Have a Happier Thanksgiving by Dodging These Spending Pitfalls

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Even with the most careful planning, a Thanksgiving budget can fall victim to bad weather, cranky relatives, and recipes that stray a bit too far toward the avant garde. Given that this is the last weekend to prepare and shop before your holiday celebration, let's run through some of the more common budgetary traps, and how to dodge them:

The "Traditional" Dinner

Turkey. Potatoes. Pie. Some things just seem to belong on a Thanksgiving table. According to a survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average cost to prepare the traditional Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people has fallen about 1 percent to $49.04 this year. At just $4.90 per person, that's quite a bargain. But some families go overboard on "tradition" and try to include everything that's ever appeared on a Thanksgiving table. That can get costly.

"Thanksgiving dinners are notorious for being too elaborate and wasting food," says Coryanne Ettiene, a cooking show host and mother of three. "Create a menu that allows each guest to have two to four sides rather than the common six sides," she says. "Where possible, make your menu from scratch, using similar ingredients to carry the cost across the whole meal. If you have only one recipe that calls for saffron and can't use it in any other dish, maybe you skip the saffron this year."

Nan Langen Steketee of Philadelphia cooks a large Thanksgiving dinner each year for more than 20 friends and family. Together, they keep the emphasis on the traditions themselves, rather than which plate they're served on. "We make our own applesauce from a family recipe," she says. "The apples are in-season and not terribly expensive, and it just tastes better." Steketee saves bread scraps in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving to make stuffing, and uses the giblets from inside the turkey for flavor. Her guests all help with the preparations, and then enjoy the meal together.

A Plus-One for the Plus-One?

A seating arrangement at a large family Thanksgiving dinner can be as complicated as a small wedding's, and the inclusion of last-minute plus-ones can throw off even the most carefully orchestrated meal. But according to the guide for Thanksgiving etiquette by Emily Post, simply saying "no" to those guests isn't very polite. Since getting a firm head count can be difficult with the more spontaneous family members, have a plan in place or some extra sides available to account for drop-ins.

A Terminal Wait

Not hosting the dinner? More than 40 percent of Americans are planning to travel this Thanksgiving, according to a survey by TripAdvisor. Inclement weather can cause travel delays and all their hidden expenses: airport restaurants, rebooking fees, hotels, and other transportation if it's available.

So before heading to the airport, you should have a plan B, and a cutoff in mind for how long you'll be willing to wait until you use it.

The Unrequested Wake-up Call

Saving on hotel costs by staying with loved ones may seem like a good idea until it's 3 a.m. and the dogs are barking, or the springs of the fold-out are popping through the mattress or a cousin's baby is wailing away. Because so many people do opt for the fold-out couch or guest room, hotel deals actually abound during Thanksgiving weekend. But trying to find one in the middle of the night while sneaking out the back door might be a challenge. Before you arrive, be realistic about accommodations. Now would be a very good time to hunt down a hotel near your holiday gathering and book a room.

Overemphasizing the Liquid

Liquid refreshments are part of any Thanksgiving dinner, but they don't all need to be top-shelf brands -- or even, for that matter, alcoholic. "The second biggest expense this time of year is the booze," says Ettiene. She suggests that hosts create a specialty cocktail for their Thanksgiving guests, and keep other selections to a minimum.

If you're heading out to a restaurant, alcohol costs can drive up a tab far faster than a second slice of apple pie. By keeping liquid costs in check (and splurging for a cab when necessary) your Thanksgiving budget doesn't have to hit the skids.

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lets all make thanksgiving happier, Buy American for the holidays. And thank a democrat if you are on social security and medicare. Want to end these programs??? Vote republican......They will make everyone be at minimum wage with no benefits.

November 25 2013 at 7:05 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Ah, yes. The "traditional" American holiday season is upon us. Nothing says "I love you" like a budget-busting-pull-out-all-the-stops Thanksgiving dinner eaten with some relatives you really can't stand being around during the rest of the year. LOL

Instead of just one person/family spending mega-bucks on an elaborate over-the-top holiday dinner for the whole family........why not let one person volunteer to cook the turkey (with everyone else chipping in a few bucks to help with this purchase) and the other guests each bringing either a side dish or a dessert to round out the meal. This progressive dinner can be a lot of fun, and no one's budget gets hammered.

Just beware of conversations that begin with the words: "But we ALWAYS do ______.".

People need to learn to understand that "family holiday traditions" can't be set in stone.........if only for the fact that people (and their life situations) change as they get older.

November 24 2013 at 5:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

$49????? ok, for my traditional Thanksgiving dinner for 10 consisting of a 20lb turkey, my grandmothers sausage/applesauce stuffing, home made cranberry sauce, corn, candied yams with pineapple, mashed potatoes, gravy, greenbean casserole, rolls I just spent $100. That doesn't include dessert or wine...

November 24 2013 at 10:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My supermarket has an annual special. Spend $350 in a certain amount of time and the customer qualifies for either a free turkey up to 21 pounds or a cooked ham. For two weeks now, they have had frozen pies on sale for $1.99 each. So I save a lot there. Most of my guests bring something cooked also. My sister for example, brings over her world famous lasagna. Mom and Dad bring a spiral cut ham. Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be a budget buster.

November 24 2013 at 6:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to itsmegp46's comment

I agree......but,,that is why we eat out mostly...
Cheaper for us to eat out than buy at local stores.....

November 24 2013 at 10:16 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Ewwwwwwwwwwww who serves lasagna for Thanksgiving Dinner? UGH. Makes me think of Chevy Chase on CHRISTMAS VACATION and Aunt brings nasty jello mold with animal poop in it and Cousin Eddie at it. Ewwwwwwwwww Thanksgiving is special traditional meal is served. People save up to buy the foods to cook and or bake.

November 24 2013 at 1:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Linda's comment

We are Italian and our families have ALWAYS had lasagna with our Thanksgiving meal from the time I can remember. My mom will still at 85 be bringing this to my house this year. My kids would be so dissappointed if this was missing. Wonderful memories.......

November 24 2013 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

The best suggestion is to book a hotel room. I learned a long time ago that spending any time overnight in a relative's home is never worth the money saved by not going to a hotel. The worst experience I ever had was sleeping on a pull out coach where my sister-in-law covered the mattress in plastic under the sheets. Besides "crinkling" all night long, I sweated worse than a pig. And she was insulted when I complained saying I hadn't peed the bed in decades. Why the plastic?

November 24 2013 at 2:22 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to georgettec28's comment


November 24 2013 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

ROFL ROFL this was so funny Georgette

November 24 2013 at 1:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Isn't cooking too many dishes and stuffing ourselves part of the Thanksgiving tradition. What would Thanksgiving be without leftovers for the week to come.

November 23 2013 at 10:30 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to scavengerf's comment


November 24 2013 at 10:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

The poor Indians got the shaft.......The white man again at work.....
Most are now on Reservations,,,,,but,,get a good check monthly from the government.. What people do not know,,,they do not own the land,,,,,,it is still controlled by the government of corruption .
Over 75% of the Indians abuse drinking.....drugs.....
Now,,less up date to our inter cities,,,,,,WELFARE,,,,,is killing our kids of all colors.. Drugs,,,,drinking,,,and ect,,,,,is destroying the inter cities because more Welfare.....
Government is kepping blacks and whites on inter cities reservations ,,same as Indians...

November 23 2013 at 9:37 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to pdbliz's comment

Thank a liberal.

November 23 2013 at 7:20 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

They do their share of fleecing the "white man" with their casinos, too.

November 24 2013 at 4:39 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply