I have always loved celebrating Thanksgiving Day.
I love the meaning, the history behind the day, the family time and chance to celebrate all the little things that make our lives wonderful. These things make Thanksgiving the perfect gem in the middle of Autumn.
For most of us in the US, Thanksgiving Dinner is a big deal. It’s one of the days when we go “all out” and make it the biggest meal of the year. Bountiful tables and enough food to feed an army are sort of signatures of the modern Thanksgiving day.
But sometimes money is tight. Breaking the budget for a single meal is not a great option. And sometimes we make Thanksgiving more complicated and exhausting than it needs to be.
We’re so busy stressing about not having everything we “usually” do, or slaving the week away in the kitchen that we don’t have time to enjoy our families or even be thankful for anything!
Scott and I have had many, many lean holiday seasons in our years together. I totally understand the stress of wishing for just a few more dollars to add that little, special touch to the holiday meal. And I’ve been a part of enough giant celebrations to understand what it is like to drag to the dinner table with aching feet, and only be able to think of how many more dishes I have to wash before I can fall into bed.
But Thanksgiving Day doesn’t have to be exhausting and it doesn’t have to break the budget in order to be fun and memorable.
Here’s a few little tips that I pull out during the holidays to celebrate our frugal, thankful holiday traditions.
1. Plan Ahead
We all know that planning is important for any successful celebration. But I’m talking about planning ahead. When money is tight, having a plan in place long before the calendar rolls over to “November 1” may save you a lot more than you think it will.
Time wise, you’ll be able to work through the to-do list as smoothly as possible. And planning ahead also means you can make the most of sales through out the year and save a lot more money than you might expect. This means you can create a celebration that is meaningful and fun, even without some of the extras!
Many people already shop for deals and stock up when they can. But if money is tight, make a list of things that are strongly associated with holidays and look for deals all year long. Shop wisely and keep a few dollars tucked away to use when you see a particularly good sale on items that are shelf stable. Watching for sales definitely pays off. Here’s a few things I’ve done to give you some ideas of what to shop ahead for.
- I found cans of pumpkin for .25/each one year after Christmas. And our favorite cranberry sauce went on sale for over 50% off after the holidays another year. Even though I had no need for either pumpkin or cranberry in the immediate future, I stocked up on several cans of each. Not only did I get to enjoy several meals of pumpkin waffles, but I had pumpkin on hand for pumpkin pies and cranberry sauce ready to go when the next Thanksgiving rolled around.
- I’ve seen awesome sales in the fall for other main components of Thanksgiving dishes. Some of it can be prepped and frozen in advance (celery and onions, for example. This can not only cut down on the time consuming mise en place when you are cooking your main dishes. Some things last really well in cold storage and will be good for weeks or a month or two in advance. Pumpkins are often $1 each after halloween. You can cook them and freeze the puree, or pop the pumpkin in the fridge until closer to Thanksgiving.
- If you want special plates or decorations, the week after Thanksgiving is a great time to pick up items on clearance.
Planning ahead isn’t just about the food, though. When you are on a tight budget, a little time and creative thinking means you can create some beautiful and thankfulness inspired decor without a lot or any cost. (Check out my pinterest board for some low cost ideas and free printables to spice up your Thanksgiving table.)
Taking time to plan out the day its self is also important. It means you can make sure you have time to spend with your loved ones. And it gives you a chance to be intentional about making Thanks the focus of your celebrations.
2. Keep it Simple
Some of my favorite Thanksgiving memories are simple things. Growing up, we had Thanksgiving food, but simplified.
We made just the things we loved, not everything just because. We skipped some of the traditional dishes, and went for a lighter, but just as delicious twist. The majority of Thanksgiving, we had Hot Turkey Sandwiches. Our sides were a fresh vege tray with a few dips and cranberry sauce. We topped it off with a favorite dessert.
It was so much easier to create, and took much less time to clean up. The simple menu meant we had a lot more time to do some of the other things we enjoyed the most about Thanksgiving day. For us, it was more about our fun traditions than just a big meal. (More on that in a little bit.)
