I didn’t always have a Friendsgiving tradition in my social circle, but that all changed during the pandemic. In November of 2020, so many of us were feeling isolated and lonely that I decided to do my part and try to create a sense of community by hosting a virtual gathering for Friendsgiving.
It wasn’t elegant or curated in any way – in fact, there wasn’t even turkey involved. I arranged to have personal pizzas sent to all my friends’ homes from a local pizza place in their neighborhood (in order to support struggling small businesses), and then we met on Zoom for dinner, cocktails, and conversation.
Friendsgiving can be anything you want it to be, but at a time, we’re finally able to be together again, it can be a great excuse to reunite in a really special way – no matter how tight your budget may be.
Find a Focus
When planning your own Friendsgiving, it’s important to start out by taking stock of your goals. Figure out what you care about most, and spend your budget there. “If you’re a foodie, go all out on the meal. If not, remember that most people are fine with alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving fare, and order inexpensive takeout,” says Liz Curtis, founder, Table + Teaspoon.
Similarly, if flowers are your thing, then concentrate on making that Instagramable moment with a lush display on your table. If not, keep it classic and skip flowers in favor of a few rustic pumpkins for your table. “By choosing the part of the party that speaks to you, you will let that element shine rather than skimping across the board,” says Curtis.
Consider What You Can Rent
One way to save money is sometimes to consider what you can borrow or rent rather than buying brand new. “While it may be tempting to use paper products for your Friendsgiving, be better than that by renting linens, dishware, glassware, and flatware for your party,” says Curtis. Your guests will feel taken care of and you will be doing your part to save the environment!
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
A great way to decrease costs for any sort of dinner party is to have everyone bring their favorite wine or liqueur to share. This can be a fun way to broaden options for cocktails but also make sure everyone has something they like to drink. This will also be helpful to anyone who maybe is sober. It’s sort of like doing a potluck, but even better because booze is more expensive than food.
Have A Plan
According to restaurateur, hospitality maven and party planner extraordinaire, Elizabeth Blau, “planning is the most important part of a great dinner party because, if done right, the host should be able to also enjoy the evening.” Yes please!
Save The Date
People are busy these days, and it’s important to get them to lock in the date as soon as you confirm your plans. “Select a date, then write down whom you would like to invite. Formal invitations should be sent in the mail at least four weeks in advance. If you’re sending out a casual invite, an email or phone call is great.”
Pick A Theme
To ensure a cohesive experience, Elizabeth recommends considering elements such as the menu, whether the party will be more formal or casual, what kind of music will be playing and the guests attending.
Planning The Menu
Potlucks can be very budget-friendly, but you make it easier on your guests if you give them a theme. For instance: “You could make the turkey and gravy, and then ask them to each bring their favorite casserole or side dish to share,” says Christine Pittman, founder of COOKtheSTORY.
Or, to save yourself, even more, cost and preparation time, skip the turkey entirely and join your friends in just making one favorite casserole too. “I mean, the sides are the best part of Thanksgiving anyhow, aren’t they?” says Pittman, who says the best thing about this side-dish-dinner option is that so many classic Thanksgiving sides are very budget-friendly to make. Check out this muffin-tin-stuffing recipe and this sweet potato casserole for two inexpensive ideas.
If you are going to roast a turkey, keep in mind that you don’t have to get a really big one. “In fact, depending on the number of guests, it’s probably best to get the turkey in pieces, getting exactly the amount and the type that you want,” says Pittman. If you prefer white meat, just get a turkey breast, or half of a turkey breast even. If you prefer dark meat, get all drumsticks and thighs. Bonus: “The cooking time is less, and the pieces cook at the times they need so that the breast meat doesn’t end up dry and the dark meat is tender and juicy!” says Pittman.
Finally, whether doing a whole turkey or pieces, go and ask the meat manager at your store about when they anticipate the turkey prices to be the lowest. “Turkey often goes on sale right around Thanksgiving as demand surges. If you know when to show up on the lookout to purchase, you’ll get the best price,” says Pittman.
Of course, everyone is going to want to have some libations around. Wine can get expensive. A great way to solve this problem is to make a festive holiday sangria! “It’s not only beautiful and delicious but you can usually get away with a lower quality wine so you may save a good amount of money!” says Nealy Fischer, founder of The Flexible Chef.
Don’t feel obligated to have a full bar for dinner. Pick a red and white wine as well as a beer that pairs well with the food you’re serving. If your friends are cocktail fans, you can choose a signature cocktail for the evening instead, so you only have to offer one type of alcohol. “For a seasonally appropriate pick, consider a spiced appletini or making a spiced cider, giving your guests the option to add alcohol if they’d like,” says Maggie Gillette, lifestyle expert
Have a plan for leftovers. One of the best ways to make the most of the money you do spend is to use all the food. “You can plan ahead of time, so you know what you’re going to do. I recommend a turkey chili or soup because dishes like that can utilize many different leftovers,” says Gillette. If you don’t want to think about cooking right after throwing a big party, many of the leftovers can also be frozen and eaten at a later date.
Turning to nature is key to a budget-friendly, yet stylish Friendsgiving table. “Forage greenery, florals, and branches to create natural centerpieces,” says Caroline Utz, Associate Editorial Director of The Spruce. Grocery store florals also do the trick. “For longer lasting flowers, choose florals with buds that are just starting to open and skip stems with brown spots where leaves may already have fallen off,” says Utz. Look for fresh green stems instead. You can also incorporate herbs and edibles such as fruits, vegetables and gourds for a cornucopia-inspired table.
Candles are a great way to set the tone of an event and are much more affordable than flowers! “You can do a simple and beautiful tablescape with just a few gourds and candles from the dollar store arranged in the center of the table,” says Gillette.
Or skip the tablescape entirely and make the food the focus. “If you have everything laid out family-style on the table, a few taper candles are all you need to make things look complete,” says Gillette.
It’s completely OK not to have a complete set of china. “You can layer pieces from different collections and create something beautiful!” says Gillette. If you don’t have many serving vessels or plates, you can pick things up from rummage sales or at big box stores. “You can score a great deal if you wait until the last second,” says Gillette.
One tip for creating a mix-and-match look is to choose pieces that have a common theme-like fall color or gold trim, to make them feel cohesive. The same goes for place settings. You don’t need everything to be the same for your table to look fabulous.
Instead of flowers, make your own centerpiece. “A simple idea is an overflowing bowl of colorful apples and pumpkins or individual bowls of each fruit in the center of the table. Add some pinecones and look at your local shops for other festive decorations to add!” says Fischer.
Remember: Don’t stress about the details; the most important thing is that you’re spending time with your friends. If there is anything we’ve learned over the last few years, that is more than enough to be thankful for!
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