Hosting dinner parties is great—you get to cook, decorate, eat, drink and hang out with friends, all without leaving your own home once. (Except if you forget something and need to make a quick trip to the grocery store. Which happens to me some of the time. OK, it happens to me every time.)
Hosting Thanksgiving, though? That’s a whole different game.
Thanksgiving comes with a long list of expectations, which means there’s serious pressure for the host to live up to them.
There are so many classic Thanksgiving recipes, and everyone has different favorites, so you can’t afford to leave anything out. And since it’s the most anticipated feast of the year, you need to dress up your table and dining room at least a little bit for the occasion. Plus, there’s the fact that Thanksgiving tends to last all afternoon and evening, so you need plenty of booze.
Putting all of this together is time-consuming, sure, but the bigger problem is that it can get seriously pricey if you’re not vigilant about sticking to a budget.
Throwing a super-cheap Thanksgiving is one thing—roast a turkey, mash a five-pound bag of potatoes, put out a box of wine and a store-bought pumpkin pie and call it a day—and might be exactly what you want to do this year. More power to you! But, if you want to take your feast to the next level without totally overspending, use the recipes, DIY projects and tips below as your guide.
The exact amount of money you spend will depend on where you live, where you shop, how many people you’re hosting and which products and ingredients you choose to buy. Following these guidelines for a party of about eight people will clock you in around $200, but you can always leave out things you don’t think are necessary or scale up or down depending on your guest list.
1. Keep the Turkey Simple ($28)
While Butterball turkeys aren’t the highest quality out there, they’re delicious and cost-effective. Most run about $2 per pound, and a smaller turkey will actually taste better than a bigger one, since it won’t need to roast for as long—meaning it’ll stay moist and tender. Aim for a 12-pound turkey; that should feed your party of eight and leave plenty of leftovers.
Make sure to buy your turkey ASAP (most come frozen), then thaw it in the fridge for 24 hours per five pounds of weight (your 12-pound turkey will take about three days to thaw!). Once you’re ready to roast, opt for this simple recipe from The Kitchn, which just calls for a turkey ($24), two cups of low-sodium chicken broth ($2) and two sticks of butter ($2). Since chicken broth usually comes in quart-sized containers, use the remaining two cups and your turkey drippings, plus some flour from your pantry, to make this simple gravy.
2. Make 4-Ingredient Mashed Potatoes That’ll Blow Everyone Away ($9)
Butter is an important ingredient in mashed potatoes, but what really takes them over the edge is sour cream. This Barefoot Contessa recipe calls for a three-pound bag of potatoes ($3), a stick of butter ($1), some milk ($3) and half a cup of sour cream ($2).
3. Use the Leftover Milk and Sour Cream from Mashed Potatoes in a Sweet Potato Casserole ($5)
There are plenty of complicated sweet potato casseroles out there, but frankly, simple mashed sweet potatoes with broiled marshmallow topping might be the best. It won’t be the most elegant thing on your table, but it’ll be a crowd-pleaser.
Boil three pounds of peeled, chopped sweet potatoes ($3), drain and mash with a cup of milk and half a cup of sour cream, left over from your mashed potatoes. Season everything with a little salt and pepper, then spread the mash into a baking dish and cover with marshmallows ($2). Broil just until the marshmallows are light brown, reheating later if you make it ahead of time.
4. Instead of Green Bean Casserole, Roast Brussels Sprouts ($9)
Green bean casserole has a bajillion ingredients. It’s also… not very elegant? Roasted Brussels sprouts, on the other hand, are simple, classy and the only other traditionally acceptable green vegetable for your T-day spread.
Double this honey-balsamic Brussels sprout recipe by using three pounds of Brussels sprouts ($9)—plus oil, salt, pepper, honey and vinegar from your pantry.
5. Make a Vegetable Stuffing That’s Just Like Everyone’s Mom Used to Make ($8)
When it comes to delicious stuffing, a relatively long ingredients list is non-negotiable. A variety of aromatic veggies and herbs are what gives the bread-based dish its flavor, and butter and stock are necessary for keeping things moist (sorry). Still, this recipe from Budget Bytes serves eight and costs just less than $8 to make.
6. Keep Guests Happy While Dinner Cooks with a Gorgeous 3-Ingredient Appetizer ($5)
It’s easy to think, Oh, dinner’s going to be such a feast that I don’t need to put out appetizers. In theory, that makes sense. In reality, it won’t fly. Guests will probably come hungry, and putting out an appetizer means you won’t have people constantly checking when dinner will be ready.
Luckily, you can make a truly impressive appetizer by slicing and roasting a pound of sweet potatoes ($1), then topping your rounds with schmears from a tub of whipped cream cheese ($3) and about an ounce of chopped pecans ($1).
7. Buy Cranberry Sauce, a Pumpkin Pie, a Pecan Pie and Some Vanilla Ice Cream ($40)
It’s OK not to make everything from scratch, especially if you haven’t hosted a ton of Thanksgivings before. All of these things are easy to find at any supermarket around Thanksgiving and are relatively inexpensive.
8. Outsource Dinner rolls and a Big Salad to Guests ($0)
Plenty of people are willing, even eager, to contribute something to Thanksgiving dinner. When friends ask what they can bring, here’s what you can assign to them: dinner rolls, a big salad, an appetizer, a pie. Don’t be specific—trust that they’ll bring something great. (Also ask for wine, but there’s more on that below.)
9. Serve One Big-Batch Cocktail Instead of Offering a Full Bar ($25)
The benefits of a big-batch cocktail are twofold. First, no one needs to spend time mixing individual drinks during the party. Second, you don’t need to stock a full bar ($$$).
This bourbon spiced cider punch is a crowd-pleaser, and all you need for a double batch of the recipe (about 16 servings) is a 750 mL bottle of inexpensive bourbon ($19), a half gallon of apple cider ($3), two lemons ($1) and two cans of ginger beer ($2). Float a sliced apple and some cinnamon sticks in the punch for extra pizzazz.
10. Ask That Guests Bring Booze to Share, but Buy Some Wine and Beer to Start ($30)
Most guests who plan on drinking at Thanksgiving will likely bring a bottle of wine or a six-pack without your mentioning it, but it’s not impolite to ask—after all, you’re hosting the whole damn meal.
In addition to your big-batch cocktail, start with an inexpensive bottle of red ($10) and white ($10) and a six-pack of something simple, like Stella or Heineken ($10).
11. Buy Themed Napkins ($5)
These cute napkins are subtle enough that they won’t ruin the vibe of your party, but they’re still fun. Two packs will set you back $5.
12. Make Guests Feel Extra Special with Placeholder Cards ($13)
Little touches can go a long way. A 12-pack of these adorable pumpkin placeholders is just $13.
13. Fill a Vase with Faux Berry Stems ($15)
Three of these stems is all you need to class up a side table. And since they’re fake, you can use ’em again next year! Each one is $5.
See, I told you it was possible.