How to Make Thanksgiving Dinner on a Budget in 2022

With turkey prices about 60 to 80% higher in 2022, a Thanksgiving meal will be unaffordable for many families. Find tips, suggestions, and even different types of meals to make in order to save money on a Thanksgiving meal during 2022 – the year of high inflation. Find tips below on how to budget and save money as you make a Thanksgiving dinner for your family. in 2022.

Thanksgiving is arguably the most stressful time for cooks during the holidays. It is even more challenging this year due to high inflation. Money troubles only make the challenge feel insurmountable for most Americans who like paycheck to paycheck.

You are not alone. Overcoming a limited budget is a learnable skill for low-income families. It is possible to create a unique and memorable 2022 Thanksgiving holiday that you and your family will enjoy and maybe even reminisce about for years to come. You can offset the steep price of a Thanksgiving turkey this year through these budgeting methods.

1 – Careful Planning

The Norman Rockwell painting is a beautiful depiction of the Thanksgiving experience, but it isn’t always practical. Celebrating holidays, including Thanksgiving, on a tight budget will mean making sacrifices in other areas. One way to save money is to make sound financial decisions about what types of food or groceries to serve along with the proper use of leftovers. (More on that later.) You need to plan in advance on what to make and time to shop for deals in order to save money.

We’re all used to culinary shortcuts, such as premade pies, canned yams, premade stuffing, etc. You might have to give up some conveniences to accomplish your dream. Make time to cook parts of dinner in advance to ease the burden of adding to your schedule. Don’t be discouraged if you’re intimidated. It may take trial and error to bring your vision together, but you can accomplish your labor of love.

2 – Consider Substitutes for the 2022 Thanksgiving Dinner

Your goal this year is to treat your family to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner meal with plenty of leftovers to stretch your future food dollar. While turkey and ham are wonderful proteins, they might not be the best choice for most low to moderate income families as the USDA estimates that the cost of a turkey may be as much as 80% higher in 2022. Look into alternative, “non-traditional meats” to serve this Thanksgiving. As while the price of a turkey is up 60 to 80% year over year, other meats such as ham are up “only ~20%” and some meats are up at the regular rate of inflation of 5% or so.

As far as other substitutes for the Thanksgiving meal dinner, more charities that ever have been trying to help low-income families get a free turkey or dinner. Feeding America offers more holiday programs, the Salvation Army and non-profits work to provide Thanksgiving meals, and other food baskets are offered. The goal is to help struggling families who have been impacted by COVID over the last few years and higher inflation. Locate where to get a free turkey

A pair of Cornish game hens or ham steaks are a great choice that can feed up to four people. The problem with this method is you have fewer leftovers to work with, reducing your long-term investment. Reserve these protein substitutes for when you can’t afford something more substantial rather than as a savings easy button.

Duck is also a splendid way to make the Thanksgiving meal special. Sadly, depending on where you live, it might not be a better value. While turkey and duck are both birds, duck takes greater time and attention to get the most out of it. Collect the rendered duck fat from the bottom of your pan, preferably in a secure container. Preserve it in the refrigerator for later reuse. Rendered duck fat is delicious. It also has a high smoke point, allowing greater cooking flexibility. If you can only afford one culinary luxury this holiday season – duck fat is the way to go.

Still want to go the turkey or ham route? Think about the size of your bird or ham. How many people are you planning to serve? How many leftovers do you want to store afterward? Use these tips to save money on food. Ensure there’s enough room in your monthly budget for an extra person or two so you won’t stress over the possibility of one of your family members bringing a plus one without telling you.

3- Use a Free Food Pantry for Thanksgiving Ingredients

Food banks and pantries operate year round, but they have had increasing demand since 2020 due to (1) the COVID pandemic and (2) increasing inflation. Most food pantries try to help low-income families and struggling households during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Some may give our free turkeys, hams, desserts, pies or meals. But it is more likely that a family will get other holiday items from a pantry, such as ingredients to make a meal or “side” groceries such as soup, bread, dinner rolls, and similar items. Find free food near you.

