5 Tips For Enjoying Thanksgiving on a Budget

Gaye Levy, Contributing Writer
Activist Post

Thanksgiving can be a real budget breaker.  But think about it: Is it the meal that counts, or is it the camaraderie of sharing the day with family, friends and loved ones?  Today I share my tips for having a fabulous Thanksgiving on a budget.

But there is more.  I also share three of my tried-and-true Thanksgiving recipes.

Anyone for some turkey, stuffing, and yams?

Coping with the Thanksgiving Day Expense

1. Have a Potluck: Go buy one of those turkeys for you get for 50 cents (or less) per pound with a minimum purchase at your closest supermarket.  Get the very largest bird your oven will hold.  Typically this will be a frozen turkey, so you will have to thaw it first, but then go ahead cook it.  (I prefer the two-hour method which is easy and uses less energy – see below for the recipe.).  Let your guests bring everything else. At a typical potluck, the host often cooks the main course and tells everyone else to bring something. No rules other than the rule that says whatever you bring will be fine. No salad and three desserts – who cares?  It is all good.

2. Forget the plastic and paper do-dads:  Those cutesy paper plates and napkins can add $10 to your Thanksgiving budget. And did I mention that they are tacky, not classy and certainly not stylish?

Instead, make a one-time purchase of cheap generic dinner plates and cloth napkins and use them forever.  And while you are at it, forget the paper tablecloth as well. A $5 tablecloth will last years. Shop the post-Thanksgiving sales for this one.

3. Ambiance: Decorate with votive candles and greenery from your yard. The votives will cost you two bucks and the greenery is free.

4. Friends and family: You will have a lot more fun if you only invite people you like. Have a relative you would rather forget about? Okay, invite them, but assign another family member to keep them engaged so you do not have to deal with them and have him/her spoil your fun.  You don’t save any money with this one, but the intangible value of fun rules out the dollars-and-cents factor.

5. Keep the leftovers. You had to clean the house and organize the crowd. You had to set the table and prepare the decorations. If someone offers to let you keep the remains of their potluck dish, keep it! And, for goodness sake,  don’t give away the leftover turkey! There is another meal or two left in those fixings and we all know that pigging out on the leftovers is one of the better parts of Thanksgiving.

Now for the good part.  How about some recipe ideas?

The Fabulous Two-Hour Turkey

Forget about brining, and forget about the craziness of deep frying a turkey.  Not only is that dangerous but cripes, the expense of all of that oil and the cleanup – yuck.  Since discovering this recipe a few years back, I refuse to cook a turkey any other way.

And yes, you can really cook a turkey is two hours!  This method produces a turkey with a beautifully-browned skin and succulent meat. I can see your head shaking side to side and you probably don’t believe me, but please, read on and give it a try!

Before you start: 
  • Clean your oven 1-2 days before cooking to prevent old, nasty, burned-on grease smoking while you are cooking the bird at high heat. DO NOT USE A CONVECTION OVEN. 
  • If you have a frozen turkey, place it in the refrigerator to thaw 4-6 days before Thanksgiving. Take it out an hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature.
  • Make sure you have a pan big enough to hold the bird.  The turkey should not touch the pan, nor should any parts of the bird extend beyond the pan.  If your pan is not large enough, purchase a disposable foil pan.
  • Make sure the pan fits in your oven!
  • 30 minutes before starting,  preheat your oven to 475.


  • 10 to 24 pound turkey
  • Coarse Ground Black Pepper
  • Coarse Kosher Salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil

Tools needed:

  • Roasting pan
  • V shaped rack
  • Meat thermometer
  • Oven thermometer
  • Aluminum Foil


1. Remove and discard the truss.  Pull or trim off the lumps of fat and discard. Remove giblets and neck (also tail, if desired) and save for gravy – that is if you like giblet gravy.

2. Rinse the turkey inside and out with warm water. Pat dry with paper towel. Rub turkey skin all over with olive oil. Set bird breast down and sprinkle back with the salt and pepper.

3. Place an adjustable V shaped rack in a pan about 13 x 16 inches deep.  Set up the sides of the rack so the bird is a minimum of 2 inches from the bottom or the pan.  Place the turkey breast-side up on the rack.  Sprinkle the breast with salt and pepper and fold the wing tips under.

Note:  I do not have V shaped rack and used a standard rack instead and my turkey come out fine.

