Thanksgiving Dinner: Where to Save, Where to Splurge

Melissa d'Arabian created a handy list to show you where to splurge and where to save on turkey-day groceries.
Thanksgiving Dinner: Where to Save, Where to Splurge


Aisles of Food in Grocery Store

Photo by: Fuse


I’m all for saving a buck. But more than that, I believe in spending with purpose and intent — saving where I can but splurging a bit where it counts. So as you go into your Thanksgiving holiday shopping, I’ve created a handy list to show you where to splurge and where to save on turkey-day groceries.

Stuffing: Save

I’m starting with my favorite part of Thanksgiving: the stuffing. But just because it’s my favorite doesn’t mean I will spend a ton of money on it. Stuffing is mostly just dried bread — cheap! And bags of stuffing or dried bread are usually a “loss leader” in the grocery store around the holidays, meaning something the store sells really cheaply to get you in the door (and buying the rest of your full-price groceries). My cheapie hack: Buy the premade, inexpensive bread cubes, but add some homemade bread cubes you cut yourself from bakery bread. Swing by the day-old-bread rack (usually near the dairy aisle, not the bakery). For stuffing, you want your bread to be a day or two stale anywayso pick up a rich, dark bread or a tangy sourdough loaf to pump up the premade cubes; it will add homemade flavor and texture on the cheap.

Cranberry Sauce: Splurge, If You Actually Eat It 

Buy the cranberries fresh and make the sauce from scratch. It’s super-easy and costs only a couple of dollars more than the canned. But if you don’t eat it and just serve it because you can’t stand the thought of Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce, save and buy canned. It goes on sale for about a buck this time of year. (Bonus Budget Tip: Either way, buy some whole-cranberry canned versions on sale to keep in your cupboard all year to use in cobblers, muffins, salsas and ice cream toppings!)

Mashed Potatoes: Save

Just because something is inexpensive doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be saved. Potatoes are a great example! Russets are the starchy, fluffy spuds that you want to get for mashed potatoes, and luckily they are usually the least expensive variety. They are usually sold both loose (per pound) and prepackaged in a five- or 10-pound bag. Here is the secret: Check the per-pound price before you buy! Just today, I saw russet potatoes for 99 cents a pound. That sounds cheap, right? But hidden underneath the produce stand was a pile of 10-pound bags for $2.99. So, 29 cents a pound versus 99 cents a pound! (Or if you have a small family, even the 5-pound bag at $1.99, or 40 cents a pound, is cheaper than those loose potatoes.) Potatoes are naturally inexpensive, but some quick math will make them downright cheap.

Green Bean Casserole: Splurge

Surprised? When you’re thinking about splurging, the produce aisle is always a great place to do it, because even a “splurge” there is usually pretty affordable. So spend an extra buck to get high-quality haricots verts and a handful of tasty mushrooms to make your own mushroom soup, which will blow away the canned version. Upgrade to shallots instead of onions for the crunchy topping and you’ll really elevate the green bean casserole into something fancy for pennies more a serving.

Pumpkin Pie: Save

I’ve made pies from fresh pumpkins, and while they were tasty, I’ll admit that I missed the pumpkin pie flavors of my childhood. I craved the thick, creamy custard that comes from a huge can of pumpkin puree mixed with canned milk or cream, eggs, sugar and spice. So, for Thanksgiving itself, I remain a purist, true to my (admittedly inelegant) roots. I let the canned puree, which can be found so cheaply at this time of year, take center stage. (And as I do with the canned cranberry sauce, I buy extra cans of pumpkin to stock my cupboard and use in baking, soups and smoothies all year long.) If you are not much of a baker, you’re in luck! Frozen pies usually go on sale around the holidays for over 50 percent off. One could argue that you could perhaps make a better pie, but you probably can’t make a cheaper (or easier!) one.

Turkey: Depends

For many of you: splurge. Or, go totally free (save). If buying organic or free-range poultry is important to you the rest of the year, then the Thanksgiving turkey should be your biggest splurge of the meal. Hit up the butcher or high-end store well in advance to get the turkey you want, though, as you will likely need to reserve in advance. If a conventional turkey is all you need, then go in the other direction and get that turkey for free at one of the major supermarket chains that offer a free turkey with a minimum purchase. But again, plan ahead, because these freebies will often be frozen turkeys that require several days of thawing. And to turn these regular supermarket turkeys into Thanksgiving delight, follow Alton Brown’s brined-turkey directions. (I once made multiple turkeys for Thanksgiving and tried several cooking methods, and Alton’s method won by miles.)

Thanksgiving food is, generally speaking, inexpensive. But feeding a crowd such a feast can add up, so I hope these tips help! Remember, though, that more important than the food on the table is the company around it.

What traditions do you have for Thanksgiving? Tell me in the comments below.

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