Because I’m a hostess at heart, and the boy and I now live together, I thought it only appropriate that we host a Friendsgiving this year. For the newbies out there, there’s no difference between Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving – except that Friendsgiving is for the family you pick (aww). The added bonus is that it lets you get your hosting desires out of the way if, like me, you’re from a family where the matriarchs refuse to pass the torch.
Regardless of those hosting desires, you can’t let your need to be sociable get in the way of your financial goals. But, with a little help from your friends, you’ll be able to throw an event that’s as much a delectable feast as it is a seasonal affair to remember. Welcome to your new, happy, cheap, and festive affair where you and your friends can eat everything you want – without the awkward political conversations.
All you need to do is follow the easy-breezy advice below, and everyone on your guest list will be thankful they made the cut. And you? Well, you’ll be thankful you didn’t have to bust your budget to do so.
Schedule your affair
Earlier in the month works well if you’re also using it as a trial run for actual Thanksgiving. Pros are that people are usually around, no one has turkey fatigue yet, and you get to fine-tune your party game plan without burning out. The same weekend of Thanksgiving is awesome if you’re into stretching out the holiday. Pros: You can strategically repurpose leftovers into new dishes, turkeys are on sale and you’re already hyper-aware of the one thing you really needed to have this year.
I did mine two weeks before to avoid everyone’s travel plans, and it worked out very well. It was also nice because all of the groceries were still in stock at the store.
Keep an open door policy (sort-of)
This is best part about Friendsgiving — you get to cull your guest list not from the family you were born into, but from your hand-picked family, who would be beyond grateful to share your table. With a big-deal holiday like Thanksgiving, you may be ambitious and want to invite all your friends, but don’t invite too many people. All your guests should be able to sit down at a table and enjoy the meal. If your table fits eight people, then invite eight people. If you can rearrange your living room and borrow a table that seats 14 people, invite 14 people. Your friends may ask if they can bring someone, so take that into consideration when coming up with the guest list.
While picking your invite number, make sure you have enough tables/chairs/glasses, etc. Chances are one or two of the people you’re inviting will have folding chairs you can borrow. If you can’t borrow for free, then move to a more casual environment or a more intimate dinner – cooking a turkey is really not worth the expense of renting a table. For my dinner of 14, I used a borrowed folding table and the random folding table that came with my car (seriously).
Pro-tip: get a few extra plates. Take it from me, if you invite 13 people because you own 13 plates…someone will bring a plus-one, and you’ll be stuck serving someone with paper products, which really ruins the aesthetic.
Delegate the cooking
Don’t be a martyr and try to take on all the cooking tasks—chances are, your parents (or relatives) have much more counter space than your apartment kitchen. Friendsgiving is a perfect opportunity for a potluck approach. The best way to keep track is a simple spreadsheet, especially a shared one like Google Docs. When it comes to the menu, it’s best for be fairly general. With Friendsgiving, just stick to the main foods you love from real Thanksgiving: turkey, potatoes, stuffing, some veggies, macaroni & cheese, rolls, dessert, etc. The only thing you should do yourself? The turkey (and then the gravy since you’ll have all the drippings). This makes the most sense since you’ll be hosting, but also because I have no idea how you would transport a hot turkey.
Pro-tip: Do borrow a SHARP knife and those little metal hook things so you can carve the turkey. It’s way harder than it looks. Also, let the turkey sit more than 20 minutes – that is simply not enough time for the turkey to cool.
Don’t stress over fancy diets (or allergies unless they are real bad)
In this day and age, you’re bound to have at least one person on your guest list who’s vegan, gluten-free, or doesn’t eat sugar/dairy/carbs. Don’t be shy about asking your guests if they have any dietary restrictions or preferences, but also don’t stress about it. Those people will probably bring something they can actually eat. And, if not, invite them to bring a special dish to share with the group.
Trying to juggle hostess duties and kitchen responsibilities is the quickest way to give yourself a Thanksgiving meltdown. If you don’t want to lose your mind, make sure you set a timeline, from what day to order the meat and the flowers, to the day and time you are picking up the groceries, prepping the food, laying the table all the way to finalizing the finishing touches on dessert. Without a clear timetable, it’s easy to fret, stress and create a disaster. Plus, no one wants to deal with charred turkey.
Stock your bar with BYO bubbles
Ah, the alcohol—it’s almost as important as the food sometimes. Luckily, Thanksgiving food goes with everything from Bud Light and cheap wine to flavored seltzer water, so go forth and purchase what your budget allows. For potlucks, it’s easy to ask guests to bring a beverage that goes with their dish or to BYOB. Just remember, you’re aiming for a fun evening with your friends, it really isn’t worth blowing your budget.
Set the table with what you have
Make sure you have plenty of serving utensils and platters. If your friends are bringing sides, have them bring serving bowls/utensils too. If anyone wants to bring something extra, suggest ice, wine or napkins. Those are always welcome & will help out your budget.
Create a warm and inviting atmosphere. Light candles, set the table, and use cloth napkins. Be creative! If you don’t have a tablecloth, cover the table with brown butcher paper, set out a pack of markers, and let your guests decorate the table. Use mason jars as vases, cut branches from your yard and mix them with grocery store flowers, and light a fire. Play jazz or Frank Sinatra – you are adults now, jazz isn’t weird.
And remember: candles go a long way to making your mismatched collection of plate hand-me-downs look like the finest of china sets.
Give away the leftovers
So, I didn’t do this and heard about this tip on day 3 of eating garlic mashed potatoes with broccoli casserole for breakfast – this is kind of a game-changer for next year. Head to Whole Foods or your local takeout restaurant a few days before Friendsgiving to stock up on disposable plastic containers and takeout boxes. Get a variety of sizes and materials. At the end of the night, let your friends make their own doggy bag. Send them home with leftovers, and you will send them home happy. Added bonus: you won’t completely wreck your diet eating leftovers for a week.
Keep your priorities in order
It’s a party: It’s supposed to be fun! Go with the flow and problem-solve when any issues arise. Remember that if the hostess is enjoying herself, then the guests will also have a good time. I got a little stressed with a dozen friends milling about my kitchen while I tried to cook and snapped once or twice, but at the end of the night, it was fine. We were fine. My friends are, presumably, also adults and knew to get out of my way when I actually needed them to, but who knows? Either way, I’m enforcing my no non-cooks in the kitchen rule better next year with an actual barricade. 🙂
But really, there are no rules. Plan your event the way you’ve always dreamed and then make it a new friend tradition. As long as your table is full of friends (and your friends are full of food), you can consider your Friendsgiving a success.
What are your frugal Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving traditions?