It's the time when family and friends come together, ahead of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. It's Thanksgiving.
But Thanksgiving is also one of the most costly holidays when it comes to entertaining guests, because it usually involves feeding and providing libations to a considerable group.
The average cost for a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 was $64.05 last year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. But that cost does not include alcohol, decorations or appetizers, and is based on a "normal" serving size, which at Thanksgiving is usually tossed out the window. So, it is probably safe to say that number does not sum it all up.
As a result, to avoid letting your Thanksgiving get out of hand, it's important to set a budget. And to do so before you pick up your first set of turkey-themed napkins. Once you start shopping, it's very easy to get caught up in tossing extras into your cart.
Be a smart shopper
Go shopping armed with coupons and closely watch for sales. The makings for classic Thanksgiving recipes are heavily promoted and discounted this time of year, starting as early as November 1.
Manufacturers often offer coupons for these same items, so be sure to search coupon websites for printable and digital coupons for your favorite brands before you shop. Pair them with a good sale and you've got a quick and easy way to save extra money.
The best approach is to stay traditional, because these are often the most heavily promoted items. It's a win-win situation because who can say no to staples like the turkey itself, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry salad, crescent rolls, and of course, pumpkin pie? These are simple, no-fail staples that your guests are sure to love.
And by all means, make that pumpkin pie yourself, mash fresh potatoes, and use that handed-down-for-generations stuffing recipe instead of going with store bought.
Don't forget about supermarkets' turkey promotions. If you pay full price, the turkey will likely eat up about 40% of your budget, according to DealSeekingMom.com. So the free turkey promotions that many grocery stores offer can really go a long way.
If a store in your area is offering a deal where you spend a certain amount of money to get a free bird, you should definitely consider doing all of your grocery and Thanksgiving meal shopping there to meet the minimum requirement. Use a rewards credit card when you shop so you can earn cash back or rewards on everything you buy for the special day.
Another alternative for saving is to buy just a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey. This option works particularly well for small gatherings and/or guests that prefer white meat only.
Get your guests involved. Ask them to bring a side dish of their choosing—something that is a reminiscent of their family's Thanksgiving. Also, ask them to bring the kind of alcohol they prefer. This does not rule out having a punch bowl or some bottles of wine on hand, but it will mean you have to provide less.
When it comes decorating, go simple and inexpensive.
Dollar stores are treasure troves of seasonal decorations this time of year, as are craft stores. Discounted table runners, centerpieces, and garlands abound, and when packed carefully away after your gathering, they can be reused for many years. Also check out your local thrift shops for gently used items.
Another great way to add ambience (when there aren't a lot of little ones running around) is a variety of simple white candles in all shapes and sizes. Also, use what nature offers, like dried grasses, herbs, and decorative gourds.
Before the big day, take inventory of what you have (plates, flatware, pots and pans, and glassware) and then make a wish list.
Don't be shy: Ask friends and coworkers if they would mind sparing a few glasses or a roasting pan. One good path is to hit up friends and family who are heading out of town. You know they won't be using their plates and fancy silver pieces during the holiday.
Most importantly, amid all the hubbub, keep in mind that the most important aspect of Thanksgiving isn't what you are serving, but who you are serving, so surround yourself with the people you care most about.