How to Celebrate Thanksgiving With Friends on the Cheap

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Can't afford to go home for the holidays? Celebrate Thanksgiving with friends instead! Learn how to have a lovely, cheap Friendsgiving with all the fixings!

For the last two years, I’ve been more than 2,200 miles away from home and family for Thanksgiving. Flying back home for the long weekend to celebrate wasn’t an option for me, financially speaking, so I was left to create my own Friendsgiving in my new city.

Friendsgiving is a great way to spend Thanksgiving, and I’ve really enjoyed both of mine! If you’re stuck in a similar situation, here’s how I’ve made it work.

I plan on doing the same thing this year – staying in my city and not going home for Thanksgiving. That means Friendsgiving 2015 is happening again! It’s pretty easy to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends on the cheap if you know what you’re doing.

First of all, remember what Thanksgiving is really all about. Sure, we’re Americans and we love our football and food. Those are two key ingredients for a great Turkey Day. The holiday itself is about more than just that.

We gather together with friends and family to be thankful for what we have in our lives and each other. Even if you can’t be with family, it doesn’t mean you can’t be with people you love!

So invite the people over you’re thankful for knowing in your city. Friends from work and school are a good starting point. Try and think of other people who may not be able to go home for the holiday and invite them over. The more the merrier – and the cheaper!

1) Each Guest Brings a Dish

Thanksgiving requires a lot of food. People literally plan on overeating. You can’t shoulder that burden by yourself, financially or time-wise. (Cooking requires a lot of time!)

Ask each guest you invite to bring one of their favorite family dishes. They get to bring something familiar to them to a whole new host of people and you get to check off one less thing on the list. Keep track of who is bringing what and make sure to ask people to bring main dishes as well as desserts and appetizers.

2) Go Shabby-Chic

I know I don’t have the crystal and china my grandmother back home has. For my family, holidays are the time to get out the good china and the fancy dishware. I’m 27 years old and just clawed my way out of debt. I don’t have fancy dishware. I drink water out of mason jars and eat off plastic plates.

Lots of us are in the same situation. We haven’t yet hit the adult level of home decor. So embrace it! Set your table with your plastic plates and fill your mason jars with some flowers for rustic center pieces.

Use lemon slices as garnish on food dishes. If you don’t have enough silverware or cups, ask a guest to bring some extra and mix and match the settings. It can actually look cute when everyone is dealing with a hodge-podge!

Recognize you’re not going to have the picture perfect Thanksgiving and get into it. Mix your nicer things in with the more used ones for a effect that says ‘everything here is well-loved.’ Tell guests they can dress casually for dinner so the entire vibe is laid back.

3) Skip the Turkey

I know, I know, it’s sacrilegious! How can you not have turkey on Turkey Day?! I put the question to you then: do you know how to cook a turkey? Can your oven even fit a turkey? I know I don’t have the skills or the equipment necessary to cook a whole bird at my house.

Whole turkey is also an expensive item. If you really want to cut down on your spending and your time, just skip the bird. You can do a meal based on side dishes if you want and feature three different kinds of potatoes, multiple gravy’s, cranberry sauces, stuffings, and vegetable dishes. I promise you’ll still feel full!

Or you could go a different route and try a vegetarian Thanksgiving, eliminating meat everywhere. If that’s not possible, try cooking up turkey burgers, or have everyone pitch in to get a cooked turkey from the store.

The point is, you can build your meal around something other than a whole turkey. You’re already having a non-traditional Thanksgiving by not being at home, so go nuts with it. One year of thinking outside the box won’t ruin the holiday and doesn’t mean you’ll never have turkey on Thanksgiving again.

4) Buy and Cook in Bulk

Last year I attended a Friendsgiving where 30 people came and went over the course of the evening. That’s a lot of people to feed! Buying food in bulk is a sure fire way to save money and cooking in bulk is a great way to feed lots of people and keep costs low. You want to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends, but you want to do it on the cheap, right? Bulk food items are the way to go.

Dishes like vegetables are a great place to start. In my family, it’s not Thanksgiving without squash and turnip side dishes. These are both cheap vegetables that can be dressed up easily. Sweet potato and broccoli are also great side dishes that are easily made.

If you’ve decided to skip the bird, this is also a chance to provide interesting and plentiful side dishes. Sweet potatoes can be served mashed, baked, or grilled. Broccoli can be served steamed for a healthy option, or smothered in cheese for a delicious option.

Buy a LOT of the cheaper items and play around with how you serve them.

Discuss the menu with all your guests beforehand and know what everyone is bringing. Keep a head count and make sure to have enough seating and tableware for everyone. After that, keeping food costs low is just gravy! (See what I did there?) Celebrate Thanksgiving with friends on the cheap this year and see if it doesn’t end up becoming a new tradition.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving with friends instead of family because of costs to go back home? What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving foods and traditions?

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