How to Host Thanksgiving without Going Over Budget

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Thanksgiving is a time to cherish family and friends and to enjoy all your favorite foods, drinks, and desserts! You want to make this day special for all your loved ones, but don’t forget your budget. Debt can easily pile up during the holidays. Between the cost of food, beverages, decorations, and dessert, your wallet may not end up being too thankful. Luckily, there are ways to make your Thanksgiving dinner memorable and budget friendly!

Here are four ways to host a Thanksgiving dinner without gobbling down your funds.

1. Start Early

Don’t overwhelm yourself by shopping for Thanksgiving at the last minute. This can throw off your budget—not to mention the store will be hectic. There’s a good chance popular Thanksgiving foods and ingredients will be marked up if you shop right before the holiday, so you should purchase nonperishable items as early as possible. Starting early will give you the time you need to hunt down the best holiday deals.

Consider making a list of what you need and then search for deals to save you money. But before you rush out to use those coupons, take inventory of what you already have. You might be surprised what’s been hiding in that cluttered pantry or packed freezer.

In addition, when buying alcohol, consider asking your store for its deals on buying cases. Purchasing a case can save you money in the long run and can come in handy for a future party or holiday gift. Finally, take a stab at do-it-yourself recipes instead of just buying items. This can help save you money even though it may be more time-consuming.

2. Ask for Help

Food can be expensive, and food prices have gone up in recent years. You were kind enough to host Thanksgiving, so don’t be afraid to ask your attendees to help out. Ask friends and family to bring specific items so that you can save both time and money and also avoid stress. You may even want to consider making it a potluck dinner. Ask your guests to bring an appetizer, side dish, dessert, or even their favorite bottle of wine or beer. This can bring new tastes to the table, lessen your expenses, and keep you within your budget. 

3. Limit the Number of Dishes—or Don’t

The number of dishes you serve depends on the number of guests you’ll be feeding. By limiting the number of dishes, your grocery bill will be much lower. Consider ditching sides that haven’t wowed guests in the past and offer your guests fewer dishes in bigger quantities. This way you can buy ingredients in bulk, stay within your budget, and still have enough to feed all your guests.

On the other hand, increasing the number of side dishes can mean purchasing less turkey, which can also save you money. If you go this route, consider purchasing sides that won’t break the bank. A few canned or frozen sides can go a long way.

4. Rethink Your Décor

Your home décor can provide a nice atmosphere for your Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, you want your table to look the part, but at what price? Holiday decorations can be expensive and can take away from other areas of your Thanksgiving budget. Try to get crafty with your decorations. Find things like fall leaves, hay, and gourds to use as holiday props. You may also want to visit the dollar store to find other budget-friendly decorations.

If you do want to splurge on something and don’t have enough place settings for your guests, consider buying simple white dinner plates and a set of nice silverware. These have an elegant, timeless look and can be used for future holiday parties at your home.

If you follow these tips and you still find yourself struggling, you may need to make sure your budget’s really working for you. Consider rethinking your budget before your next event, or consider a high-rewards credit card to help your next event run smoothly. Don’t forget, you can check your credit score for free at Credit.com before you sign up.

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8 Activities to Plan Now for a Fun and Budget-Friendly Fall Staycation

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Is your kids’ fall break coming up? Plan ahead now to have a great time while also saving money. Over Memorial Day weekend, more Americans traveled than had in the last 12 years, and we spent more on travel, too. If your family spent a lot of money then, you might want to save this fall. Luckily, fall is the perfect time for a family staycation—a vacation where you play tourist in your hometown.

Staycations are great because you can get to know new attractions in your own town, and you don’t have to spend money on accommodations or plane tickets. If you’d like to do fun things as a family without spending a fortune, here are eight staycation ideas to try.

1. Participate in Agritourism

Many sections of the country will be in a harvesting period over fall break. For instance, in my native Indiana, fall break is a great time to pick apples and pumpkins, among other fall-harvested produce.

Check out your state’s agricultural extension to find agritourism destinations in your area. The bonus here is that you often get a fun trip rolled in with a place to eat, which is great!

2. Visit Local Museums and Zoos

Has it been a while since you’ve checked out your local museum or zoo? A staycation is the perfect time to revisit them. You might also try a different type of museum that you’ve never tried before. For instance, some art museum exhibits can be surprisingly kid-friendly.

Or, check online for completely off-the-wall small museums in your area. For instance, my neighborhood has a tiny museum dedicated to Statue of Liberty figurines! These museums can make for a fun experience, even if they are a little cheesy. 

3. Frequent Small Businesses and Restaurants

Have you neglected to check out your area’s local restaurants and small businesses? A fall staycation is a great time to try them out. Local breweries and wineries abound these days, and they often offer kid-friendly menus, as well. You could also visit an area with lots of small businesses. Give your kids a little bit of spending money, and let them go to town.

4. Go Biking or Hiking

Fall is just about the perfect time, in most places, to go biking or hiking. It’s not as hot as summer, and there may be fewer bugs. Check out some new trails and parks on your family vacation. You could even make it a point to check out two or three state parks with your kids during your fall break.

5. Go to the Library

Lots of local libraries offer additional programming during school breaks. Check out your library’s schedule to see what’s going on. Nothing special happening? No worries. Take an afternoon to stock up on books. Then, spend a cozy evening in, drinking hot chocolate and reading aloud as a family.

6. Have a Party

Hosting a party is a great way to get the whole family involved in a big project together. Get everyone to pitch in on making invitations, creating food, and cleaning and decorating your house. Then, have friends and family over for a fun, fall-themed get-together.

