The Step-by-Step Guide to Hosting a High Style, Low Budget Thanksgiving

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The Step-by-Step Guide to Hosting a High Style, Low Budget Thanksgiving – This week, we'll be tackling all the preparation that you need to do prior to Thanksgiving week. Yes, the easiest way to do a lovely Thanksgiving on a budget is planning and preparation. But hey, no worries, I've done ALL the planning for you – all you have to do is follow my step-by-step guide and you'll have a stress-free time.

As many of your know, Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday (after Christmas) and I have been hosting it since I was 19 years old (first to college friends, then roommates, then my family, and finally – with my own little family). Over the last two decades of hosting this holiday, I have learned exactly how to have a fantastic and stylish celebration on an incredibly low budget. So, for the next three weeks, I'll be sharing my tips and tricks (along with free printables) to help you host your own. Think of it as The Step-by-Step Guide to Hosting a High Style, Low Budget Thanksgiving!

The Step-by-Step Guide to Hosting a High Style, Low Budget Thanksgiving

This week, we'll be tackling all the preparation that you need to do prior to Thanksgiving week. Yes, the easiest way to do a lovely Thanksgiving on a budget is planning and preparation. But hey, no worries, I've done ALL the planning for you – all you have to do is follow my step-by-step guide and you'll have a stress-free time.

The Step-by-Step Guide to Hosting a High Style, Low Budget Thanksgiving

First, you'll be cooking so you're going to need stuff. This tends to be the most expensive part of this whole shindig but keep in mind that a lot of it can be found at garage sales and thrift shops or borrowed from friends and family (If you're getting married – add these items to you registry! I got nearly everything I use for Thanksgiving as a bridal shower or wedding gift). In the next few weeks, I'll be sharing products that I use to make my Thanksgiving easy and lovely and explaining exactly WHY they are so great. Remember though, these are suggestions – you can and should absolutely modify them to your own needs.

Here's a list of everything you'll need to cook, serve, decorate for, and clean up after Thanksgiving (click here for a free printable of this list):


  • 3 Ring Binder: I use one and keep my recipes and ideas in it year round. Yes, you can create a Pinterest board but I find that since so much of the Thanksgiving prep and cooking is done at once, that it's actually easier to print everything out on copy paper and keep it in a binder.
  • Page Protectors: These keep the pages clean and goo-free (plus, it's super easy to move things around and organize them as needed).
  • A Pen: I keep one handy to make notes on my recipes and calculate cooking times or serving amounts.

Cooking the Turkey:

  • Roasting Pan with Rack: I use this one and it's awesome and affordable! Don't bother with a lid – you won't need it.
  • Baster or Brush: I have only needed to use one once but, hey, better safe than sorry.
  • Turkey Lifter: This was one that I thought was a silly gadget to own but y'all – they. are. awesome!
  • Baker's Twine: I have a huge roll that I use for crafting but, on Thanksgiving, it gets use for its intended purpose – trussing up a turkey for roasting.
  • Carving Set: you can absolutely use any old knife and fork that you have lying around but if you like roast poultry year-round, I recommend you pick up a set.
  • Cutting Board with Groove: The turkey will need to rest after it is done cooking and this cutting board will allow the juices to run out (but not off and on to your countertops). I also prefer having a large, plastic one – not pretty but very practical.
  • Meat Thermometer: Another not quite necessary but HUGELY helpful item. I prefer the digital ones (they don't steam up when you try to use them).
  • Paper Towels: Some people like to rinse and pat the turkey dry before cooking it (my chef brother-in-law told me that it's not necessary so I don't bother).

Cooking the Side Dishes:

  • One Really Good Knife: I use exactly ONE knife for all my cooking and it's just fine. If you feel the need to have more – knock yourself out.
  • Cutting Boards: You should have one for the turkey but I recommend having at least two more for all the other cooking.
  • Saucepans and Saute Pans: Get a small, medium, and large of each kind and make sure that they all have lids. Buy the best that you can afford. Quality really is important here.
  • Crockpot: This is the only way make your mashed potatoes. Seriously. THE ONLY WAY.
  • Rimmed Baking Sheets: You'll be using them for a variety of reasons so try to get a set with three varying sizes.
  • Mixing Bowls: I love these ones but use whatever you want in the sizes that work best for you.
  • Dutch Oven: If you have a skillet then use that, but I prefer to use an oven. I have a really expensive one but I've had ones in the past from Target that worked beautifully.
  • Food Storage ContainersI love to prep everything days before I start cooking and these containers are great for storing chopped vegetables and nuts.
  • Potato Peeler: I like the Y kind.
  • Whisk: I have this one because it's got a narrower profile that I like.
  • Spoons: I like these ones but use whatever you like.
  • Baking Dishes (i.e. Casserole Dishes): You'll need at least two. I prefer glass or white ceramic since they look super chic for serving.
  • Potato Masher: I know that fancy people use a ricer but I'm lazy and this works fine.
  • Food Processor or Hand Blender: In a pinch, you can use a masher but I using one of these.
  • Pie Pans: You'll need one to three depending on how many pies you decide to cook.
  • Cupcake Pans: I like to make a dozen or so cupcakes for dessert – one pan is fine but two are better.
  • Baking Cups: For your cupcakes. The colored ones are pretty but tend to fade while baking so bake in white and then set them in the pretty ones. Use foil for the chocolate cupcakes.
  • Hand Towels: I use mine for everything: washing, cleaning, as an apron. Get a huge stack and don't stress out about laundry.
  • Oven Mitts: You'll need a minimum of two but three is nice in case one gets wet.
  • Measuring Cups and Measuring Spoons: I have eight sets total – four of each of liquid and then four of each of dry. Yes, there's a difference and yes, you'll need at least one of each. I have two sets of each so there's less handwashing to do.
  • Kitchen Timer: If you don't have one on your oven, get a stand alone digital model.
  • Toothpicks: I use them to test the doneness of baked goods.
  • Ziploc Freezer Bags: I use these for marinading and storing food. Get ones with a great seal.
  • Aluminum Foil: Buy one of the big, wide, heavy duty rolls.
  • Saran Wrap: Buy the good, name brand stuff. I have tried every knock-off and they all suck.

