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Monday, October 17, 2022

Will You Feel Priced Out of Celebrating Thanksgiving This Year?

I read a news story that highlighted a survey about this upcoming Thanksgiving in the US. The survey asked if folks would skip Thanksgiving altogether because of our current high inflation, and 25% responded "yes." 1 in 4 Americans feel priced out of celebrating Thanksgiving. The survey also asked if folks would consider measures to reduce the cost of the meal. These measures included paying attention to deals, using coupons, start shopping early, sticking to a grocery list, comparing prices, buying in bulk, shopping the pantry first, planning leftovers for the turkey, skipping travel, and buying a smaller turkey. While I think these measures could help a family save some money on their Thanksgiving plans, I also think they missed several thrifty ideas.

Here are a few of my alternatives:

  • choose a different main course. If turkey is too expensive, buy a whole chicken and roast that instead.
  • focus on the cheap traditional Thanksgiving foods -- potatoes, onions, carrots, bread stuffing, and cabbage and build the bulk of the menu with those foods.
  • find substitute ingredients for the more costly ones such as this recipe for sautéed onions and bread crumbs in place of Durkee's fried onions in green bean casserole
  • bake the dessert at home instead of buying a ready-made pie. If someone doesn't feel capable of making a pie crust from scratch, skip the pie and bake a pumpkin sheet cake (in the pan) and frost with simple buttercream frosting. If canned pumpkin is too expensive, cook up the Halloween Jack o' lantern. Here are four methods for cooking whole pumpkins.
  • host a potluck and assign menu categories (salad, vegetable side dish, starchy side dish, dessert) to each attendee.
  • host a Thanksgiving brunch, tea, or hot dog cook-out instead of the traditional turkey dinner. (We had a hot dog cookout for Thanksgiving 2020, for other reasons, but enjoyable nonetheless.)
  • if the cost of travel is out of budget for both Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah, choose one of the two holidays for traveling out of area and celebrate both special days, just one or two days apart. I know a family where the kids are grown and married. The parent couple "got" Thanksgiving weekend (instead of Christmas week) for all grown kids and spouses/grandkids. So they celebrate Thanksgiving on the traditional Thursday, then Christmas on the Saturday of that same weekend. It's not quite the same as being able to go to a Christmas Eve or Day church service together as the whole family, but they're grateful to get to spend holiday time as a large family. 
  • if any travel at all is out of budget, you can still have a wonderful Thanksgiving meal. Find other "orphaned" families/friends to celebrate with. For  most of our marriage, we haven't had a single family member outside of our small group. We've hosted many "orphans" and have been lucky to be asked to many other families' celebrations. And we've caught up with out of town family with long phone chats early on the big day.
From what I've read, the original pilgrims likely didn't have a turkey at their first Thanksgiving. According to New, they likely ate duck, geese, venison, shellfish, corn, nuts, and possibly cranberries,  currants, corn bread or corn pudding, onions, beans, pumpkins and/or squashes. No green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, pie, or mashed potatoes. I think we get ourselves into a rut thinking that everything has to be exactly as we had it before and resist changes to family traditions. The fact is, this isn't the first Thanksgiving that many, many folks have struggled financially and won't be the last either. My thinking is that we should find alternatives that do work within our budgets and make the most of the holiday. I hope those 25% that have decided they'll just skip Thanksgiving will reconsider. Anyway, just my thoughts.

If you couldn't afford the typical American trimmings for Thanksgiving (or even Christmas, as the economy is not likely to fix itself between now and December), what tips and tricks would you employ to make your holiday celebration affordable?


  1. This year we are doing potluck. Mom has the turkey already and my sister has the ham why we have to do both ? Ask mom lol I am doing the potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie. I have been collecting yogurt tubs, sour cream and cottage cheese containers to take leftovers home in😄 each one of my sister and I'd children are bringing the other accompaniments along with drinks etc. Usually mom buys and makes the bulk of the meal but this year it's potluck. She is reluctant but with prices such as they are we insisted on "down sizing" her workload . Always good ideas from you Lilly ❤️ Gaila in the NW

    1. Hi Gaila,
      I think your family's plan for potluck is a wonderful idea. This is a real gift to your mother. My hope is that she will have more time, energy, and financial peace of mind to enjoy this family occasion.
      Good thinking to be collecting leftover containers now.

  2. Since our four daughters have left the house and gotten married they have always insisted we do a potluck because they love to cook and contribute to the meal as much as I do. My husband and I will usually do the turkey, gravy, and a pie, and our daughters will make just about everything else. The last few years one of our son-in-law's parents join us and bring a cherry pie. I haven't looked at the prices of turkey yet but we will figure it out. But Thanksgiving to us is about the time we have all together. We would never forgo the whole day because we couldn't afford everything we are used to having on the table. We have struggled financially and have learned there is always a way to work around and make the most of the holidays.

  3. I wonder if the 25% who are skipping Thanksgiving ever celebrated it much anyway because as you showed in you list there are many other ways to get together with families and enjoy food and each other. Or maybe Thanksgiving has been a hassle with family squabbles or a lot of work and some find the opportunity to skip it a welcome one. Or maybe the threat of COVID has people thinking about things differently.

