Image: Close-up of a person using a calculator in a supermarket © George Doyle,Stockbyte, Getty Images

Turkeys can be cheap. It's the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving meal that gets expensive.

I hadn't realized that the first time I volunteered to host a holiday feast. For one thing, there's infrastructure involved: I didn't have a big enough roasting pan or a rack. Or enough seating. Or sufficient serving dishes, cutlery or plates. I discovered all this, of course, the day of the party.

Rather than borrow what I needed, I bought new -- mistake No. 1. I turned down offers to help (mistake No. 2) and chose an expensive white wine (mistake No. 3). Everybody raved about the turkey, but I was too busy calculating what percentage of my reporter's take-home pay this one meal was eating up to enjoy the praise.

So learn from my mistakes, and heed the advice I collected from my Facebook fans about how to contain your Thanksgiving expenses. Some ideas to consider:

Let somebody else host. Perhaps you have a younger family member who is, as I was, all bright-eyed and ready to strut some holiday-hosting stuff. Or maybe you can foist yourself on friends. You'll want to contribute to the meal, of course, but that's a darn sight cheaper than hosting the whole thing yourself.

Liz Weston

Liz Weston


Brandylyn Swafford of Riverview, Fla., is happy to let other family members host the holiday dinner.

"For a family of seven . . . making two dishes and attending Thanksgiving at someone else's house is super cost effective," she wrote.

Call it a potluck. The first Thanksgiving was a potluck, so you're upholding a tradition. The Pilgrims supplied the birds, and their Native American guests brought the venison. (Sadly, there were no pumpkin pies, as the English sugar had already run out.)

If you're hosting, you'll probably want to cook the turkey -- it's often the cheapest part of the meal if you get one on sale. Besides, a basted turkey is pretty hard to transport. Your guests can bring side dishes, drinks and dessert.

Just make sure you assign the pies to someone who's a good baker or a foodie, rather than a friend you know to be a cheapskate. I made that mistake once, too, and Mr. Miser brought a truly inedible concoction complete with soggy crust and a vaguely orange, flavorless filling. I didn't think anyone could screw up pumpkin pie, but whaddya know -- it's possible.

Limit the bar. Buy expensive Scotch and Uncle Larry the Lush will suck it down like water. Trust me, he'll be just as happy with cheap wine after the first glass. So skip the full bar and provide just wine and beer, or suggest your guests bring whatever they'd like to drink. Another tip: Don't let the kids serve themselves the nonalcoholic sparkling cider. The little fiends will chug down a bottle apiece if you let them. Again, this is the voice of experience speaking.

Volunteer. Lots of people volunteer to serve Thanksgiving meals to the homeless and others experiencing tough financial times. If you're not already hooked up with a church or other organization that hosts a meal, go to VolunteerMatch. Type in your ZIP code and the word "Thanksgiving," and you may turn up opportunities to serve in your community. In Los Angeles, the Salvation Army and the local food bank are looking for hands to help prepare meals.

Take a hike. If you live in a warm-weather climate, a Thanksgiving Day hike with a picnic basket can provide you lots of things to be grateful for: fresh air, the natural world and a great appetite. You can substitute a bucket of chicken for the roasted turkey and not have to cook at all. Score.