4 – Buy Frozen or Shelf-Stable Ingredients Well in Advance

One time-honored strategy is to stretch the costs across multiple paychecks. Purchase shelf-stable items like dry goods first. Buy the Thanksgiving turkey weeks in advance if you can make the necessary freezer space. The longer you wait to get your key protein the harder it will be to find the best deal as well as the best weight. If you are concerned about expiration or sell dates on the food, turkey or meat(s) you buy in advance, please not the food sell by and expiration dates are mostly meaningless. Learn about food expiration dates.

The absolute latest you should buy a frozen turkey is ten days before Thanksgiving, so that would be 11/14/22 . It takes two to six days to safely defrost a turkey in the refrigerator, depending on its weight. Consult with the chart on your bird to outline the defrosting time. If the bird’s flesh isn’t permeable the day before, clean and empty your sink. Run cool water over the bird for half an hour. Return it to the fridge for another half hour.

This will prevent bacteria growth. Rotate the turkey. Repeat the quick defrost process until your meat is permeable to the touch. The waiting game is tough, especially as the big day nears. Resist the urge to leave your turkey (or protein) out overnight. Food-borne bacteria can’t be killed by heat. Eating late is always preferable to severe food poisoning.

If you discover ice crystals inside your bird – don’t panic. Run cool water through the bird. Massage the bird inside and out before dressing it. The water as well as the warmth of your hands will melt the lingering ice crystals without precooking the meat. Don’t use hot water. Precooking your protein will ruin its flavor and texture. Your turkey may take longer to cook. Once your bird is properly cooked it will be worth the wait.

5. Shop for Groceries and Food Using Coupons or Cash Back Websites

If there was ever a year to try to offset higher food, groceries and even Thanksgiving turkey prices, 2022 is the year! While inflation has mostly peaked, and it will be declining over the next several months, the 2022 holiday season is the time to try to budget and save using coupons and other technology.

There are websites that provide free coupons, including for Thanksgiving dinner meals and turkeys. Or use cash back shopping apps, BNPL companies and other tools for saving money on the Thanksgiving holiday. While anyone can use them, of course low-income families will benefit the most. Learn more on where you can get coupons for free.

6 – Don’t Over-Complicate 2022 Thanksgiving Dinner

With the cost of a turkey as much as 80% higher this year due to supply chain issues, weather factors, lack of farmers raising/”producing” turkeys, multi-year droughts most likely made worse by climate change, the war in Ukraine and extra federal reserve and government stimulus, it is a great time to cut back on other area of the Thanksgiving holiday. The bottom line is when cost of living and inflation is higher, like it is now, low income families or people on a budget should enjoy “the simple things in life”.

Expensive ingredients or groceries don’t equal a great meal. Sometimes, the little touches transform a meal from the ordinary into something extraordinary. Choose fewer menu options. Limiting the number of sides and desserts will allow you to focus more on each element while saving you a few dollars in the process.

7 – Buy Vegetables and Produce in Season

Another wonderful but expensive modern-day innovation is growing produce out of season. It’s tempting to stick to the same selection year-round but the price adds up. In-season vegetables are cheaper because of the difficulty in cultivation as well as the nature of supply and demand. If you want to budget for a Thanksgiving meal, buy vegetables or food that is in season.

Vegetables in-season, that have been grown during the late summer or fall of 2022, provide more nutrients because they have fully ripened. The dopamine hit you get when you bite into your favorite dish at the start of a new season will make the experience that much more enjoyable.

8 – Make Stuffing and Simple Desserts by Hand

Convenience foods are a delightful modern invention that has made our lives easier. Sadly, it is also an overpriced lobster trap. Premade stuffing for the Turkey holiday, for instance, is simply dried seasoned toasted bread chopped into cubes. It’s a lifesaver after a long day’s work. Unfortunately, we also pay for that simplicity in hard-earned cash. Families who live on a budget do not have the luxury of buying all these pre-made items.