    Anyway, we have celebrated Thanksgiving many different ways over the years from having pizza, dressing up as the Pilgrims, pot luck with friends, outings and hikes with no meal to speak of, big dinners with just the immediate family, big dinners with extended family, making food baskets for people in need, having a low-key day watching the parades and old movies while having a non-traditional meal, travelling to spend the day with family in nursing homes, etc. The common denominator in all of these is that we spent the with people we love and took a little time to think about our blessings. I hope everyone who wants to celebrate finds a way.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I do agree that some of the 25% might be those who wish to forgo the holiday for other reasons. But I also don't want to discount how devastating the current economy is for some households. Financial issues can trigger a whole slew of problems for families. It could be that some of the folks in this survey feel too overwhelmed with costs in general, such that the thought of doing a big Thanksgiving just piles on more stress. Another possibility is for those who have lost their employment may feel inadequate and not up to the scrutiny of an extended family dinner. Not everyone is blessed with an uplifting and kind family. Some families with younger children may also want to conserve as much money as possible, forgoing Thanksgiving in order to provide a much-anticipated "big" Christmas. So I think the financial constraints posed by sky-high inflation may be more complicated than someone looking at the price of turkey, for example, and thinking they can't afford Thanksgiving.

  4. I have never found thanksgiving to be that expensive. If you shop the sales, and I assume there will be sales this year, it’s a pretty economical meal, especially if you take into consideration you can eat for days off the leftovers. The last couple years Ibotta has had a lot of the thanksgiving staples for free. I have scaled back.since the kids become adults because Dh and I just don’t need all the leftovers. The kids all bring something now too-because they insist. The vegan basically brings all her own food because I don’t cook around her. We don’t really like turkey, but I still cook one because one year I made something else and everyone complained it didn’t feel like thanksgiving lol. I’m just not buying that 25% of Americans can’t truly afford to put thanksgiving dinner on the table. I’m going to Walmart this morning for the first time in weeks and I bet I will see plenty of people in there with carts full of expensive convenience foods that have skyrocketed in price in recent months.


    1. Dianne, I so agree with what you said! Shop the sales and enjoy all the leftovers! And, yes, the convenience foods are outrageous in price....but we can sure live without those. I host but others bring food. We eat well, pretty economically for what we have and celebrate family and the great abundance of blessings in our lives!!!

    2. Hi Diane,
      I agree that Thanksgiving is the least expensive, food-wise, of the big 3 holidays that feature a meal -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter. Mashed potatoes are about as cheap as you can get, bread stuffing also rather cheap, especially off you do this from scratch and not a box, vegetable sides don't have to be yams but can be carrots instead, etc.
      I also agree that some folks were never taught how to manage their finances, and now make stupid purchases that eat up their incomes. All of the junk food, frozen pizzas, soda pop, chips, candy, etc. When our finances have been their tightest, those were the foods we made sure to skip and only bought basic whole foods to cook with. One of our considerations was that if we ate healthy, not only would we save money, but we'd be less likely to need extra medical care or medications. I just wish there was a way to help set some folks straight on how to manage finances.
      I do think that there are some folks who are struggling with inflation right now and don't know how to cope. Like I said to Live and Learn, above, it could be more than they can't afford to buy a turkey, but still be a financially-based struggle going on with them.

  5. Hmm, interesting to think about. I also don't find Thanksgiving terribly expensive as mentioned above, because I usually have the bulk, if not all, of the ingredients onhand already due to how we shop. The exception can be the turkey, some years. But, if we did have trouble affording it, yes, we would probably just go with a chicken instead of turkey, or another meal altogether. We've already abandoned my family's tradition of another turkey dinner at Christmas, in favor of whatever meal sounds good to use that year. Some years, that's been steak, or meat loaf. We don't usually get together with extended family, either, as we live so far away, but now have a son-in-law and granddaughter to include. And some years, we hosted our Sunday school class of mostly fellow military families (at that time), or a couple of foreign exchange students from the local university, or a couple of single soldiers not going home for the holiday. So it's kind of a laidback affair with good food of some sort.

    1. That was me, Cat.

    2. Hi Cat,
      I usually have something that can be used toward a Thanksgiving meal, too, as this is the time of year that I am well-stocked. I just don't usually have the turkey. The other thing that helps is my family is happy enough to eat whatever I make. So if I don't make the same foods that are seen in commercials or magazine ads, my family is still fine with the meal.
      That's so nice that you've been able to host others that would otherwise miss out on a big, festive meal.
      Our traditional Christmas dinner is pizza. It's easy and everyone likes it. My mom always did a big meal on Christmas Day. I don't know how she did that after having the whole Christmas since we woke for the day. I'm usually too tired to cook a big meal at that point. Maybe that will change some day.
      How fun for you now that there's a grandbaby to spoil on holidays!!

  6. I suppose it would be hard to admit needing help, but there are many options for assistance with Thanksgiving foods. Our church is tasked with collecting cans of yams (really, sweet potatoes) from a local organization who collects food and distributes it to those in need. Our school also has a Thanksgiving food collection. That being said , it would be hard for me to make use of that if I were struggling financially. I'd be more likely to do it if I had a family to feed.

    We will be having a quiet Thanksgiving at home. I tend to think of it as a very frugal meal. We have turkey, potatoes, dressing, cranberry sauce., some sort of vegetable, and I make a pie. We package the leftover turkey and use it for months in soup and casseroles. It's tasty and I pull out the china, but it's a pretty cost conscious meal. I'm not sure what factors go into people making decisions not to celebrate the day. I agree with L and L that there may be factors other than money affecting the decision.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I do think it is hard to admit needing some grocery help, whether food stamps, the WIC program, or food bank, My husband and I qualified for WIC for the first several years of our family life. We never accepted it, but knew about it. It was just too hard to admit we'd "failed" in our roles as providers for our small child. Instead, we did without a whole lot of other things so we could afford to buy food. The first couple of years, my grandmother brought over a stuffed turkey the day before Thanksgiving, ready for the oven for us. One particularly rough winter, my dad and stepmom bought us a few bags of groceries. Those were very much appreciated, but the entire extent of the help we received. We did always have a Thanksgiving dinner. It just didn't look picture-perfect. So I can really empathize with folks who are struggling financially.


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