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Guaranteed Ways to Save Money on Thanksgiving Dinner

Sept. 26, 2018
5 mins
An older woman lets a man taste sauce off a wooden spoon in the kitchen

Here in Canada, we observe our end-of-harvest holiday a little bit earlier than our southern neighbours, though we have similar ways of celebrating. Traditionally, a turkey dinner with all the fixings and copious amounts of side dishes can be expected, but if you plan on hosting family dinner this year, this can be a pricey proposition. Here are a few tips for keeping costs down this Thanksgiving.

Buy ahead of time

Yes, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, but this is good to keep in mind when hosting any dinner party. Most of the key ingredients in Thanksgiving meals have a fairly long shelf life. And most grocery stores will feature rock-bottom prices on turkeys before the holiday season even kicks into gear. So you can save money by browsing through the flyers, doing some comparison shopping and couponing a few weeks in advance. Spices, potatoes, yams, pie crusts and fillings – even the turkey itself – can be stored away before the big day if you have enough pantry and freezer space. And think more than just food. Do you need roasting pans? Baking dishes? Serving utensils? Make a list of all additional kitchen equipment you will need so you can scan for those sales in advance too.

Avoid pre-packaged and go homemade

Many stores cash in by offering pre-packaged or “ready-made” traditional side dishes with a bigger price tag, from stuffing and gravy to the pumpkin pie and whipped cream. And while it’s easy to give in to the convenience of purchasing canned cranberry sauce or “just-add-water” packages of mashed potatoes (some of them taste surprisingly good too), it’s a whole lot cheaper to buy the ingredients and make a nice cranberry sauce yourself. You’ll also avoid all of the preservatives and other additives found in most ready-made foods. There is, however, one exception to the pre-packaged food circumvention: frozen fruits and vegetables. Since they’re picked at peak freshness and flash frozen, they can often be tastier than out-of-season produce that’s shipped from across the globe. And depending on the produce, you can sometimes save money by buying a couple of days ahead of the holiday. By going frozen, you save time on peeling and cutting and avoid the risk of your produce going bad before Thanksgiving Day.

Let’s talk turkey

The biggest single expense for Thanksgiving dinner will likely be the turkey itself. And while generally speaking, fresh food is better than frozen, most cooks agree that there’s nothing wrong with cooking a frozen turkey, especially since it’s much cheaper. The basic economics of supply and demand drive the cost up on fresh turkeys at holiday time; so many people want one that suppliers and retailers charge a premium. Some fresh turkeys could end up costing you almost three times the price of a frozen turkey on sale. And if you leave it too late, you may miss out altogether. Of course, remember to give yourself enough time to defrost the frozen bird. To avoid the risk of bacterial contamination, it’s recommended you defrost poultry in the fridge. Health Canada suggests allowing one day for every four pounds [1.8 kg] of turkey.

Get paid for hosting dinner

One of the easiest ways to cut costs on everything you buy for your holiday meal is to use your credit card points or cash back. Savvy shoppers know how to capitalize on various credit card rewards programs, but if you don’t have a rewards credit card, you can easily gain a lot of points now towards groceries in the future by signing up for a President’s Choice Financial MasterCard, which offers 10 PC points per $1 spent. There’s also the President’s Choice Financial World Elite MasterCard, which offers 30 PC points per $1 spent at participating grocery stores where President’s Choice® products are sold, 45 PC points per $1 spent specifically at Shoppers Drug Mart, as well as 10 PC points per $1 everywhere else. PC points can then be used towards groceries and any products at participating stores where President’s Choice® products are sold. 20,000 points are equal to $20 in groceries. And since the card has no-fee, there's really no reason why you shouldn't go for this high-earning option! The benefits are endless. Or, if you’d rather just earn some cold hard cash back, the Scotia Momentum® VISA Infinite Card offers 4% cash back on all grocery and gasoline purchases, 2% on drug store purchases and recurring payments (like gym memberships), and one percent on all other purchases.

Make it a potluck

Make a meal plan and ask your guests to contribute a few side dishes, appetizers or dessert. By hosting a potluck, you can focus your attention, time and budget on the turkey and main dishes. Just ensure everyone knows what they are bringing to avoid duplicate dishes.

And for the love of everything that is righteous... Don’t leave out the leftovers!

There’s nothing worse than taking the time and money to prepare all that food and letting it go to waste after. Pack everything away and get creative with the leftovers in the following days – cut up the leftover meats for sandwiches, turn leftover veggies into a stir-fry, and use the turkey bones to make soup stock. Keep these tips in mind so you can save money every time you host family dinner. Happy Thanksgiving from the family to yours!

This post has been updated.


The RATESDOTCA editorial team are experienced writers focused on sharing stories and bringing you the latest news in insurance and personal finance. Our goal is to provide Canadians with the information and resources they need to make better insurance and financial decisions.

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