4. Using aluminum foil, form caps over the tips of the end of each drumstick. If wing tips extend beyond pan rim, fashion a foil collar underneath to make sure drippings flow back into pan.  DO NOT TIE LEGS TOGETHER, SO NOT ADD STUFFING AND DO NOT CLOSE UP THE BODY CAVITY.

5. Insert an oven-safe meat thermometer near center the of breast through thickest part of breast to bone. Contrary to conventional turkey-making rules, you want the thermometer to actually touch the bone.

6. Set the pan on the lowest rack in a 475-degree oven and roast according to time chart below. Check as directed during cooking, until the thermometer reaches 160 degrees. 

Halfway through the total roasting time, rotate the pan to reverse its oven position.  This will ensure even cooking and browning.  If areas on turkey breast start to get browner then you like, lay a piece of foil over the dark spots.

If there is any smoke, check the pan and wings for drips into oven. You can also adjust the foil under the wings, or slide the roasting pan into a larger, shallow-rimmed pan. Wipe up the drips from oven bottom if you can do so without burning yourself.  Oven gloves anyone?

Do not baste. And open the oven as seldom as possible.

7. When done, remove pan from oven and set it in a warm draft-free spot. Let the turkey rest for 30 to 45 minutes.  No worries – the meat will still be hot.

8. Drain the juices from the body cavity into the roasting pan.  If making gravy, spoon off and discard the fat from drippings in pan. If drippings are dry, skim any fat from pan, then add 1 cup chicken broth and scrape the drippings free. Use the drippings to make gravy according to your favorite recipe.

9. When ready to carve, cut off the turkey legs at the thigh joint.  If the thigh joint is excessively red or pink, return the legs to the oven for 3 to 5 minutes (at 300 or 475 degrees) or heat in a microwave oven for 3 to 4 minutes.  Personally, I prefer the oven method.

10. Carve the rest of the turkey. The carving juices may be clear or they may be rosy; both are fine. Save the juices to pour into your gravy for richer flavor, if desired.


10-13 lb.     50 minutes to 1 1/4 hrs.

13-16 lb.     1 1/4 hrs. to 1 hr. 50 min.

16-19 lb.     1 1/4 hrs. to 2 hrs.

20-22 lb.     1 1/2 hrs. to 2 hrs.

22-24 lb.      1 1/2 hrs. to 2 1/2 hrs.

From the SurvivalWoman Kitchen

The following two recipes come from my own kitchen and can be used if you are invited to someone else’s home and it is your turn to tote a dish to the potluck.

Candied Yams with Rum & Raisins
6 Yams or sweet potatoes, med
4 tablespoons Butter or margarine
1/3 cup Brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons Rum or orange juice
1/2 cup Raisins

Boil whole yams 20 to 40 minutes or until tender but not mushy.  (20 minutes seems to be about right.)

Drain and cool, then peel and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Arrange slices, overlapping, in a buttered shallow casserole.  Dot with butter, then sprinkle with brown sugar and raisins.  Drizzle with rum.  Bake uncovered at 350 or until bubbly and glazed.

Serves 6 – easily doubled or tripled.

Apple-Raising Whole Wheat Stuffing Thanksgiving Stuffing in a Crock Pot
12 cups Whole-wheat bread, cubed
1 1/2 cups Raisins
4 Apples, unpeeled & chopped
1 1/2 cups Onion, finely chopped
4 cups Celery, sliced thin
3 Eggs (or use egg whites)
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon Black pepper, freshly ground

If the bread is not stale, spread the slices out on a rack or counter for half a day to dry them out. Then cut into cubes. Combine the bread cubes with the remaining ingredients. 

Stuff the turkey or bake in a covered oven-proof dish for about 40 minutes at 325 or better yet, put into a Crockpot and cook on high for 2 hours then low for more 4 hours or until dinner is ready.

Serves 12

The Final Word

Thanksgiving does not have to break the budget, nor does it have to relegate you to hours of toil in a hot, steamy kitchen.  Instead, take advantage of some or all of these tips and have a stress-free, and yes fun Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

Gaye Levy, the SurvivalWoman, grew up and attended school in the Greater Seattle area. After spending many years as an executive in the software industry, she started a specialized accounting practice offering contract CFO work to emerging high tech and service industries. She has now abandoned city life and moved to a serenely beautiful rural area on an island in NW Washington State. She lives and teaches the principles of a sustainable, self-reliant and stylish lifestyle through emergency preparation and disaster planning through her website at BackdoorSurvival.com. SurvivalWoman speaks her mind and delivers her message with optimism and grace, regardless of mayhem swirling around us.  Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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