5 Steps to a Stress-Free Budget Friendly Thanksgiving

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Entertaining on a budget can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you’re hosting for one of the major holidays, like Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is unique in the sense that it feels like the marathon holiday. You’re frantically cooking from before dawn until the early afternoon. You’re making several dishes and using every corner of your kitchen for pies and turkey and stuffing.

I love the thought of spending time with family and friends and eating a delicious and gluttonous meal. But, Thanksgiving can become expensive if I’m not careful, so I’m always looking for ideas on how to save the most money without sacrificing any of the festivities.

Every year, I find myself creating a shortcut or two to make Thanksgiving day a much lighter marathon. One year, we had a potluck with all the guests.

I was responsible for the main dishes, the turkey and ham, while everyone else brought the side dishes. That was okay, except for the anxiety that someone would bail last minute. If that happened, I would be stuck making the dish last minute.  

So, I decided last year to make the entire meal myself. It was great, except for the fact that I had to make the entire meal myself. There’s got to be an easier way than this endless cooking marathon that exhausts those Thanksgiving volunteers that only wish to have the perfect meal for their family and friends.

Well, I think I found a way to thoroughly enjoy the process of Thanksgiving preparation and still get it all done for the grand Ta-Da.

Here are some of my time-savers that helped me in the my preparation

Two weeks before: Make a checklist


I find that I when I do a mind dump of all of the things I have to take care of, it really takes the edge off.

Making a checklist for an important event like Thanksgiving will help organize your thoughts and keep you on task.

Also, am I the only one that LOVES checking things off of my list? I live for it.

One week before: Clean 1 room a day so that the entire house is clean the day before Thanksgiving, especially the kitchen

clean kitchen

I have the habit of cleaning a room per day anyway, but even more so on holiday week. I don’t want to be stressed the day of Thanksgiving by cleaning AND cooking.

Nope, not for me.

I love waking up Thanksgiving day knowing that my house is ready for guests and all I have to focus on is the cooking. A tidy house eases my mind and makes me feel calm. 

That’s exactly what I need when I’m starting out my day, especially a day filled with cooking and hosting. No stress here, thank you very much.

Plan Ahead with a List

Planning ahead is essential for having a successful and budget-friendly Thanksgiving, or any other event for that matter.

So, plan at least a week ahead.

Start looking at your local grocer’s ads and compare unit prices to see where you can get the best deals on most of your shopping list.

Then, make your list. When we don’t make a list, we find ourselves running to the store on Thanksgiving morning and standing in what seems like a roller-coaster ride line just to get the fried onions we forgot.

Yeah, the list is pretty important.

When you come back from your shopping trip, make sure to split your items based on dish.

This saves time on preparation. How many times have you buzzed around the kitchen for 15 minutes, looking for the cinnamon only to find it on the bottom of a bag somewhere?

Yeah, I’m raising my hand too.

Organization is crucial to saving time. We want everything to run smoothly in the kitchen without wasting any unnecessary time. 

Two Days Before

bake desserts

Make dessert, bake the cornbread that will be used for stuffing, marinate your turkey.

We love pumpkin pie at our house. I’ve made pumpkin cheesecake on several occasions as well. In both cases, making the dessert ahead of time gives you two advantages.

Advantage #1: You’ll save yourself oven time when your turkey needs it most.

Advantage #2: You’ll get a tastier dessert. By sitting in the fridge for 8 hours, the pumpkin pie will have time to set. And it is going to taste so much better!

As for the turkey, marinating it 2 days before really gives the turkey time to soak up with spices, and it comes out with much more well rounded flavor.

One Day Before

Make the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole.

I have never made cranberry sauce from scratch, but I’ve heard it is 10 times better than the canned jelly version and it’s really simple to make.

The seasoned cooks recommend to make it ahead of time so that the flavors marry better.

The mashed potatoes only take about 30 minutes to make, but making them ahead of time will free up stove space. To reheat, just pop them in the oven for 30 minutes before mealtime.

The sweet potato casserole will need about 30 minutes in the oven, so it’s better to make it ahead as well.

This is a great dish to make ahead because it tastes so much better the next day. Just don’t add the marshmallows until the final reheat before you eat it, otherwise they get a little gummy. 

I speak from experience, haha!

Thanksgiving Day 


Time to Cook!

Thanksgiving day arrives, and I’m ready to get the show started, since I only have a few hours before my guests arrive.

I usually wake up around 7 in the morning and put the turkey straight into the oven.

Then, I cube the cornbread and bake to get them a bit dry for my stuffing. 

The ham is simple, since I buy it pre-cooked.

I just need to add the pineapple, cloves and brown sugar and get it ready for the oven. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour, so I’ll put it in as soon as the turkey comes out.

Bring in backup

No one expects you to carry the load all by yourself, so don’t be shy to ask for help. They won’t think less of you, believe me.

If you’re like me and find it extremely painful to ask for help, ask anyway.

Your family and friends will help if you ask and it gives you a chance to chat more while you are all preparing in the kitchen.

Having friends and family help will make for great memories. You’ll chat and laugh while cooking, which also makes the time go by a little faster and helps you minimize stress.

After all, Thanksgiving is all about spending time with one another. What better way to hang out than to work on dishes together.

If possible, get the kids involved

It’s a good idea to get the kids involved too. It stops them from five minutes and the kids will feel more involved in the celebration.

It also gives them a chance to get off of their electronic devices and bond with family. It really is a win-win for everyone.

(Psst-if you’re a perfectionist like me, just give them something that is easy to prepare).

At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is about spending the best time with family and friends. It shouldn’t be stressful or time-consuming (more than necessary anyway).

These steps helped me minimize stress and maximize productivity in my house.

What are your favorite steps to help make Thanksgiving, or any other event, stress-free and budget friendly?

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