Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season, but without careful planning it can also become a stressful and expensive time of year. Take some time to think ahead, get organized and celebrate Thanksgiving in style - without going broke.

Determine What's Important
Before you begin pulling out the cookbooks, take a step back and think about your priorities. Is it a priority to:

  • Spend time with immediate family?
  • Have friends or extended family over?
  • Create some new traditions?
  • Put on a lavish meal and try some new recipes?

Let your priorities determine your day, then decide how much you can afford to spend and create a budget to make the day financially feasible.

Create Your Budget
If you don't already work from a budget this could be a good time to start. Budgeting - even if just for a Thanksgiving dinner and festivities - provides you with a blueprint for planning and making choices. It can also simplify the process by providing you with boundaries for your decision-making. (For some basic budget tips, read Six Months To A Better Budget and The Beauty Of Budgeting.)

In planning for Thanksgiving, sketch out a basic budget for how much money you can afford to spend on the following categories:

  • Food - Include the main dish, appetizers, side dishes, dessert and beverages.
  • Entertainment/Activities - Do you want to play board games or go to the movies? Factor those costs in to your budget.
  • Decorations - Include both interior and exterior home décor items.

(For help on creating a budget read, Define Your Personal Debt Redline and Top 5 Budgeting Questions Answered.)

Smart Shopping to Save Money
There are simple strategies you can use to save money when shopping for your Thanksgiving festivities. Consider implementing a few of the following shopping tips:

  • Plan your menu - Without a plan for what you're going to serve for Thanksgiving dinner, you are likely to spend more money than you would with a set menu. Make a menu and stick to your list in the grocery store. You'll save both time and money!

  • Buy in bulk - Even if you're not already a member of a local warehouse club (like BJ's, Sam's Club or Costco) you can usually shop at the stores for a one-time fee, or take advantage of frequently offered one-day complimentary guest memberships. But avoid being tempted to overbuy, or you'll fail to cash in on the savings you were hoping for! (For more on this topic, read The Dark Side Of Bulk Buying.)

  • Become a coupon clipper - There's a reason millions of people use coupons - simply put, they're free money. After you've made up your menu, look through your local Sunday paper and clip coupons for any of the items on your list. You can also use online coupon sites like Coupons.com, MyCoupons.com or manufacturers' sites for coupons on your favorite items. Check to see if any of your local stores double or even triple coupons to save even more.

  • Go solo - Leave the kids at home. Grocery shopping with young kids is bound to take significantly more time and cost you more money as they pine for (or just pick up) additional items that aren't on your list.

  • Buy generic- There are some things where it doesn't necessarily make sense to buy brand name. If the only difference between the generic item and the brand-name one is the price, the choice is easy!

  • Be a price inspector-Before you start loading up your grocery cart, check the unit pricing on items (the cost per serving, unit or pound) to find the best deal. You might want to bring along a calculator to help you do this math.

  • Watch the circulars - Grocery stores often run special holiday promotions, such as free turkeys when you use a club card.

  • Buy the leaders - Loss leaders, that is. Loss leaders are items that stores put on sale at a deep discount and prominently display to entice buyers. They are usually positioned on the ends of aisles and can save you a significant amount of money if they are items on your list.

  • Shop early - This doesn't just mean shopping early in the morning (to avoid the crowds), but also shopping sales well before the holiday to buy items when they go on sale to store or freeze until you need them.

  • Cook once, eat twice - Comparison shop and buy larger portions, with a plan to use leftovers for quick meals during the weeks following Thanksgiving.

  • Save dollars by buying discount - Consider buying paper items and inexpensive serving items or decorations at discount stores; you can use the money you save to splurge on items that are more important, like a special dessert or nice bottle of wine to have with your meal. (For more ways to cut costs at the grocery store, read 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)

More Ways to Cut Costs and Stretch Dollars
In addition to having a strategy for smart shopping, try a few of the following tips to stretch your budget:

  • Trim the menu - In the excitement of the day it can be easy to plan for more than you'll need … or even want. Don't overload the table with food that'll just become leftovers (or be thrown out). Think quality instead of quantity.

  • Go vegetarian-Meat is typically one of the most expensive grocery items. If your family is up for a change, try cutting it out of your Thanksgiving menu.

  • Think homemade - Make your own desserts and side dishes instead of buying premade ones, as premade items will typically cost more. The same goes for decorations - get the kids in on the fun and create your own holiday decorations or borrow items from a friend.

  • Share the load - If you're hosting guests, there's no reason you have to do it all on your own. Split up some of the work and cut the cost from your total bill by asking guests to bring a side dish, dessert or beverage.

  • Go "dry" - Opt out of serving wine and alcoholic drinks, which can quickly run up the grocery tab.

  • Rent, don't buy - Do you think you'll really need that chafing dish more than once a year? Look into renting equipment and supplies for your Thanksgiving dinner instead of buying them. (For more everyday shopping tips, read 12 Ways To Shop Smarter.)

Conclusion
By doing a little pre-event planning, budgeting and smart shopping you can enjoy a fun, festive Thanksgiving without spending more than you expected.

For more on holiday savings, read Sneaky Strategies That Fuel Overspending and Keep Holiday Debt From Snowballing.

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