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José Vélez / Money

Hosting Thanksgiving can be stressful if you don’t plan ahead. Between managing the logistics and reviewing the guest list, the last thing you want to worry about is policing your checkout cart to make sure your groceries are within budget.

The average cost of a Thanksgiving feast for 10 people was about $48.90 in 2018, according to USA Today. Compare that to 1949, when a similar-sized feast came in at $5.62 (which, granted, is $45.43 when adjusted for inflation).

But it's easy to tip the scales when you're hurrying through the grocery store. Being The Frugal Convert, I take pride in hosting Thanksgiving dinner on a budget, without sacrificing any of the fun for my guests. This year, we aim to stay below $49 for our entire feast (without spending countless hours clipping coupons). Here are my saving secrets to keeping the holiday frugal and fabulous.

Here are 7 saving secrets to host Thanksgiving for $49 or less

1. Shop as early as possible

Don’t wait until the week of Thanksgiving to start your shopping. Typically, Thanksgiving grocery sales start about 3 weeks ahead of the holiday, so shop as early ahead as you can. Even the weekend before will get you better deals than the day before. Shopping early means you’ll have time to compare prices at your favorite grocery stores without the added pressure of running out of time.

2. Choose frozen over fresh

Honestly, I don’t know anyone who has such a trained palate that they can tell the difference in flavor between a fresh and frozen turkey.

Save a few bucks and choose the frozen variety. Last year, I got a 15-pound turkey for about $7 at Kroger. Not bad for the showstopper.

3. Shop for most of your items in one store

I usually advise to shop at multiple stores in order to get the best prices on your groceries, but for Thanksgiving, my strategy is different.

Many times, major grocery chains will offer a free turkey or heavily discounted bird if you spend around $25 or $50 in groceries.

Since you already have a list of groceries you need, opt to purchase most of the grocery items (that are on sale, of course) from that single store in order to meet the spending threshold.

This will allow you to qualify for the free or discounted turkey and will save you time running from store to store, saving gas as well. Time and money savings is always a win in my book.

4. Don’t forget to check out warehouse stores

With grocery ads plastered everywhere, you may think that skipping Costco or Sam's Club is fine for Thanksgiving.

While the warehouse stores do not offer many discounts during this time, there are several Thanksgiving items that are priced competitively.

Always a crowd-pleaser, Costco’s gigantic pumpkin pie weighs in at 58 ounces and only costs $5.99. Compare that to the pumpkin pies offered at my local Walmart, which are $3.98 for 22 ounces, nearly a third of the size of Costco’s pie.

You can also pick up some beverages at Costco. From wine to soda, the prices are comparable to the sale prices at grocery stores around Thanksgiving. The added bonus is that you get a large quantity for your large crowd.

5. Don't be afraid of buying generic

If you plan on buying convenient dinner helpers, like boxed mashed potatoes or stuffing, consider buying the generic-brand varieties. Many of the generic foods we overlook are made in the same factories as their name-brand counterparts, and often with the same ingredients. They simply add another company label on top. The non-name brand items will usually be a little cheaper, and those savings can add up.

6. DIY to save even more money

If you want to feed your family and friends dishes made from scratch, you’ll save a ton of money. Of course, the tradeoff is that it will be much more work for you. So, a word to the wise: Make sure you prep all scratch-made dishes way ahead of time.

Some of the dishes you can make ahead are mashed potatoes, bread for your stuffing, green bean casserole (wait to add the fried onion until it’s time to reheat), and cranberry sauce, which actually tastes better when it’s made in advance.

You can save a lot of money when you make things from scratch. Take, for example, making bread. A 5-pound bag of flour on sale is $1.25 (with coupon), so making bread at home using a cup of flour (4½ ounces) will cost cents.

Here’s the math to prove it.

5 lbs. = 80 ounces for $1.25, so each ounce equals 1.5 cents.
1 cup= 4.5 ounces, so 4.5*1.5 cents= 6.7 cents

Even with the most discounted sales, you’d be hard pressed to find a loaf of bread for 7 cents. Now think of all of the savings you can enjoy if you plan and cook ahead with real ingredients instead of boxed or canned versions. (If you go this route, I do recommend employing some help from family members!)

7. Don’t forget your rebates

Use shopping rebates like Rakuten, Ibotta, Shopkick, and Fetch Rewards to get cash back on grocery items you needed to buy anyway.

It’s a great way to increase your savings without the hassle of clipping coupons or taking anything extra with you to the store.

Most of the apps allow you to scan in your receipt and the savings are calculated automatically based on your purchase.

With these tips, you’ll be able to get the most out of your Thanksgiving budget, without having to sacrifice the quality of your meal.