7. Make Christmas Gifts 

It’s not too early to start planning for the holidays. Now is a great time to put together handmade holiday gifts. You might try layered jar gifts, such as soup mixes or brownie mixes. Or try making candles, picture frames, or photo gifts. This is a great way to spend time together, while also taking care of some of your holiday planning.

8. Make a Collage 

Chances are you have a smartphone with a decent camera. Spend some time on your staycation driving or walking around your neighborhood, and set the kids loose with that built-in camera. Ask them to find beautiful things to photograph. There’s never a better time for it than fall! At the end of your vacation, print off the photos they’ve taken and create a collage of autumn memories.

If you start planning now, you can save even more money on your fall vacation. The key to saving is recognizing your spending habits. Get a handle on your spending and credit by checking your credit report for free at Credit.com.

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7 Money Tips Every College Graduate Needs

Yes, you need to find a job and a place to live, but don't let that throw a wrench in your budget.

While senior year of college is hectic, it’s crucial for new grads to stay on top of their finances. Sure, you need to find a job and a place to live, but you can’t wait until those things fall in line to start paying attention to your bills and your budget. Of course, that’s exactly what some people do, which can lead to debt, a lack of savings and credit problems.

To help you (or the new grad in your life) stay focused, we put together a list of money tips to keep in mind during the transition from college student to full-time adult. We asked Alex Sadler, managing editor of personal finance site Clark.com and the money-basics series “Common Cents,” to share her top tips for managing money after college.

1. Spend Less Than You Make

This one sounds obvious, but it’s easy to lose control when you have an apartment to furnish, want to live a vibrant social life or haven’t quite gotten the hang of grocery shopping. And to know whether or not you’re spending less than you make, you have to track your spending.

“It’s easier said than done, but it’s something you can live by for the rest of your life,” Sadler said. “If more is going out than coming in, find ways to pick up extra cash.”

Keep in mind a large component of spending less than you make is saving properly. Sadler suggested automating your savings by participating in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, especially if your employer offers a savings match. You may also be able to set up automatic transfers to a savings account, so you’re less able to money on things you don’t need.

2. Don’t Ignore Your Student Loans

A huge part of spending less than you make is knowing your exact expenses. If you’re like most college students, you have student loans to repay soon. Even if your first payment isn’t due for a few months, you need to know what you’re dealing with now.

“Most college graduates don’t know how much they owe until their first bill comes in the mail,” Sadler said. And because of accrued interest, you may owe more than you recall borrowing. “Figure out exactly how much you owe and what your options are: Do you qualify for loan forgiveness? Income-based repayment?” Your student loan repayment options vary depending on the kind of loans you have. Get a handle on them now, so you don’t miss a payment and damage your credit. Here’s a helpful guide to understanding student loan repayment.

3. Know You’re on Your Own

Being responsible with money doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun, but it is on you to understand how to balance your needs and wants.

“Nobody wants to say, ‘I’m on a budget, I can’t go out,’ or ‘I can’t do that, I’m on a budget,’ when you’re 22 and you’re super excited about being in the real world,” Sadler said. At the same time, you have to own your decisions. “At some point, there won’t be anyone there to help you. Once you figure that out, it gives you a sense of motivation to really have control of your money, and it motivates you to understand the fact that money is what gives you freedom in life.”

4. Pay Attention Now — Or Regret It Later

“How you handle your money in your early 20s is so much more important than you realize at the time,” Sadler said. “Those choices will impact your finances for the next 10 to 15 years.”

Sadler speaks from experience. In her early 20s, Sadler had a couple hundred dollars on a store credit card that she ignored. She let the late payments stack up, which is one of the worst things you can do to your credit. “When I realized it at like 26 or 27, I paid it off in full, but there’s nothing you can do about those late payments,” she said. “I’ve fixed it, but it took a lot.”

A lot of young people adopt the mindset that they’ll pay off debt or save more later when they have more money. “But later never comes,” Sadler said.

5. Plan for Everything

You’ll never have more time in front of you than now, so start planning. Incorporate long-term goals like buying a house or saving for retirement into your regular budget, as well as short-term goals like vacation or large purchases. Planning ahead is the only way you can make those goals happen.

“I was knocked upside the head in my 20s when I asked my dad for $1,000 to go to a bachelorette party in Mexico,” said Sadler. “He looked at me and said, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ And I said, ‘I can’t pay for it.’ And he said, ‘Then you can’t go.’ ”

Doing the things you want to do requires discipline and may involve more planning than you realize. “It’s not never going out or eating ramen noodles, but it’s paying attention,” Sadler said.

6. Manage Your Basic Expenses

Maybe you feel like there’s hardly any money left over for fun things after you’ve budgeted for bills and loan payments. Remember, you’re not necessarily stuck with those fixed expenses. Sadler recommended re-evaluating your cellphone plan, shopping around for competitive insurance rates and finding cheaper entertainment options, whether that means cutting a subscription or switching service providers. The research is worth the time if the savings can give you more flexibility.

7. Get a Credit Card & Use It Responsibly

Your credit standing plays more of a role in your day-to-day life than you may realize. It factors into your insurance premiums in most states, affects your ability to get an apartment and can even come into play when you’re getting a new job. If you haven’t started building credit, now’s the time to start. You can see where your credit stands and track your progress toward a better credit score with a free credit report snapshot from Credit.com

Sadler emphasized the importance of using a credit card wisely and cautiously: “You need to pay the balance in full every month to avoid interest, so just use it to charge things you know you can pay off,” she said. “Understand the implications of using a credit card irresponsibly — one missed payment can seriously damage your credit.”

Want more guidance on how to be financially responsible after college? Here are 50 smart money moves to make before (or right after) you graduate.

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