Now I’m married and have my own family, Thanksgiving looks different than it did growing up. But I took the principle of keeping it simple with me. Scott and I talked about what we both thought made Thanksgiving special, and our celebrations are a melding of both of our favorite things.
So when time and money are tight, sit down and have a family talk. Decided what it is about Thanksgiving that you all love the most. Keep those parts, and let the other expectations go.
3. Create new Traditions
I am all for old Traditions. They bind families together and make some of the best memories. But not all of us are lucky enough to have extended families to go back to…and even when we do, there’s not always money in the budget for long trips over the holidays.
Growing up, one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions was our family costumes. I love playing dress ups, even as an adult. And creating and wearing our little nod to the first Thanksgivings was a huge highlight for me.
But marriage is all about joining and combining two lives into one. And I am a huge fan of new traditions, too! Scott isn’t as keen on dress ups as I am (He’ll play along sometimes though), but we have created our own little traditions since getting married that are a great blend of both of our backgrounds.
Some of my favorites are sharing one of our favorite moments from the past year, playing our favorite music, and cooking our favorite holiday foods together.
Now that we have a toddler, I’m sure Thanksgiving will include some crafts and outdoor play too. We’re both excited about continuing to develop traditions our kids will look back on fondly each year when they grow up.
While Thanksgivings today are not very much like the Thanksgivings I grew up with, they are wonderful too. At first, letting go of or modifying some of my favorite traditions was a little bit hard. My gentle advice for any newly married people, or families in new seasons where it feels like everything familiar has been swept away: don’t think of changing traditions as a loss as much as a chance to create. Sometimes, new traditions pieced from the old are the best ones anyway!
4. Sharing With “Strangers”
Thanksgiving was created to be shared with others. Not just family, but community. One of my favorite things about my parents’ home is how they embraced hospitality, especially at Thanksgiving time.
I grew up in Alaska. We were thousands of miles away from any of our own extended family, and many people in our community were also alone for the holidays. Many of my growing up holidays are filled with memories of my parents’ open door. Anyone who didn’t have a place to be was invited. Sometimes our house was completely overflowing. Sometimes it was just one or two. But the warmth and love in those circles was perfect. That spirit of Thanksgiving made a big impact on me.
I don’t always have large gatherings in my own home. But those Thanksgivings have made me much more aware of loneliness and much less concerned about how my house looks than being welcoming and generous with what we have.
Maybe you can’t invite 25 “strangers” into your Thanksgiving celebration. But if you can? Find that one or two lonely people in your circles and make them feel a part of a family this year.
5. Taking time to Remember
No matter what kind of meal you make, what your favorite traditions are, or who you bring into your family gatherings, on’t forget to stop and remember on Thanksgiving day.
Look back at your year, and talk about what God is doing in your life. Remembering is one of the best ways to stop taking for granted the good things in our lives.
Sometimes life can be rough. Really, really rough. Personally, I’ve found nothing quite as inspiring as remembering the good times and the ways God has taken care of me. Taking a little time to talk about our blessings has definitely inspired a lot of courage and hope through hard times. And Thanksgiving is the perfect day to spend some time doing just this!
6. Savor every blessing
Gratitude is a big thing for me. It’s changed my attitude and in many ways my entire life outlook. So it is really important to me to be intentional on Thanksgiving and every day about being grateful.
And because life is busy and a little crazy sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in living and forget to savor moments and little things. I like to take Thanksgiving as chance to refocus my “gratitude” lense a little.
Take time to write down 100 tiny, ordinary things that make you feel happy. Sing songs that make you feel thankful. Just take time to be still, and notice what’s around you. See the good in your life, and soak it all in.
Savor your Thanksgiving day and the people who make it wonderful.
You can read more about how I try to be intentional about adding “thanks” back into Thanksgiving in my home each year in this post.
I’d love to hear about how you make your Thanksgiving celebrations special!
And… most of all have a very happy Thanksgiving, y’all!