Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas on a Budget

By Susan Shain
November 9, 2020

For most of us, Thanksgiving’s going to look a bit different this year: no flying across the country, no gathering in large groups, no playing football with the neighbors in the backyard. But, even though the pandemic has changed nearly everything — you can bet your buttered buns we’re still going to eat!

And whether you’re cooking for you and your cat (and aiming for a week of leftovers), or prepping a feast for your entire pandemic pod, you’re probably looking for ways to save money and pad your bank account

Worry not: We’ve cobbled together a list of recipes that will let you host Thanksgiving 2020 for up to eight guests on a $50 budget. 🤗

  1. Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Appetizers 🧀
  2. Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Main Course 🍽
  3. Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Side Dishes 🥗
  4. Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Dessert 🍰
  5. Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Drinks 🍸
  6. Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Decor 🏡
  7. Total Cost of Budget-Friendly Thanksgiving 2020 🤑
  8. More Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving on a Budget 👍

Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Appetizers 🧀

Apps are one of the most important components of a Thanksgiving meal. After all, what else is going to distract your guests while you check the turkey for the millionth time?

Here are some easy and crowd-pleasing ideas. 

  • Baked brie and crackers ($7.22): Since you’ve got plenty of other things on your literal plate, opt for this simple recipe — all it involves is sticking a wheel of brie in the oven… then standing back and letting the magic happen. 
  • 5-minute taco dip ($10.05): The only thing better than tacos? Taco dip! Adjust this recipe to your liking; at this price, you can include cheddar, tomatoes, jalapenos, and beans as toppings. 
  • Buffalo chicken dip ($11.34): Whether your team’s winning or losing, this gameday classic will be an instant hit. Serve with chips (or, for a healthier spin, celery). 

Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Main Course 🍽

No matter which way you shake it — traditional, alternative, or vegetarian — you’ll need to make sure the main course shines. These three recipes should do the trick. 

  • Roast turkey filled with simple ingredients ($16.80): If you’re taking the traditional route, you’ll need 1.25 pounds of meat per person, or 10 pounds for a gang of eight. To save money, opt for a frozen turkey rather than a fresh one. 
  • Cranberry glazed pork loin ($16.10): TBH, turkey’s kinda dry. So don’t be afraid to switch things up by making this pork roast instead. It’s glazed in cranberries, so it totally jives with the Thanksgiving vibe. 
  • Butternut squash and caramelized onion galette ($15.82): Who says you have to eat meat? This gorgeous tart is rich and fall-colored and seriously delicious; the perfect thing for any day, and especially a day of giving thanks. If you can’t find fontina cheese, substitute gruyere or gouda. 

Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Side Dishes 🥗

I don’t know about you, but side dishes are my favorite part of Thanksgiving. Luckily, you can make all of the classics for just over $10. If you’ve got some extra room in your budget, you can always go the extra mile with some take-and-bake rolls. 

  • Cranberry sauce ($2.50): You’ll never go back to canned cranberry sauce once you’ve tasted the fresh version. It’s super easy to make, and can be stored in the fridge until an hour before the big meal. 
  • Basic mashed potatoes ($3.56): No need to mess with a good thing: Potatoes, milk, butter, salt, and pepper are all you need for this holiday staple. 
  • Roasted whole carrots (92 cents): Talk about cheap, delicious, and healthy! Feel free to sub in rainbow carrots for an oh-so-pretty look, but note they might cost a little bit more.
  • Gravy ($1.22): If you think ahead — and save some fat drippings the next time you cook meat — you’ll only need to buy chicken stock to make this gravy. Since it’ll keep in the freezer for up to two months, feel free to prep it early. 
  • Stuffing ($2.38): Why bother with homemade stuffing when Stove Top is half the price? For under three bucks, you can get two boxes that will feed everyone (and be the perfect complement to your post-Thanksgiving sandwiches!).

Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Dessert 🍰

Let’s get one thing straight: You can’t skip dessert on such an important day. Because, although everyone will say they’re “too stuffed,” you know they secretly still want it! 

  • Store-bought pumpkin pie with whipped cream ($5.86): Since pumpkin pie spice alone can cost nearly $4, it’s usually most cost effective to buy your pie from the store. Once you heat it up and add whipped cream, we promise no one will notice. 
  • Thanksgiving dessert ($4.56): This aptly-named option is approachable for even novice bakers, and if you’ve got butter, eggs, and cinnamon on hand, you’ll only need to purchase three ingredients. (To keep costs low, skip the nutmeg — or grab it from the dollar store!)
  • Warm cinnamon apples with vanilla ice cream ($5.94): Sometimes you’ve gotta keep it simple. These cozy apples scream autumn and, when topped with a dollop of melty ice cream, they’re just divine.

Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Drinks 🍸

You might be wondering whether such a tight budget can include drinks, and the answer is yes! They just might not all be alcoholic… 

  • Trader Joe’s Wine ($6): We’ve got three words for you: Two-buck chuck. Though it only remains $1.99 in California, you can probably scoop up a few bottles in your state for around $6. If you don’t have a TJ’s nearby, Aldi also has bottles of wine for around $3 each. 
  • Hot apple cider ($5.58): A gallon of fresh apple cider will set you back about $5. If you heat it up with an orange and some household spices, you’ll have a fancy non-alcoholic drink people can’t get enough of. 
  • Seltzer bar with limes and lemons ($5.40): At Walmart, you can get decently sized bottles of seltzer for just 57 cents each. So grab six different flavors, and let your guests pick their poison. (If you want to spice things up a bit, you can also let ‘em know they’re welcome to BYOA: bring your own alcohol.) 

Thanksgiving on a $50 Budget: Decor 🏡

With a $50 budget, your priority should rightfully be the food — but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a swoonworthy tablescape, too. 

Here are several ideas, ranging from $0 to $3, that would make any Pinterest-er proud. 

  • Autumn’s bounty bowl: Grab whatever’s lying in your yard — leaves, pine cones, evergreen branches — and stick it in a clear or wooden bowl to make an on-season look at zero cost. 
  • Wine bottles and candles: There’s no limit to what you can do with empty wine bottles and candles: Stick tapered candles inside the bottles, spray paint the bottles gold, or use the bottles as wildflower vases and arrange candles nearby. 
  • Fall napkin luminaries: If you’re a crafter who already has Mod Podge and mason jars lying around, you’ll only need fall-themed napkins and votive candles (both available at the dollar store) to make these gorgeous decorations. 
  • Bowl of thanks centerpiece: We love this idea because it literally centers everyone on what the holiday’s all about: gratitude. Place a bowl of fruit in the middle of the table, then give your guests paper leaves on which they can write what they’re thankful for. 
  • Printables for adults and children: Got a printer? Then you’ve got an easy way to decorate. Assemble utensil pockets and gratitude lists for the grownups and coloring sheets for the kiddos. Pop some pens and crayons in glass cups, and you’ve got a table setting that’ll please all ages. 

Total Cost of Budget-Friendly Thanksgiving 2020 🤑

Drumroll, please…

Depending on which items you choose from each section, your total will range from $43.02 to $50.58. Plus a few bucks for decor, if you so choose. 

Not bad for feeding eight, right?!

 

More Tips for Hosting Thanksgiving on a Budget 👍

  • Start early: Whether you’re buying groceries for yourself or planning a dinner party like this one, waiting until the last minute crushes your chance of keeping your budget/stress levels low. Since Thanksgiving staples go on sale as early as September, take advantage of promotions as soon as you see ‘em. 
  • Go potluck: As they say, it takes a village — and hosting a potluck Thanksgiving dinner is a fantastic way to split the costs among multiple people. Even if you’re making most of the food, don’t be afraid to let your guests contribute a dessert, bottle of wine, or loaf of bread if they ask what they can bring.
  • Borrow before buying: Need a roasting pan? A jar of cinnamon? Or a serving platter? Before running to the store, ask your friends and family if they have one you can borrow. Since you’re doing the cooking, they’ll probably be more than happy to lend you some supplies.
  • Visit the bulk bins: If you only need a small amount of a particular spice or other dry goods, don’t bother buying a full container. Look for a grocery store that has bulk bins so you can get just the right amount. 

There’s no doubt about it: This has been an incredibly tough year for us all. But hosting Thanksgiving dinner — no matter your budget — is the perfect opportunity to remember the meaning behind the season. So, regardless of how busy the day gets, take a moment to express gratitude for everything you do have. And then stuff yourself silly! 

Note: All prices are based on a Wisconsin Walmart visited in October 2020. The totals are approximate and do not include basic ingredients such as oil, salt and pepper, flour, and sugar. Depending on which recipes you choose, you might also need several sticks of butter, which should cost less than $3.

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Susan Shain is a freelance writer who's been covering personal finance for eight years. She was previously on staff at The Penny Hoarder and Student Loan Hero, and has also been published by Marketwatch and Lifehacker.

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