10 Ways to Take the Bite out of the Thanksgiving Budget

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As Americans prepare to sit down and give thanks for all we have by preparing and serving the most lavish dinner of the year, many Americans still recovering from a sluggish economy are wondering how they can save on those Thanksgiving groceries.

According to a Purdue University press release, Americans will be paying even more for Thanksgiving staples this year due to the overall increase in food prices, which adds up to 6.38% average increase since September 2011.

In the spirit of being thankful for good deals, we asked experts how consumers can save on their Thanksgiving groceries – beyond using coupons and watching sale ads – and they came up with these 10 tips:

1. Find out who’s in. It may seem like a no-brainer to get the headcount now, but people with tight budgets can’t afford for family members to waffle on their invitation. Sherria Cotton, PR manager with grandparents.com, says, “By tallying your guests early, you'll get a head start on shopping and menu planning. Make food for two extra people, anyway. That way, last-minute stragglers can attend, and/or you'll have even more delicious leftovers.”

2. Make the plan. “The key to saving on groceries is taking time to plan your list and shopping strategy. Believe me, the savings will be worth a little extra planning time,” says Stephanie Nelson, savings expert at CouponMom.com. Nelson says by making the list of dishes, surveying what you already have in your pantry and freezer and planning to buy what’s necessary, you will save money before you even leave your house.

3. Skip the fancy dishes. “Instead of pricey produce like Brussels sprouts, choose economical vegetables like carrots and corn,” Cotton says. “For even bigger savings, pack the table with starches, which tend to be bargains. Biscuits, mashed potatoes and yams are perfect for the season anyway.” As for the turkey, many grocery stores give away free turkeys for people who spending a certain amount. Look for those types of bargains and giveaways.

4. Substitute ingredients. Do you have a recipe that calls for pecans? “Instead of using $4 of pecans for our sweet potato casserole topping, I use a crumble topping with oatmeal, butter and brown sugar from an apple crisp recipe that costs pennies to make,” Nelson says. “I also find it less expensive to make a pumpkin pie than an apple pie.”

5. If there’s an app for that, use it. If you haven’t already started using apps to help you find deals on groceries, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to try. “Use an app like Grocery Pal. You can input your list and it will point you toward weekly sales at your local supermarkets and discount stores, and it even matches your shopping list items against products online with lower prices,” says Phil Lempert, food editor for the Today show.

6. Make things from scratch. Unless you have a super coupon that allows you to buy a pre-made pie or other dinner staple cheaper than you can make it from scratch, you need to plan to be in the kitchen creating recipes, not warming up packages. It is really easy to fall in love with precooked convenience, “but it is not difficult to cook a turkey yourself or make a nice cranberry sauce,” says Steve Zussino, president of Grocery Alerts.

7. Go with natural decor. Instead of going with plastic greenery from the craft store, Zussino advises the use of fresh pumpkins, pine cones, fresh fruit and other natural items for decorations. “It adds a festive look and you can look for ideas on Pinterest,” Zussino says.

8. Booze in bulk. If you’re going to serve alcohol, says Andrea Woroch, a budgeting expert, “warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club are a thrifty resource for booze.” These stores can save you up to 30% off typical retail costs, Woroch says. “Better yet, ask your guests to contribute their favorite beverage to reduce your costs even further.”

9. Borrow what you don’t have. “If your cutlery, serving ware and baking supplies aren't quite up to snuff for a Thanksgiving feast, borrow items from friends and family,” Woroch says. “Buying these items all at once during the holidays can be costly, so opt for stocking up gradually and relying on others in the interim. It's the season of sharing, after all.”

10. Don’t be afraid to ask. You’re hosting, but why should you take on the entire burden of the meal? “Ask attendees to bring their favorite dish to share, freeing up your funds for the main event,” Woroch says.

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