Thanksgiving Entertaining Ideas that Cost Less

Interestingly, I married a man who could cook. Looking back I’m not sure if that was a conscious action or not. Let’s just say that I was very happy to be the wife of a popular restaurateur.

My mother’s greatest pleasure was collecting cookbooks and my dad’s was to “go out” to dinner (as in, going to a restaurant). I grew up in a house where mom would read cookbooks like novels and the local Chinese restaurant had everything on the table waiting for us when we sat down.  A simple reservation and there were a bevy of restaurants who had drinks waiting and our favorite appetizers awaiting us. In retrospect, I wish that I had spent more time with my grandmother, who was a wonderful cook, because I entered marriage with the ability of making a cup of tea and a turkey sandwich. The major shock came when we sold “our” restaurants just after our son was born, and I was expected to be a first time parent AND COOK!

My mother-in-law on the other hand was brilliant in the kitchen. From freshly baked bread to masterpieces for dinner, the Cuisinart would whirl as she created soup to desserts. My husband obviously got his genes from her, and I was passed my mom’s as well. Thankfully, I like challenges and while the domestic art doesn’t come naturally to me, I have learned that if I follow directions that my family would always be fed and hopefully not complain TOO much.

While Thanksgiving in my household meant a catered affair, my husband’s family was uber traditional with everything from homemade cranberry sauce to an array of cakes and pies that would make you drool. I had a lot to learn.

For almost thirty years our Thanksgivings have mirrored those of my husband’s family. From stuffing the mushrooms, to turkey started before dawn, both my husband’s family as well as mine would gather at our house for a traditional feast year after year. The nice thing was that everyone chipped in to help. Of course with twenty to thirty people spending the day with us, the biggest struggle has been keeping the cost down to a reasonable amount.

My regular plan began in early September as I created the list. Knowing in advance exactly what I’d need, and keeping the list handy, I could easily check for and clip the coupons that I’d need, as well as scour the sales circulars for items that I could buy in advance at a deep savings, and store until I needed them. Cooking from scratch and making the turkey the centerpiece of the day helps as well (although our clan expected an array of appetizers and a table displayed with all sorts of desserts).

For example: Butterball turkeys always seemed to go on sale beginning the week before the holiday. By purchasing it then and keeping it in the freezer, I could save substantially. I could also cut corners a bit without anyone noticing. Instead of serving massive amounts of shrimp cocktail like my husband’s family did, I added cheese & crackers and stuffed mushrooms to the menu, and cut out the overpriced shellfish. With other items on the menu, no one noticed that there was less of the higher priced food…all they saw were MORE CHOICES (and less cost for me). Plus, I’d use coupons for the packaged items and waited until they were on sale. By doubling my savings (using the coupons on sale items) I could easily cut my budget down to less than half of what it would cost if I waited to shop the week of the holiday. Don’t forget to shop at your local greenmarket or farmer’s market for more savings on fresh fruits and vegetables.

I also learned how to ask for help! My sister-in-law’s apple pie and my mother-in-law’s coconut cream pie rounded out the desserts, and saved me time and the expense of having to buy these.

Over the years we tried different Thanksgiving Day ideas that were frugal yet fun:

1. Pot luck buffet – I made the turkey and each of the guests brought something. The key was assigning dessert, appetizer, side dish or drinks.

2. Kids thanksgiving – when the cousins were old enough to help (and young enough to WANT to), the adults made the dinner and the kids made the desserts.

3. A crafty Thanksgiving – the kids and guests bring homemade decorations for the table. Over the years we’ve had pinecone centerpieces, construction paper turkeys and autumn leaves surrounding the platters.

The truth of the matter is that it all about family and friends spending the day together, not breaking the budget. Besides, you’re going to need that extra money for the next day – Black Friday.



  1. Posted November 3, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great post Zippy! I am hosting my first Thanksgiving this year with my in-laws coming to town. I am nervous about how our traditions will blend, how to save money but have enough for everyone, will my turkey, stuffing, sides and desserts measure up? But you are right, its about spending time with family. Thanks for the great tips! I;ll let you know how it goes.

  2. Posted November 3, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink | Reply

    I just loved reading this! Everyone in my family can cook…but me! My husband is used to take-out! I think the Pot-luck buffet is a wonderful idea. I typically try and do everything and just ends up stressing me out and I have little to no fun, not to mention zero time with my family!

