Saving money on Thanksgiving's sizable grocery bill requires time and effort. Stay on track with these tips.
All frugal shoppers hone the skill of planning ahead, followed by rolling up their sleeves.
"When you plan ahead and cook from scratch, you're going to save a lot of money," says Denise Marshall, owner of The Last Bite Cooking School in Eagle Point, which features holiday cooking classes through December. "For example, if you buy a pre-made pie, you're paying for someone else to do the labor."
Shopping early is good for your spirit, too.
"Sometimes at holidays, there can be underlying tensions, and anything you can do to make the situation less tense is valuable," says Michele Pryse, vice president of the food-education program at the Southern Oregon University Research and Extension Center in Central Point. "You feel so relaxed when you've planned ahead, like you're in control of the meal — it's not in control of you."
Plus, you avoid long lines, snappy shoppers and picked-over ingredients.
Make a list
When shopping, buy only what you need and forget about the rest — your guests will never know what isn't on the table. And do your homework; most grocery stores reward loyal customers with special holiday sales.
To cut more costs, skip expensive and appetite-suppressing hors d'oeuvres, distill your menu down to basics and family favorites or assign dishes for a well-organized potluck.
Let the season guide your menu
Local farms and grocery stores are brimming with seasonal fruits and vegetables.
"Don't do asparagus in November," counsels Marshall. Instead, reach for root vegetables. "They are very plentiful, and carrots and potatoes are very reasonable."
If you've got room in the oven, try roasting a medley of carrots, parsnips, winter squashes and onions for a caramelized treat that's perfect alongside turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy.
"Cut the root veggies into chunks and the onions into wedges, mist them with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh or dried herbs such as thyme," suggests Pryse. "A tiny bit of Dijon mustard and a bit of brown sugar is nice."
Stir everything together and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast at 425 degrees until veggies are fork tender.
"The high temperature caramelizes the sugars in the vegetables and makes them tender and sweet," says Pryse. "Once you do this, you'll be amazed you didn't do it earlier. It's so easy."
If you need only a small amount of something, shop the bulk section of the grocery store.
"Dried cranberries are very expensive, but you don't have to buy the huge bag," says Marshall. "Buy a quarter cup if that's all you need for the salad."
Invite guests to contribute. If your cousin makes a wonderful lemon-meringue pie, and people won't freak out if there's no pumpkin, go ahead and serve that.
Bypass higher-priced artisan breads and bake your own rolls — they can be baked the week before and frozen until the big day. Consider baking a large batch of corn bread — from scratch or from a box — the day before Thanksgiving; use part for dinner that night with chili and use the rest for your stuffing.
If you're going to splurge on anything, splurge on the turkey, says Marshall.
"It's going to be the most expensive thing anyway, so look for ways to budget your side dishes around that," she says.
When shopping for an inexpensive, frozen bird, look for a respected brand and read the label carefully, choosing the one with the fewest added chemicals. Always defrost according to instructions on the package.
For a flavor boost, brine the bird before roasting. "It gives great flavor and imparts such moisture," says Marshall. "And it's just salt, sugar and water and sometimes spices. How cheap is that?"
Be creative with leftovers. To stretch your pennies and avoid wastefulness, have a plan for using leftovers. It may even pay off to make additional servings.
"Stretching the leftovers into several more meals often makes the price of the extra ingredients more reasonable," says Marshall.
Why not make a big batch of turkey enchiladas and turkey ragout with white beans to stow in the freezer for warming winter meals later on?
Budget time for yourself
"Before people arrive, allow yourself some time to change gears, maybe take a shower, change your clothes," counsels Pryse. "Invite yourself to be a guest at your gathering, not just the servant or hostess."
Being relaxed and enjoying the holiday with your guests imparts the true spirit of Thanksgiving.