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Thursday, 8 November 2007

Two Weeks to T-Day: Planning Thanksgiving on a Budget

A quick glance at my calender tells me it's exactly two weeks to Thanksgiving, one of my all-time favorite holidays - a day to rejoice with family and friends and be thankful for everything we have and all the good things that have happened in the last year. But for too many of us, the financial burden of hosting Thanksgiving dinner turns our attention to all that we don't have rather than all that we do. In an effort to have a little more left on Thanksgiving to be thankful for, I've put together a two part check-list of things to make Thanksgiving Day preparations cheaper and easier. The first part is about arranging invitations and getting your guests to bring the things you really need. Tomorrow I'll post the second half which will cover everything to do with shopping for and cooking the food.

T-Day Part One: Invitations

If you're hosting a small dinner just for immediate family or a few friends, consider yourself lucky! There's less food to buy, less food to prepare, and less to clean up when it's all over. Last year I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for 28 people - never again! (Or at least not too soon. I need a few years to forget.) You can probably manage inviting everyone by phone or in person. Chances are, it's probably already clear who is eating where.

But if you're hosting a dinner for a large number of people you probably want to send formal invitations with RSVP requests. Send them now! You'll want to set an RSVP date by next Thursday (at least one week in advance) so that you have enough time to buy the necessary amount of food. I suggest sending your invitations online. It's cheaper, faster, and your guests can RSVP immediately. You can either send out a regular email or be a little more fancy and set up a free account at sendaninvite.com where you can make a custom invitation with maps, "what to bring" lists and use of their online RSVP management system.

About that "what to bring" list, I've always felt it was a bit tacky to ask people to bring something to a Thanksgiving dinner, but at the same time, I've always felt it was even tackier to attend such an event empty handed. As the host, you don't want to be rude, but you also don't want to be stuck with a big hole in your budget and 10 bottles of red wine when you really only drink white. So what is the frugal host to do? Is there a polite way to leverage your guests generosity without being pushy?

Last year, when I did dinner for 28 people, I was lucky enough to be in Denmark where it is customary for guests to share the costs of a dinner party by giving their host a set amount of cash, determined in advance. It's a strange custom and it took some getting used to, but come Thanksgiving, I was happy to take part in it. Obviously, I'm not suggesting you ask your guests to fund your grocery shopping, but you can take people up on their offers to bring things. Undoubtedly, your closest friends and family members will ask you if they can bring anything; it's just polite. But instead of saying, "Oh no... maybe just something to drink" like you usually do, have a wish list ready and pick something off of it. Maybe they can bring salad, a pie, or they can lend you a roasting pan so that you don't have to buy one. Or maybe you could use some extra serving dishes?

A lot of the costs of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner go into buying kitchen items you don't normally use, like a roasting pan, meat thermometer, or 5 extra serving bowls. Borrowing these things from friends and family can cut your total costs and keep your kitchen clutter free after T-Day. So sit down, make a wish list, and this year take your guests up on those polite offers. It might surprise them a little at first, but if they've bothered to offer it's because they're going to bring something anyway, and, believe it or not, your guests would rather lend you their pan and feel truly useful than buy you a bottle of wine.

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