they like board games, card games, and puzzles? Singalongs by the fire? Football and more football? Set up spaces for different activities. And include an area with a computer or tablet for those who love to get early Black Friday deals online .

Add any print circulars you receive, and pens and paper for other savvy shoppers who might want to do some strategizing. If politics is a dangerous topic for your family and friends, especially right after the midterm elections, declare your home a “current events-free zone.”

7. Set the Sartorial Tone

Before you decide you want everyone to dress up for the holiday, think about the more formal spin that puts on everything. You don’t have to answer the door in sweatpants to serve dinner on paper plates and homemade placemats. But if you insist on ties and jackets, you’ll probably feel obligated to take the food, beverages, and décor up a notch.

If You’re a Guest:

1. Get Where You’re Going on the Cheap

 •  If your Thanksgiving travel requires flying, start checking airfares ASAP, and if you find a good price, pounce. If you’re willing to wait until the last minute, you might score a bargain—though you’re running the risk of getting stuck with an expensive ticket. Settling for a Thanksgiving Day flight could also save you money. But many booking sites advise locking in at least two weeks in advance to be sure you get the flight you want.

 •  If you can’t travel without bringing along half your wardrobe, consider what you can save by flying with Southwest Airlines, which as of this writing doesn’t charge a fee for the first two checked bags. (Watch out for each suitcase’s weight, though, because there’s an extra charge for anything over 50 pounds—and those boots can get heavy, y’all.)

 •  If you’ll need a rental car when you get there, many travel booking sites and some airlines offer discounts if you pair the rental with your flight and/or hotel. If your needs are limited, you can always depend on the kindness of friends and family, or download a ride-sharing app.

 •  If you’re driving, cut costs by using your smartphone to find the pumps with the lowest gas prices along the way. (Prices often spike during holiday weeks.) And download or update your mapping app to find the best route. Traveling light can save you money on the road, too; excess baggage can add to your fuel costs.

 •  If you aren’t sure whether to drive or fly, and you don’t have time to do the cost comparisons yourself, you can go online to get some idea of which trip would be less expensive.

 •  If you need a room, ask. A close family member or friend will likely be happy to offer you a place to stay for a few nights. Or include a hotel room in your travel package when you book.

2. Bring Something

If you’re traveling a long way and can’t bring a dish for a potluck dinner, you can always send a food basket from a site like Harry & David , which offers good deals with a high-end feel, or email a gift card to your host’s favorite market.

If you’re crashing at someone’s home, you’ll probably want a gift for that, too, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Soaps, a potted orchid, or a good book—anything that says thank you will do. Or just be helpful during your stay—fix a lamp, clean the gutters, do the dishes, or all of the above.

3. Be Kind

It will make your day (and overall stay) more pleasant, and your host will remember that you were the guest who didn’t require any effort. And being nice is free.

Most people don’t think of belt-tightening when they think of Thanksgiving. But instead of impressing your friends and family with how much you spent hosting or getting to the feast this year, why not show them how you managed to make it a special holiday without dropping a fortune?

Instead of racking up credit card debt, you could be taking advantage of the higher interest rate in your SoFi Money account. A SoFi Money account is a hybrid—with the kind of interest you typically see from a higher interest savings account, but with the flexibility and accessibility of a checking account.

So the cash is right there if and when you need it—whether it’s to pay a bill or take advantage of a bargain on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or any day.

Consider a SoFi Money account to grow your savings to and through the holidays.

Learn More


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