Making stuffing can give your family a unique, vastly superior experience. Try preparing a small test batch of stuffing to determine if the personalized version is right for you. Or make other food and desserts this Thanksgiving.

Desserts are often bought rather than made these days. Recipes for pies, loaves of quick bread, and a multitude of other simple desserts are a quick internet search away. If you’re a good cook but a terrible baker, purchase your favorite sweet or find a dessert recipe that doesn’t require baking. Only you can decide which option is right for you.

9 – Make an Inexpensive Filling Lunch on the Big Day

One reliable method for celebrating the 2022 Thanksgiving holiday on a budget is serving a filling lunch or brunch rather than dinner. Or serve a lunch before the big Thanksgiving dinner. The cheap meal is part fuel and part appetite suppressant, giving you a little extra turkey to work with in the coming days.

Consider using it as a reward for contributing to Thanksgiving dinner. More hands for tasks equal more weight taken off your shoulders. Sharing the load can bring your family closer together. Backup food can even rescue you when dinner is running late.

10 – Save Your Carcass

Thanksgiving does eventually end. When it does do not waste the Thanksgiving leftovers. Studies show that as much as 30% of food in the US is wasted each year, and with higher rates of inflation in 2022 that wasted food can “make or break” a low-income families budget. Learn more on how to reduce the amount of food you waste.

Dinner is over but that doesn’t mean your work is. To save money, and budget for future meals, refrigerate your protein within two hours of cooking for stock and soups, even if you are down to scraps, connective tissue, and bones. They still have more flavorful goodness just waiting to be extracted. Carefully, pour your pan drippings into a secure container that can handle being tipped over. Cooking with rendered meat fat is a great way to enhance even the most boring dish.

11 – Thanksgiving Dinner’s Second Life in 2022

Leftovers aren’t solely the same meal in a drier form. It’s ham and cheese sandwiches, turkey salad, turkey chili, ham with mixed vegetable stir fry, turkey and dumplings, etc. Refrigerate or freeze meat in airtight containers or Ziploc freezer bags to extend its shelf life. Be sure to remove turkey bones before long-term storage to avoid accidents.

Depending on the size of your leftovers, a good turkey dinner can make up to a week worth of meals. Brown bag that lunch to save. It could even last you until December 2022. A great budgeting technique is to use leftovers and not waste food.

Unfortunately, it will last in the fridge for up to three to four days, so don’t forget to freeze anything you won’t use within that timeframe. Cooked ham will keep for three to four months in the freezer while cooked turkey’s greater longevity gives it four to six months.

12 – Finally, Homemade Soups Are Good to the Last Drop

Extract stock and make soup by the third day. Stripping the carcass of any remaining meat, refrigerate it in a Ziploc bag or other vessel. The meat will be used for your soup later. Use your favorite recipe for stock. Store your cooled strained stock in secure containers. Freeze any stock you’re not planning to use within the next two days.

It’s time to start your soup. Whether you’re doing turkey soup or split-pea with ham, leftover-based soups only last one to two days in the fridge. It depends on the age of your ingredients. If you’re sick of leftovers or are afraid they will expire then your freezer is your best friend. Preserve your soup in freezer-safe containers.

The next time you need an easy dinner, pop a slightly defrosted soup block into a pot with at least two inches of water. Cook on medium heat until the block melts then bring it to a boil. You can add additional vegetables and seasoning to spice things up.

Celebrating the 2022 Thanksgiving Holidays on a Shoestring Budget

The rewarding feeling you’ll receive from bringing your Thanksgiving dream to life will make up for the stumbling blocks of planning one on a shoestring budget. Keep in mind, Thanksgiving isn’t about extravagant meals or keeping up appearances. Especially this year with the cost of groceries up 10% year over year, turkeys even higher and other cost of living struggling.

It’s a time for family and close friends to celebrate one more year together. The best, most memorable holiday gatherings aren’t extravagant. What makes them special is the irreplaceable time with loved ones.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.