As Thanksgiving approaches, many consumers are awaiting the Black Friday deals. But for those living on a tight budget, finding bargains on food for the feast is more important. Therefore, The Times asked a couple of North Georgia experts, consulted online websites and went shopping to compile a Thanksgiving meal for four people for $60 or less.
The first step in preparing a Thanksgiving meal on a budget is planning.
“You need to devise a plan of attack on how you are going to prepare your main course, sides and desserts,” said Michele Melton, the Forsyth County family and consumer sciences extension agent. “Once you get down to the end of your planning, you may have too many items you are making and your budget will not stretch that far.”
Therefore, Melton suggests devising a simple menu with fewer ingredients or possibly serving less food.
“A lot of times we overspend because we overserve,” she said, noting consumers do not need six sides and four desserts. “Sometimes it’s just simplifying the menu, which cuts costs as well as helping the waistline.”
Allrecipes.com also suggests sticking to the classics such as a turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, candied yams and pumpkin pie. But Melton pointed out while many consumers eat regular green beans throughout the year, they add cream of mushroom soup for a casserole at Thanksgiving.
“You don’t need to put in cream of mushroom for a casserole,” Melton said. “From a nutritional and financial standpoint, you can leave out the added fats and higher amounts of sodium, which can help cut costs and improve nutrition.”
In this regard, Melton recommends setting priorities for the Thanksgiving Day menu.
“If you are trying to cut cost ... ask yourself ‘Do you want to serve more?’ or ‘Do you want to serve a smaller choice and serve them as you traditionally make them?’”
Once consumers make those menu choices, they need to write down all of the ingredients for each recipe and check the pantry to see what items need to be purchased and what supplies are on hand. Once they have their list, the hunt-and-gather tasks begin.
Heidi Pittman, a volunteer who teaches couponing at Lifeline Mission, advises consumers to clip and save coupons in advance of their shopping trips.
“Some good sources are The Times and it has some (coupons) in Sundays,” she said.
“If you’ve got a computer, some websites will have everything laid out for you,” Pittman said. “You can go and see the actual deals and see what’s on sale and see how much you will save and spend.”
She added some stores offer their own coupons and will combine those with a manufacturer’s coupon for extra savings.
After the coupons are clipped, consumers should search through grocery store inserts, on store websites and at the locations to compare prices and find the best deals. Then select a supermarket with the best deals and start shopping.
Armed with a grocery list of a turkey, four sides and one dessert, I embarked to J&J Foods off Limestone Parkway to buy a Thanksgiving meal for four people. My goal was to spend less than $60.
Upon entering the store, I immediately noticed canned green beans and canned corn were on sale, two for $1. I grabbed two cans of green beans for the casserole.
I also needed cream of mushroom soup for the casserole. While looking, I discovered the price difference between the brand-name and the store brand, Best Choice. Best choice was 99 cents versus $1.45.
“Most of the time, if you don’t have a coupon, the store brands are cheaper and just as good,” Pittman said.
I agreed, grabbing two cans, since I’ve been known to be a bit of a klutz in the kitchen or occasionally ruining a dish on my first try.
The price difference between the store brand and name brand became more apparent when buying frozen turkey. The store brand cost 99 cents a pound compared to the $1.29 a pound for the Butterball. The 12.88-pound turkey cost $12.75.
Allrecipes.com recommends buying a store-brand frozen turkey (with a coupon if possible) instead of a fresh bird to save money.
However, store brands are not always cheaper. Pittman said if a grocery store doubles coupons or shoppers buy an item on sale with a coupon, the name brand may be cheaper.
“If you go to Publix and see the buy one, get one and use coupon, it will be cheaper,” she said. “For example, I love Frosted Flakes and I’ve gotten them for 50 cents a box.”
Buying the store brand or sale items worked best for me at J&J Foods since I did not have any coupons handy. (That was poor planning on my part.) Green beans were on sale for 50 cents apiece and the pumpkin for the pie was on sale for $1.89.
A few other ways to save money included purchasing a loaf of bread for $1.09 and using it to make my own stuffing instead of buying the premade stuffing. It is also healthier since the premade product had a high salt content. Melton said it does not cost more to buy reduced-sodium products.
“People think it costs more to eat healthier,” she said. “But by putting a little research in, it doesn’t have to be the case.”
I also chose to make biscuits and a pie crust instead of the ready-to-bake or freezer ones. The cost of the mix was 75 cents a piece versus the $1.69. That small change made a difference.
Finally after traversing the store a few times, comparing brands and searching for sales, I was ready to check out.
As the cashier rang up my purchases, I saw the price creep closer to my $60 budget. Then it went over, but only by 51 cents. Luckily, I realized I had grabbed extra cans of green beans for my pantry for later.
I asked the cashier to take two cans off, making my final purchase $59.48. A quick math calculation showed I spent $14.87 per person for four people. But if I calculated for each person having seconds that’s $7.50 per person, and it doesn’t include at least a day or two of leftovers.
The process I followed was similar to Pittman’s.
“The way that I do it, I get papers ahead of time and I go through them,” she said. “I list everything I’m going to get, the price, the amount and what it should be in the end with my coupons. And then I have an idea of what my total will be in the end. And I can look over what I have done if something comes up wrong.”
I did a few things right and a few things wrong, but I met my $60 budget for Thanksgiving.