Hosting a Thanksgiving meal at your home is a production, no matter how many times you’ve done it. Getting everything right on your first turn for hosting can be a daunting challenge— How are you going to cook the turkey? What else will you serve? How will it all get cooked on the same day?
The cooking worries are just where the production starts; hosting a thanksgiving dinner can be costly, both in time and money. Don’t let this scare you away. There are many ways to make the experience of hosting your first thanksgiving a memorable and stress-free one. The key is to plan ahead, shop smart, and get thrifty.
Follow these tips to save when hosting your first Thanksgiving:
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute
As a first time host, you’re probably nervous, and for good reason. Take the time to plan ahead for your thanksgiving meal. Start by getting an accurate headcount; set an RSVP date and follow up with anyone who hasn’t answered.
Use this headcount to note exactly how much food you anticipate eating—this is especially important for the turkey, so you don’t go over (or under) in the size. Use this great chart from Epicurious to determine what size you need.
Don’t forget, if you want to order from a local store, you need to order a few weeks in advance. Most start taking reservations for regular and organic turkeys on November 1.
Use Coupons and Shop Early
There are a surprising amount of coupons for Thanksgiving; check out all these ones on Pinterest. One Sunday early in the month, take an hour or two to cut and print all the coupons you think would be helpful. Then, every time you go grocery shopping leading up to the big day, see if any items on your list for dinner are on sale—or if you can use your coupon.
This will be especially helpful for things like canned cranberry sauce or bags of stuffing, which will stay good, unopened for a few weeks. This gives you a chance to get the best deal on everything, rather than having to buy regardless of price because you waited too long.
Go Potluck Style
Putting on your first Thanksgiving can be stressful because you’re taking on the brunt of the work. If this just isn’t going to work for your schedule (or wallet), ask guests to contribute by bringing their favorite side dish or dessert. Most people don’t like to show up empty-handed anyway, so don’t feel bad sorting it out ahead of time.
To be sure you don’t wind up with too much of the same thing, assign everyone an item. This frees you up to do your absolute best on the big things, like the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing.
Borrow Before You Buy
Now isn’t the time to re-outfit your kitchen. It can be tempting to buy brand new china or the newest mixer when you want to impress your guests, but these items are expensive and you may rarely use them again.
Instead, remember that this event is for one day only—if you don’t have something like a roasting pan or a gravy boat, ask to borrow from someone who isn’t hosting. You can likely collect all the items you need from just a few people and prepare a stellar dinner just the same.
Don’t Feel Obligated to Stock the Bar
When entertaining, especially for the holidays, you may want, or feel like you need, to cater to everyone’s drink preferences. However, the essentials of a well-stocked holiday bar, such as nice bourbon, craft beers and world-renowned wines can get pricey. Not to mention all of the glassware, bar tools and mixers you’ll want to have available.
To save, and still create a memorable experience for your guests, buy just beer and wine and serve one signature drink, holiday-themed of course. This way, if someone doesn’t like beer or wine, they have a second option and you didn’t have to break the bank to do it all.
You can also do a bottle sharing dinner, where everyone brings their favorite bottle of alcohol but doesn’t share which one they brought. At the end of dinner, have everyone guess who brought what. This takes the stress of your shoulders and makes dinner even more fun.
Use Your Leftovers
Did you know that consumers waste nearly 35 percent of turkey meat each year? Instead of stressing over making more food for yourself or out-of-town guests, save your leftovers for sandwiches, homemade turkey soup, and more. Better yet, save the bones and create your own stock as well.
There are many ways to use leftover potatoes, and winter casseroles are perfect for repurposing roasted vegetables. If you don’t want to start cooking immediately, that’s okay—just make sure that you’ve stored your leftovers correctly with this awesome guide from Real Simple.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years and is currently a professional blogger. She’s written for sites like Reader’s Digest, Lifehack, and Retale, sharing tips for saving money every day and becoming more resourceful.