Thanksgiving is just over a week away, and savvy hosts are already planning the menu and stocking up on favorite ingredients. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that the average cost for a 10-person Thanksgiving feast this year is $49.41.
We talked to several frugal living experts on how to feed friends and family for even less this Thanksgiving.
Look for free turkey offers. Meat and alcohol can be the priciest parts of the meal. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average cost per pound of a frozen turkey was $1.58 in September, compared to $1.82 at the same time last year. Turkey is cheaper than most other meats, but you can't beat a free bird, and many retailers give away a turkey with a minimum purchase this time of year.
For instance, Shop 'n Save customers who spend at least $399 over a five-week period using their rewards card can get a free 14 pound frozen turkey, and those who spend at least $549 earn a free 22 pound turkey. ShopRite offers a free turkey or ham to its loyalty card holders after they meet the purchase requirement. Or they can get the equivalent savings per pound toward their purchase. Make sure you swipe your loyalty card each time you shop to ensure that your other purchases are counted toward the freebie.
Make it a potluck. Thanksgiving is traditionally a time of sharing, so don't be shy about asking guests to bring a side dish or a bottle of wine. "If you don't want to be responsible for the cost of the entire dinner, enlist family and friends to all bring something," says CouponPal.com spokeswoman Erin Konrad. "You can just supply drinks or tableware, and then you won't end up paying for the more expensive items." Or you could always ask guests to bring extra silverware or chairs if you're short on those items.
Stock up on canned or frozen sides. Stockpiling canned or frozen sides when they're on sale can help prepare for holiday gatherings and reach the minimum spending threshold for a free turkey. Terri Gault, CEO of grocery savings website TheGroceryGame.com, suggests buying canned cranberry sauce, vegetables, creamed soups and broth when your local grocery store offers mix and match deals that require a minimum quantity. Some stores will let you stack coupons on top of sale prices, so keep your eyes out for digital or printable coupons and those in your Sunday newspaper circular. Any canned items that don't get consumed on Thanksgiving can be donated to a food pantry or saved for future meals.
Marcia Layton Turner, author of "Extreme Couponer: Insider Secrets to Getting Groceries for Free," estimates that she spends under $50 for a Thanksgiving gathering of eight, a feat she accomplishes with a free turkey deal and stockpiling grocery store sale items starting in October. "The best sales rotate every six weeks or so," she explains. "With coupons, I've been able to buy frozen veggies at little to no cost, frozen pumpkin and apple pies for pennies, and paper products for next to nothing."
Earn cash back. In addition to couponing, new mobile grocery apps offer cash back on food purchases and sometimes cleaning supplies. "Snap by Groupon, iBotta and Checkout 51 enable shoppers to snap photos of their receipts and get cash back once they reach a certain amount," says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. She points to recent offers such as $5 back on Jennie-O Oven Ready Turkey, 50 cents back on asparagus or 25 cents back on butter. These apps are free to download and work for purchases year-round (not just Thanksgiving), but you'll need to purchase the item and upload your receipt during the timeline of the offer.
DIY the decor. Elaborate centerpieces and place settings can cost a pretty penny, but they're not essential. After all, it's unlikely that the first Thanksgiving meal featured a crystal decanter or a lace table runner. Short on matching china? Matthew Robinson, a food scientist who runs the blog TheCulinaryExchange.net, says not to sweat it. "Instead, opt for a cozier look with mismatched plates and glasses," he says. "Get the kids involved: Let them create napkin rings and place cards. For the centerpiece, pick some fresh flowers or arrange a simple bowl of fruit and vegetables." Turner uses tablecloths she already owns and adds a few accents. "[I] liven the tabletop with natural items like acorns surrounding candles I already own," she says, "or a thrifted cornucopia stuffed with fruits and nuts."