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In the U.S., the Thanksgiving holiday has taken on almost religious shopping reverence as families gear up for Black Friday, (as well as watch football, and eat copious amounts of food., of course).

Here in Canada, we celebrate our end-of-harvest holiday a little bit earlier, and a little more low-key. Hosting a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the fixings, though, can be a pricey proposition. Here are a few tips for keeping costs down this Thanksgiving.

Make a Meal Plan

When asked to write a blog on how to produce a cost-effective Thanksgiving meal, I knew I needed to turn to a professional for advice: my Mom. For 30 years my mother, Wilma Britnell,, ran Wilma’s Catering. She started off small, preparing the Wednesday night suppers at her church, and soon expanded to luncheons, weddings, anniversary parties, and various other events, all gained through word-of-mouth appreciation for her well-priced, delicious family-style meals. One year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, she cooked about 80 turkeys for various luncheons and dinners. (My brother and I begged her to cook roast beef for our Christmas dinner)! In short, she knows how to talk turkey. So what does she suggest for how to save money on your Thanksgiving supper?

“Definitely do not buy a stuffed turkey,” she says. “It’s convenient, but it’s a lot cheaper to buy a turkey on sale and make your own stuffing.”

Buy Ahead of Time

Most of the key ingredients for a the meal have a fairly long shelf life, so you can do your comparison shopping and couponing ahead of time. Potatoes, yams, pie crusts and fillings - even the turkey itself - can be stored for the big day.  “Fresh turkey costs more than frozen, and frozen’s just as good. So buy a frozen one ahead of time when they’re on sale,” says Wilma. Of course, you need to have the freezer space available to store a big bird, and give yourself enough time to defrost it. (To avoid the risk of bacterial contamination, it’s recommended that you should defrost poultry in the fridge. Health Canada suggests allowing one day for every four pounds [1.8 kg] of turkey.

Finally, as a staunch advocate of home cooking, my mom also suggests that you “make your own cranberry sauce. It’s much better than canned, and cheaper. And it’ll keep in the fridge for ages.”

In addition to buying ahead of time to take advantage of sales, savvy shoppers will also use the extra time to maximize their various rewards programs, from bonus Air Miles to free groceries with a PC Financial MasterCard. Better yet, sign up for a cash-back credit card and get back a percentage of all your spending. The MBNA Smart Cash MasterCard credit card, for example, pays you up to 5% on all grocery and gas purchases for the first six months, and a still-generous 2% after that (other purchases earn 1%.)

Make It A Group Effort

Finally, given that Thanksgiving is a family-focused holiday, why not make the meal preparation a family affair and throw a potluck supper? Or, better yet, you can do what I always do to ensure a tasty, low-cost meal: get yourself invited to Mom's.

Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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