Four Steps to a Happy Thanksgiving that Fits Your Budget

A table with Thanksgiving food.

Thanksgiving is much more than just the last stop on the road to those glitzier year-end holidays. It’s an opportunity to slow down, connect with family and friends, and consume horrifying amounts of delicious foods.

Unfortunately, there’s a cost to this reverie, whether you’re serving as host or traveling across state lines to visit beloved relatives. With some major holiday spending on the horizon, it’s reasonable to wonder if you’re justified investing so much on Thanksgiving. If you’re concerned about the cost of your Turkey Day celebration, here are a few tips to ensure your happiness and your budget stay in alignment.

Understand your Thanksgiving priorities

What’s important to you when it comes to Thanksgiving? The day has different meanings for different people. Are there certain people you absolutely have to spend the day with? Is it all about the food? Do you not really care about anything other than playing touch football in the yard?

Try to step back from what you believe is “expected” from the day and canvass around to understand what you and your family actually care about. You may be surprised. If you’re spending money on things that don’t reflect your true priorities, then you may want to consider changing how you approach the holiday.

Evaluate your menu

Cooking an entire Thanksgiving feast can be costly, especially as many families create enormous, diverse Thanksgiving menus in the hopes of appeasing everyone. The truth of the matter, however, is that just because you’ve got one cousin who likes creamed pearl onions, doesn’t mean you have to make them.

Try not to get too wrapped up in tradition. Just because you’ve made something in the past, doesn’t mean you’re required to make it every year. It goes back to your priorities – is Thanksgiving not Thanksgiving without pickled beets? Maybe! That’s for you to decide.

Consider your food waste. Leftovers are great, but how much food goes to waste each year? It may be because you’re making too much food, or there may be certain items that simply aren’t all that popular and can be taken off the menu. Don’t be afraid to change things up from year to year, especially if your top Thanksgiving priority isn’t “Do everything the same every single year.”

Invest in a plan

One of the best ways to reduce expenses and stress is to plan ahead. Know where you’re going, what you’re making, what you want, and how you plan on making it all happen. Planning your menu in advance allows you to scope out deals and stock up on necessary items before the last minute rush. Plotting out a plan of attack for all that cooking goes a long way towards making sure nothing is undercooked, overcooked, or just plain forgotten.

A good Thanksgiving plan also allows you to coordinate with guests and hosts alike to help share some of the burden and save a good deal of money in the process.

If you want to spend, spend! Just make cuts elsewhere

If Thanksgiving is your favorite holiday and you can’t bear the thought of cutting or reducing anything at all, then…don’t. It’s perfectly okay to spend however you like on Thanksgiving, especially if it’s a special time of year for you and your family. The only caveat is that if you’re spending money you don’t have set aside or budgeted out, you’ll need to make up for that elsewhere.

Ideally those adjustments should come sooner rather than later. Don’t put yourself into debt and say, “Well, I’ll worry about it next year.” If you’re allowing yourself to overspend on the holidays (and by “overspend” I mean spend money you haven’t already accounted for in your budget, putting yourself in debt) you need to have a plan in place to make up that difference. Even if that plan is nothing more complex than subtracting $20 off the top of every paycheck until you’re back to normal, you can’t break your budget without it.

The most important thing is living a healthy, happy life. Your money and your budget are just a means to that end. If happiness is a big bowl of creamed pearl onions, well, you’re an oddball, but that’s okay. Do what makes you happy. Just remember the parts that don’t make you so happy – like struggling to pay your bills, or not saving as much as you’d like – and do the necessary work to make sure the unhappy parts don’t spoil the good times.

And if you need a little extra help, our counselors are available 24/7, online and over the phone, to provide expert guidance and personalized advice.

Tagged in Holidays, Food and grocery spending, Smart shopping, Self care

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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