Serving the Turkey and Side Dishes:

  • One Really Big White Platter: This is an item that I only ever use on Thanksgiving but I'm grateful that I have it. Carved or uncarved, a turkey needs a lot of platter.
  • White Serving Bowls: I have about four that I use for the food items that need a bowl. I also have a smaller one for the cranberries.
  • White Serving Platters: I have three that I use for food items that need a platter.
  • White Cake Stands: These are purely for looks. I like to have a small dessert table off to the side where the pies and cupcakes are displayed.
  • White Gravy Boat: The best way to serve the gravy but it's no big deal to ladle it out of a bowl.
  • Serving Set: I have two sets of these ones from Pottery Barn. But any spoons and forks will work fine.
  • Cake/Pie Server: The set from Pottery Barn includes one but, if you're buying them as you go, be sure to have at least one.
  • Bread Basket: I use one for the rolls but any old bowl works, too.
  • Trivets: Great for keeping the hot stuff from burning your linens or table. In a pinch, use a towel or cut up pieces of corkboard.
  • Butter Crock: It's nice to offer some extra butter for those who want it. A crock takes up less footage than the more traditional butter dish (plus, i think it keeps the butter softer).

Serving Drinks:

  • Beverage Dispensers: I have two (one for water and one for unsweet tea) but you can totally get away with just pitchers.
  • Tub: We like to serve bottles of beer and this is the easiest way to do it – just dump the ice and beverages in and go.
  • White Coffee Pot: I have my husband make a huge pot in his coffeemaker and then serve it in a pretty white pot.

Serving Appetizers:

  • Cheese Platter: I have this one Target and it's really pretty.
  • Cheese Tools: You only need a few knives – one for each type of cheese.
  • Tray: I like to serve fruit and it always looks nice served this way.
  • Tongs: If your guests are germ-people then have some wooden tongs handy for the fruit.
  • Appetizer Plates: I like these ones from Crate & Barrel. These are not necessary though – most guests are happy to eat nibbles off a napkin.
  • Cocktail Napkins: Paper works fine but I like these cloth ones.

Dining Pieces:




  • Paper Towels: Great for cleaning small spills and gross stuff.
  • Microfiber Clothes: Awesome cleaning.
  • Cleaning Products: I use these ones from Mrs. Meyer's or make them myself from vinegar and baking soda.
  • Vegetable Brush: I use this one from The Honest Company and love it!
  • Plastic Tubs: I have three heavy duty tubs that I hand to people post-meal and have them load them up with the dirty dishes.
  • Large Plastic Bin: I have one that I use to store the Thanksgiving specific pieces during the other 364 days of the year.


  • Whenever possible cook food in the same container that you'll be serving it in.
  • I recommend buying all your serving pieces in white – it looks chic and then you can collect them over time (as you have the funds) and they'll still match.
  • Beg, borrow, and thrift whatever you need but can't afford. Lots of people have all the bits and pieces and are happy to loan them to you.
  • I built my collection of Thanksgiving stuff by taking $20 from every paycheck and investing in something. It was slow going but I almost have everything that I want and it just took a little patience.
  • It's probably tempting but skip the full bar. We only serve unsweet tea and water, bottles of beer, and a bottle of red plus a bottle of white wine. Simple and easy.
  • Nix the fancy napkin rings and froo-froo favors. Sure they look great but they tend to be expensive and just get tossed aside for the food.
  • Loads of people will offer to bring or do something to help. Take them up on it! Give them the items that you don't want to (or can't) make or keep it really simple and have them bring the appetizers and desserts (this is what I do!).

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Next week, I'll be sharing every single recipe (in printable form!) that I cook for Thanksgiving plus, I'll be adding my own tips and suggestions for those with limited time, money, and/or space. See you then!