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Making Thanksgiving dinner on a budget

tacey Smith sits with her son, Haden, Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, in their home in Jamestown, N.D. Smith is trying to keep within her monthly grocery budget while planning for a traditional Thanksgiving Day meal.

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Stacey Smith spends $100 on groceries each month and despite the expense of a grandiose Thanksgiving dinner, the wife and mother intends to stick to her budget.

Smith, of Jamestown, lives with her husband, Michael, their son, Haden, 10 months, and Michael's brother, Jonathon, 21. The four try to eat healthy - like all-natural meats and organic baby food for Haden - and won't compromise quality for quantity.

The foursome is celebrating Thanksgiving in Jamestown this year, and intends to serve a traditional meal with turkey, sweet potatoes, homemade stuffing and pumpkin pie. Even Haden will get to partake in the festivities - Stacey said she'll grind up food in the food processor so he can eat with the rest of the family.

To keep their budget in check, Stacey and Michael said they keep $100 in an envelope and won't use any other money for groceries. Stacey said she plans to use coupons, watch for sales and stock up on ingredients throughout the month so she can spread out the cost.

"We're going to try and stick as close as we can to our budget for the week," she said.

Many families are watching their budgets like the Smith family this year as the struggling economy and rising gas and grocery costs pick the pockets of average consumers.

To curb those costs, Duane Emmel, financial counselor for the Village Family Service Center in Fargo, recommends focusing on creating memories at the holidays. Doing that doesn't require going into debt, he said, which is the No. 1 thing people should avoid.

"A lot of things we do don't have to cost a lot of money," he said.

Families of all income levels are guilty of overspending throughout the holidays, he said, and the 20 percent spike in grocery prices throughout the last two years doesn't help.

To prepare for the meal's expense, Luella Morehouse, of the North Dakota State University Extension Office for Stutsman County in Jamestown, recommends families organize their homes first.

Start with a list of all the guests and all the quantities of needed ingredients, she said. Then, clean out the family freezer, pantry and refrigerator and record what remains. If something on the list is already on the shelf - let's say, pumpkin spice -- then cross it off. Keep at it until all shelves are organized, she said.

The added bonus is once complete, now a homeowner has a clean kitchen ready for company and all the leftovers, she said.

"If you don't have much space, why go out and buy all this food?" she said.

Emmel, the financial counselor, agreed, saying budgeting for holidays like Thanksgiving takes a "tremendous" amount of planning.

Plan the meal in advance, he said, and stick to the list at the grocery store. Cut out unnecessary food items like dessert if the budget is really tight, he said.

Morehouse also recommended not duplicating food groups: like serving stuffing and skipping the dinner rolls or green beans and not the corn.

Compare store ads, Morehouse said, and match coupons with the sale price. Just because you have a coupon, doesn't mean you need to use it, she said.

Also, the host family need not prepare the turkey and every side. Consider delegating dish-making like salads and desserts. For guests who don't cook, they can bring milk, wine or a pre-made dessert, Morehouse said.

The Iowa State University Extension Service offers budget-friendly recipes such as a "guiltless pumpkin pie" for about $4 and a "fresh green bean sauté" for about $3. Check out those recipes at: In fact, the site claims $30 can serve a full Thanksgiving dinner for eight guests. To adjust for the increase in prices since the site was developed, however, Morehouse suggested budgeting at least $40 to serve Thanksgiving for eight.

In addition to food costs, families may incur other expenses like lodging, travel and gifts, Emmel said. Prioritize those costs, he said. To fund Thanksgiving travel and groceries, reduce expenses where you can in the month before and after, like on entertainment and dining out, he said.

Katie Ryan-Anderson writes for the Jamestown Sun