Money

7 ways to save money on Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving is the holiday for appreciating fine wines and good food with family and friends. But overindulging can be pricey. The average consumer will spend approximately $97.55 this Thanksgiving on non-travel related expenses, according to a recent survey by LendEDU, an online marketplace for student loan refinancing. The company compiled the dating by asking 1,000 participants, ages 18 and up, how they plan to celebrate.

This, of course, is only an estimate and does not include name brand products or anything fancy. Toss in side dishes, desserts and booze and the price only goes up. If you want to save money, you need to have a plan in place.

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"You have to be a creative cook," says Phil Lempert, grocery expert and food industry analyst, who runs Supermarketguru.com. "A lot of your menu depends on who you're inviting over: people with allergies, gluten-free, people who don't like turkey. Plan out as much as possible."

This holiday, count your blessings and your pennies with these quick and easy tips to save.

1. Party

First, decide what kind of event you're going to have. If you're hosting a party, have a potluck. Tell your guests to bring something to share. "It's the spirit of the holidays," says Andrea Woroch, a consumer and money-saving expert. "People want to help." And if you're the guest, don't show up empty-handed. Websites like Offers.com and Groupon.com have deals on gift baskets and flower arrangements.

Boston Market thanksgiving meal.
Source: Boston Market
Boston Market thanksgiving meal.

2. Menu

Create a budget and decide what's important. No one ever eats the cranberry sauce? Leave it off the menu and save both time and money. Instead of offering guests three variations of dessert, just pick one. "Planning out the menu by person is expensive," Lempert says. "If you try to do everything for everyone, you're going to waste a lot of money." Instead, he recommends making a list of who's coming over and what dietary restrictions each person has to ensure you're making the right amount. "You're not saving any money if you're throwing away a lot of food," Lempert says. Butterball has a cooking calculator to help you determine the right amount of food per person.

And don't wait until a week before Thanksgiving to start shopping. Stores are more likely to have the products you want the earlier you shop since quantities often run out the closer you get to any kind of event, Lempert notes. That means you might end up shopping at a more expensive store out of convenience.

3. Food

Shop around and compare prices. Different stores have different deals. Big box discount stores like Target and Walmart offer large amounts of fresh food at discount prices. Target has a deal right now for 0.99 cent 6-oz boxes of Kraft Stove Top Stuffing in different flavors, compared with $1.93 at most Publix stores. Variety shops like dollar stores and T.J. Maxx are also great places to find staples and canned food at markdown prices. Double up on the savings by combining store sales with coupons and buy in bulk when possible.

Also, supermarket chains like Aldi and Lidl are 30 percent to 40 percent less expensive than traditional supermarkets, according to Lempert. "They use their own brands, so it's cheaper and a great way to save," he says. Shop for in-season produce and even consider hitting up a local farmer's market if you live in warmer weather.

As for dessert, Woroch says Costco is a steal for sweets like pumpkin and apple pies. "I've seen markups at other stores as much as 130 percent," she says.

4. Free or discounted turkey

Look for free turkey promotions. Many large grocery store chains across the U.S. offer free birds and other dinner items if you spend over a certain amount. The deals can be found in weekly coupon circulars. Follow TheKrazyCouponLady.com for a running list of stores. "If you're a person that doesn't usually look into the ads, this might be a reason to do so," says Joanie Demer, co-founder of TheKrazyCouponLady.com. "That could be $15 you're saving on a turkey."

Demer says stores usually start announcing the deals about 10 days before Thanksgiving. ShopRite is offering its Price Plus club members a variety of discounts now until Nov. 23. Publix, a southeastern-based grocer that operates almost 1,200 stores in seven states, will have aggressive holiday ads with buy-one-get-one-free items. But spokeswoman Maria Brous says prices and specials will vary according to geography.

Many stores offer other bargains as well, like a free-ham-if-you-buy-a-turkey deal. Stash the second helping of meat in the freezer for Christmas or another event.

5. Spices

Experiment with spices from your kitchen that you would normally overlook. "It's easy and you can do it with things you already have in your pantry," Woroch says. If you're not feeling adventurous, Costco has some of the best prices when it comes to seasonings and spices, according to the KrazyCouponLady Demer. "Pure vanilla extract is the best deal you'll find in the whole store," she says.

Costco also offers low-cost basics like cooking oil and baking powder. They are even cheaper if you're buying in bulk. Rare spices can be found at your local ethnic and specialty shops, which have a tailored selection of goods, and are great if you're only in the market for a small amount.

And skip the bottled spices, since you're mostly just paying for the glass jar. "You'll find identical spices in bags for as much as 75 percent less," says Mike Catania, founder and chief technology officer of PromotionCode.org, a coupon website.

6. Wine

Whole Foods has gotten a bum rap as the leader in "whole paycheck" spending. But it has a surprisingly affordable selection of wine and beer deals if you buy in bulk, including a 10 percent case discount when you purchase six or more bottles.

Cost Plus World Market, which has locations around the U.S., also offers similar case discounts. "You can get the Two Buck Chuck at Trader Joe's," Demer says, referring to the chain's Charles Shaw brand. "But if you want good quality wine for cheap, then go to Whole Foods."

7. Decorations

Get crafty by making your own Thanksgiving decorations. Dollar stores across the U.S. have the best prices on supplies. If you want an organic look, use autumn leaves and pinecones from your yard to create centerpieces. Once the holiday is over just throw them away without the hassle of storing them for next year.

Don't miss: Here's how much money the average middle-aged American could save each month

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This article originally appeared on USA Today.