    Thanks for the great suggestions!

    • Posted November 3, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink | Reply

      I’ve been JUST where you are. When it comes down to it – it’s all about getting the family together to celebrate, so why not make things easy on yourself and ask everyone to bring a little something? That way you don’t have to prepare the ENTIRE meal (just the Butterball turkey) and you can spend the day enjoying with your family.

      By the way – kids doing dishes is a good idea (as long as they’re old enough).

  3. Posted November 3, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you Amy. Stay tuned to the Butterball Blog for lots of great information regarding how to host your Thanksgiving. I’ll also be posting on Champagne Living about what we do to make things easy and most of all go SMOOTHLY. Don’t forget if you have ANY questions, you can always call 1-800-BUTTERBALL or check out their Facebook or Twitter streams.

  4. Cassie55
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 11:52 am | Permalink | Reply

    our family always included a dinner table game and some after activity which is a great way to keep all together laughing. Here is where we find ours every year: last year we did the TurkeyTunes game and this year I am planning the Swap or Hold game.. after a great turkey dinner, this is a fun end

    • Posted November 3, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Wow Cassie – thanks for the great ideas. Those are some great ways to keep the kids happy.

  5. Posted November 3, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great post Zippy! I cannot wait to host Thanksgiving this year. We are having a WHOLE family Thanksgiving for about 90 people! I am very excited, and we are all using Butterball Turkeys.

    • Posted November 3, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Beth that’s WONDERFUL. With 90 people coming – I want to know. What’s for dessert?

  6. Posted November 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great post! Is there any other Turkey than Butter Ball? I think not!
    Speaking of costs less,here is a list of the Butter Ball coupons too

    Butterball Peelies:


    • Posted November 3, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for posting Melissa. You ARE the Consumer Queen. Watch out for LOTS of Butterball coupons, rebates and promotions coming in November and December.

  7. Posted November 3, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for the ideas.
    My husband loves to make Thanksgiving dinner. He wants the kids to be in the kitchen helping him. (I’m just the opposite. When I’m in the kitchen cooking I don’t want kids in there… I’m in “Work Mood”) But I love it that he is teaching them.
    He has an awesome Turkey recipe that he soaks the turkey in a brine mixture for 24 hours before hand. Talk about moist good turkey!

    • Posted November 3, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Sandy – that sounds DELISH. So, what time’s dinner?

      If he brines you might want to look for a coupon available with Kikkoman soy sauce for $1.00 off of a Butterball Turkey now through December!

  8. Posted November 3, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I agree with your advice for saving money on the feast – making the most of inexpensive ingredients and pairing coupons with sales is the way to go. Your feast sounds delicious – can I come over for Thanksgiving? 😀

    I have never actually prepared a Thanksgiving dinner myself. We always go over to Grandma’s house for the dinner, so I bring a side or dessert, like pumpkin pie.

    • Posted November 3, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

      If you want to try to make one for yourself…it doesn’t HAVE to be for Thanksgiving. Butterball turkeys will be on sale a LOT (and there are some great coupons out there as well). Why not try to make one just for yourself. The open roasting method (that I use) is right on the instructions that come with the turkey.

  9. Posted November 4, 2010 at 7:43 am | Permalink | Reply

    My family is very much like your husbands when all is said and done we end up with 4 turkeys and about 40 people at dinner. Everyone helps we all have our “signature” dish we prepare each year, mine is stuffing and corn muffins.

    • Posted November 4, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink | Reply

      Oh Kim – what a wonderful idea of bringing your “signature” dish to the table on Thanksgiving. With additions like those, Thanksgiving has to be the BEST MEAL of the year!

  10. Posted November 5, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great ideas. I am so glad that you shared your Thanksgiving memories with us.

    • Posted November 5, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink | Reply

      You’re so welcome Sheila. Thanksgiving is our family’s BIG holiday together. What kinds of things do YOU do on Thanksgiving?

  11. Posted November 5, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink | Reply

    Our style is usually one hostess, with a version of potluck (some other women will bring desserts or something to help the hostess if she’d like it)…love Butterball turkeys

    • Posted November 5, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink | Reply

      Penelope – that makes things SO much easier. One person shouldn’t have to do ALL of the work. That way you can relax and enjoy the day with family and friends (btw – I’m with you – LOVE Butterball Turkeys – they take all of the hard work out of a GREAT meal).

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