How to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner
By Kendal Perez
Whether your Thanksgiving plans include hitting the stores early or intentionally boycotting "Black Thursday" sales, most Americans have at least one thing in common on Turkey Day: the preparation of an epic meal. This year, some unwelcome news is wafting into households: According to the Department of Agriculture, the price of turkey will increase as much as 19 percent, or to a $1.36 a pound, thanks to the avian flu that's impacted poultry prices all year.
Despite the turkey shortage, early sale prices are similar to what they were last year, with King Soopers currently offering USDA Grade A frozen turkeys for 69 cents a pound.
Still, finding the best deals on holiday dinner fare can be complex, depending on your menu and how many people you're feeding. To help control the cost of your Thanksgiving dinner, I consulted the thriftiest grocery shopper I know: my mother-in-law Connie Perez.
%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-821%Raised by small business owners in the small town of Silver City, New Mexico, Perez's frugality and skills in the kitchen were cultivated at a young age. "Growing up in a family of seven, we had to be frugal," Perez says. "My parents were on a limited income when I was a small child, but we never went hungry and we always ate nutritious meals." Perez credits her parents for her thriftiness and non-wasteful habits, highlighting her father's creativity in the kitchen. "My dad would make the most delicious soups and stews that he could never remake because he would use whatever leftovers we had at the time."
These days, family gatherings can reach up to 40 people all clamoring for Perez's famous brisket or roasted turkey. Hosting such a crowd isn't cheap, so she employs the following strategies to keep costs low.
Make a plan. When it comes to saving money on Thanksgiving, Perez says you have to be organized. "It takes a lot of planning," she says. "You can't just make a list and go to the store." She suggests starting with a menu and evaluating whether traditional recipes are actually popular. "Be careful in your meal selection, making sure it's food you're going to eat," she advises.
With that in mind, think about those dishes that went mostly untouched last year and don't prepare them again. This will save you time and money, plus you'll avoid storing leftovers of something no one liked well enough to eat the first time around.
Review store ads to compare deals, especially on turkeys. While the Internet makes comparing grocery store deals a bit easier for some, Perez prefers the more traditional approach. "I'm old-school; I like to use flyers because they're right in front of me," she says. Determining who has the best price on the ingredients you need will make your shopping experience easier and cheaper.
This time of year, many grocers offer free or reduced price-per-pound turkeys when you spend a certain amount. For example, Safeway and Albertson's stores are currently offering a free frozen Honeysuckle turkey (up to 16 pounds) when you spend $100. "You can easily spend that much if you're preparing a Thanksgiving dinner for a lot of people," Perez says. Still, she suggests shoppers do their homework on other store deals to ensure they're getting the best price.
Know your local stores' prices. This is probably Perez's top piece of advice for shoppers. "You have to know your prices where you shop to compare," she says. "Otherwise, you have no idea if what's on sale is actually a good deal."
Buy-one-get-one deals are popular with consumers, but Perez warns these sales don't always represent the best price. For example, a buy-one-get-two-free deal on a package of chicken breasts may seem like an outstanding deal, until you do the math. "If you have to pay $9.99 per pound and you get three packages, you're really paying about $3.33 per pound," she says. "But if another local store has chicken breasts on sale for $2 per pound, you're not saving money."
Dollar deals also seem like a good buy, but again, knowing your local prices is key. "Sometimes a grocery store will have 10 for $10 cans of green beans," Perez says. "If you go to Walmart, they have their green beans for 78 cents per can." So, you'll save over $2 if you just buy the regular-priced canned green beans from Walmart compared to the "sale" price from your grocer.
Swap brand-name for generic brands on select ingredients. When shopping for basic ingredients like salt, sugar and spices, try the generic brand for big savings. "With flour or any of those dry things, I don't need to have Morton's or Gold Meadow," Perez says. "I usually go with the store brands."
Not all store brands are created equal, though. "Some items are not the same," Perez admits. "I'll pay extra for products if the generic brand is not a good match." But some products are just as good and nearly half the price. "For flavor, the store brand of frozen vegetables are just as good as Birds Eye or some of those more expensive brands," she says.
Accept help. Perez enjoys being the host, but she always accepts help when it's offered. "In our community, people always volunteer to bring stuff and I always take them up on it." In addition to saving money, this strategy allows guests to feel like they're contributing and reduces the stress of having to prepare everything. "As the host, you're not so exhausted," Perez says. "You can truly enjoy your guests and your family."
Enjoying family and friends and being thankful for your bounty is what Thanksgiving is all about, after all.
Kendal Perez is a spokeswoman for CouponSherpa.com, a popular source for online, in-store and mobile coupons. She also blogs at Hassle-Free Savings and enjoys yoga, decluttering, craft brew and obsessing over her dogs.