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4 Tips to Make Your Thanksgiving on a Shoestring Memorable

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Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a huge expense.

If you have ever faced a financially hard year at the holidays you likely know what it means to have a shoe string budget.

You can celebrate Thanksgiving with little to no extra money in your budget. Let me tell you a story from my friend and give you some tips on having a memorable shoestring Thanksgiving!

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I drug myself to our local urgent care clinic, deep coughs racking my body. After an exam and a chest x-ray, I was sent home with a diagnosis of pneumonia and a hefty prescription. I called my parents, canceled our trip to their house for fear of sharing germs, and crawled back into bed.

Four days later, my daughter said, “Mom, are we even going to have Thanksgiving this year?”

Good question. The cost of the urgent care and the antibiotic I needed plundered our checking account and the pneumonia zapped my body. Mom guilt set in. I had nothing to give but how could I deny my kids Thanksgiving?

I gathered my man and our three kids and asked them what one dish they each wanted for Thanksgiving. Of course, I got four different answers but together, it made a meal. My man wanted a turkey, my son wanted dinner rolls, one daughter wanted green bean casserole, and our other daughter wanted squash. Even this relatively simple meal seemed overwhelming. But mom guilt is a formidable force. My husband offered to go get what we needed but I knew what the checking account balance was. Sometimes, it’s best to just do it yourself. 🙂

I’ll never forget going to the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving, coughing my way up and down the aisles trying to figure out the least expensive way to put a memorable meal on the table. I grabbed the smallest turkey (marked down, thankfully) and one butternut squash from the produce aisle. I found a few cans of green beans and a can of cream of mushroom soup and tossed them in the cart before I found the French fried onions (slightly marked down). One box of butter in the cart and I was finished. Thankfully, I had flour and yeast to make dinner rolls at home. I feebly pushed my cart to the checkout and instead of, “How are you, today?” the cashier simply said, “Oh, you poor dear!” She tried to sell me a package of natural mints that she was sure would quiet my cough. I didn’t have the heart to say, “I don’t have the money for those.” Instead, I mumbled, “Maybe next time.”

By the time I returned home, the little bit of energy I had mustered was long gone and our checking account was $20 lighter. The kids carried in the food and my husband took care of the turkey while I crawled back in bed.

Thanksgiving Day was a family affair. I sat on the couch and gave instructions as the turkey roasted. With the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade providing background entertainment, the kids took care of making the green bean casserole, the rolls, the squash, and setting the table. There was chatter and laughter, squabbling and arguing. I sat and absorbed it all.

When we all gathered round the table, we each said one thing for which we were thankful. The overwhelming answer… our family. You see, our small dinner was more than enough and not a one of us went hungry. And, while our bellies were full, our hearts were more so.

There was no fancy relish tray or cranberry sauce. Our table didn’t have a single salad on it. No fresh pies, cakes, or cookies. In fact, we didn’t even have dessert. Yet, it was one of my most favorite Thanksgiving Day celebrations.

This overzealous mom learned a very valuable lesson that day. It’s not about providing the biggest and the best Thanksgiving Day meals. It’s about family. When everyone is gathered, even shoestrings make memorable Thanksgivings.

Should you find yourself in this position here are some tips to help you out too!

4 Tips to Make Your Thanksgiving on a Shoestring Memorable

  • Involve your family – It costs nothing to involve your entire family. Have your littles color pictures for place mats while your older kids help in the kitchen. Or, ask everyone to help prepare one part of your Thanksgiving meal. Fill your home with conversation and laughter, squabbling and arguing and bask right in the middle of it.
    Soak it up, mess and all… and say a prayer for those who don’t have family.
  • Modify your meal – Consider modifying your typical Thanksgiving meal. You can take my suggestion of asking each family member which traditional food dish is most important to them and choosing a simplified traditional Thanksgiving meal or you could start a new tradition of having pasta or grilled cheese and soup for supper.
  • Involve Others – Create a neighborhood, church, or community pot luck for all of those who aren’t traveling over the holiday weekend. Each family brings their own place settings and a dish to pass. Your kids will thank you for the time with friends and you’ll have adult conversation. It’s been said, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” Maybe your need to pool resources will invent a new community tradition that grows year after year?
  • Be Thankful – Give thanks for your shoestring and say a prayer for those who have so much less.

Remember, it doesn’t matter the cost of the holiday. It is the thought and love that you put into it.

 This is a guest post from my friend, Heidi. Learn more about her and her website:

Heidi Kreider has been married to her BFF for 23 years and together they’ve parented their 3 E’s… Eric, Emme, and Ellen. She is in her sixteenth year of homeschooling and now only has one left in her nest. Over those years, she’s also experienced life as a public school mom and a Christian school mom. Each year brings it’s own adventures as her family grows and changes. 2017 brought a new daughter by marriage and Heidi can’t wait to meet her first grandchild and the newest addition to their family in the spring of 2018. She has written two novels (both available on and blogs about life at 

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