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4 Frugal Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving

Nov. 20, 2014
Personal Finance
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By Richard Rosso, MS, CFP®, CIMA®

Learn more about Richard on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor.

According to a recent fun facts bulletin by the Census Bureau, more than 4 million U.S. households will have at least three generations under a single roof this Thanksgiving. Of those I’m honored to help navigate through financial difficulty, seven out of every 10 families will celebrate multiple generations around beautifully trussed tabletops; the more giving, the greater the thanks.

So, how can you celebrate community with an abundance of guests, gratitude and spirit on Thanksgiving—and save money at the same time? Here are four ways to celebrate with your family and preserve your cash.

1. Suggest a memory-food-based communal dinner.

A client asked people coming to Thanksgiving to bring their best memory-inspired comfort food or baked good. Everybody was asked to share the warm memories behind their contribution. Money was saved, as the cost of the feast was spread among 20 guests, but the spiritual enrichment of “breaking bread” over stories of times past was priceless to all who attended (including me). There was an abundance of macaroni and cheese and pizza, yet nobody cared. It was a Thanksgiving celebration like no other.

2. Give a little, feel a lot.

Establish a tradition of contributing to charitable causes with your children and grandchildren. For example, every year my daughter and I make cash donations to the local food bank, and we offer food and time contributions to the county animal shelter. Keep in mind that your donations may be tax deductible if the IRS considers the organization eligible. Check with your tax advisor or Publication 526 to confirm whether or not they qualify.

3. Gather holiday décor from the backyard or local park.

A remarried couple used the holiday to encourage bonding among the young children from their previous marriages. The kids gathered branches and colorful leaves and spray painted them. They also made scented pine cones as table decorations. There’s no need to spend money on expensive crafts for Thanksgiving decorations or activities for the family.

4. Create a holiday spending game plan.

After dinner, the guests will be gone and there’ll be a couple of hours to unwind; it’s quiet time to check out the Black Friday deals and begin figuring out your gift budget. It’s also an opportunity to research your favorite retailers’ specials and download free Black Friday smartphone apps to notify you of deals from area retailers.

Thanksgiving doesn’t need to be expensive. By incorporating smart money habits into a holiday made for rich experiences, you’ll have all of the ingredients for a perfect holiday.