The Best Ways to Save Money This Thanksgiving Amid Record-High Grocery Prices

These five tips will help ease the strain on your wallet.

A woman adding a bunch of celery to her grocery basket in the produce aisle.
Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

Over the past handful of months we've seen rising food costs at the grocery store, from dairy products and eggs to mustard and canned tomatoes. There's even been rumor of a turkey shortage—don't worry, we spoke to the experts and there shouldn't be!

Chances are, though, that the ingredients we use to make our Thanksgiving feasts will be more expensive this year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, the cost of food at home has risen 13% over the past year, with dairy products up nearly 16%, fresh fruits and vegetables up nearly 10.5%, and meat, fish, eggs and poultry—including turkey— up 9%. We spoke to a few experts about how to save at the grocery store, and tips for ingredient swaps that can help lessen the impact on your wallet.

Ways to Save Money This Thanksgiving

But don't be dismayed: we are here to help. We spoke with Dr. Maria Portelos-Rometo, a Family and Consumer Agent for the University of Florida, for tips on how to save when shopping for the ingredients for our favorite Thanksgiving dishes, and to Chef Brad Wise of Rare Society in Southern California for ingredient substitution ideas.

1. Plan Your Menu Around Sales & In-Season Produce

This tip takes a little bit of forethought and planning but can be well worth it. Research which grocery stores in your area will be having sales when, and plan to buy items as they go on sale, rather than doing one large shop at just one store. Looking for cash-back apps offering savings on groceries, looking for special promotional deals (like free turkeys!), and clipping coupons can help you save even more.

Once you make your shopping list and head to the grocery store, you may find that items other than those that you had in mind are on sale. Flexibility comes into play here, and Portelos-Rometo encourages thinking outside of the box for holiday meals. Take, for example, green beans.

"Remix a traditional green bean casserole by swapping out the green beans for collard greens," suggests Chef Brad Wise of Rare Society in San Diego.

"See what vegetables are in season and have those on your dinner table," adds Portelos-Rometo. "Now is a great time to purchase winter squash, and there are a lot of varieties to choose from."

"I'm serving a roasted squash salad this year; you can easily swap the squash for pumpkin," says Wise.

2. Shop Your Pantry First

Chances are, some of the ingredients you need for your Thanksgiving feast are already stocked in your home. Check for items like broth or stock, spices, herbs, onions, potatoes, garlic, canned pumpkin, breadcrumbs, flour, sugar, butter, oil, etc. before buying all new ingredients.

Plus, if you are the type of person who stows things that would otherwise go bad in your freezer: check there too. Stale bread and bread heals can be stored in the freezer to use in stuffing in lieu of buying a mix each year. And while your at it, look to any sausage you've stowed away to use in that stuffing. Or some chicken parts that could go to use in a homemade stock for keeping your turkey and stuffing moist instead of buying pre-made.

3. Organize Your Shopping List

After you've shopped at home, create a list of any other ingredients you need to round out your menu. "Organize your shopping list in the order in which you will be walking through the store," Portelos-Rometo advises. "This way you won't get off track and find yourself temped to make unplanned-for purchases.

So all the produce goes in one section, frozen foods in another, a section for dairy, and so on. Not only will this make your shopping trip go faster, it will keep you laser-focused to prevent overbuying.

4. Shop the Frozen Aisle

If you're planning a dish with vegetables that are out of season, Portelos-Rometo suggests steering your cart to the frozen food aisle.

"Many times, these vegetables are flash frozen right on the field so as to preserve the nutritional value, color and flavor," she says. Frozen vegetables are often less expensive than their fresh produce counterparts, and usually pre-prepped and faster-cooking.

Speaking of frozen, Portelos-Rometo also advises going with a frozen turkey instead of fresh. "A fresh bird will cost more per pound than a frozen," she says. "Just remember to follow food safe guidelines for thawing the turkey."

5. Set a Budget and Stick to It

"Create a meal that fits your budget. Holidays are all about sharing time with family and friends. You certainly don't want to be stressed about how the meal impacted your budget," Portelos-Rometo says.

Once you've created your budget and figured out which dishes you can prepare within that budget, reach out to your guests and have them contribute a dessert, a bottle of wine or anything else you might need that is outside of the budget. "You don't have to be everything to everyone," Portelos-Rometo reminds us.

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