Nov. 26, 2008 -- Angela Johnson's Thanksgiving dinner for six adults and two children will cost her $16. That's right, $16.
The secret: She does her homework and takes advantage of coupons and sales and has no brand loyalty.
"Be willing to try new brands," Johnson said as she detailed a Thanksgiving meal perfect for a recession.
No, she is not skimping. There will still be turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, green-bean casserole and pumpkin pie.
Johnson, who runs a blog called yourcouponbuddy.com, is just very good at finding deals.
And this year, Americans can use deals more than ever.
The cost of Thanksgiving has gone up 5.6 percent this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. The trade and lobbying group now estimates that a meal for 10 will cost $44.61, excluding alcohol.
The biggest increase comes from the turkey. A 16-pound turkey now costs an average of $19.09, according to the federation. That's up more than 8 percent from last year.
Regardless, Stefphanie Gambrell, a domestic policy economist for the federation, said that the price increase is in line with other food price hikes and that it is still a deal compared to eating out.
"Really, the bargain is whenever you can make the meal yourself," Gambrell said.
The federation's Thanksgiving menu comes out to $4.46 a person.
That's less than the cost of a value meal at most fast-food restaurants, Gambrell said.
Not everybody can pull off Johnson's $16 meal but lessons can be learned from her.
Coupons, Coupons, Coupons
"I combine store coupons and store sales with manufacturer's coupons," she said. But the real key is taking advantage of the loss-leaders that stores put on sale to get you into the store. Her biggest expense was $8 for her turkey, on sale of course. Cranberries, stuffing and other sides were "almost free."
She also keeps an eye out for what fresh food is in season and on sale and when it is cheaper to buy frozen foods.
"Sometimes it's cheaper to go fresh and sometimes it's cheaper to go premade," Johnson said.
Sweet potatoes were on sale, but she bought a powder mix for the mashed potatoes. For the pumpkin pie, she used fresh pumpkins, even reusing that jack-o'-lantern.
Check out her recipe for homemade pumpkin pie here.
Michelle Jones, a money-saving expert and frugal mom of four who is the founder and publishing editor of BetterBudgeting.com, takes a different approach.
"You don't have to buy all of this stuff. Keep your menu down. Scale your holiday menu down to just your favorite things," Jones said. "A lot of the leftovers probably get wasted and thrown out."
She says that there is nothing wrong with buying generic store brands, especially for dishes with multiple ingredients. So when making a casserole, use the store-brand green beans and dressing.
"You're not going to taste it as much as if you are eating it by itself," Jones said. "People are saying it's Thanksgiving, I want the best. But it's a good time to try them."
And of course, Jones adds, cut those coupons. Right before the holidays, there are less coupons in newspapers. But there are still plenty of coupons in store circulars, in the shopping aisles and online. Jones runs a second Web site, GrocerySavingsTips.com, that runs through tricks to finding coupons on the Internet.
Shop With Neighbors
Another savings tip from Jones: combine shopping trips with family or neighbors. This allows you to take advantage of buying certain items in bulk. It also makes it easier to hit the $25 or $50 spending threshold some stores have to get the best deals. And despite gas being less than $2 a gallon now, it helps you save there too.
Susanne Myers runs the Web site HillbillyHousewife.com and says that Thanksgiving is the perfect frugal holiday.
"Pound for pound, whole turkey is one of the cheapest meats around these days and stores are doing their best to get you in the door with great deals on most of the things you need for the holiday meal," Myers said. "Take advantage of this by looking through the store ads ahead of time and finding the store with the best deals for you."
But don't get too caught up in the deal hunt, she warns. It's not worth driving all over town to save 10 cents on a can of green beans.
What you should shop around for is the best deal on your turkey because it will most likely be the biggest expense. You can often get them free or for 40 to 50 cents a pound if you spend a certain dollar amount at the store.
"Since this will be about the best deal on meat you can get throughout the year, consider buying an extra turkey and storing it in your freezer. Cook it a few weeks or months from now," Myers said.
Myers offers a host of frugal holiday recipes on her site.
Her final tip: buy goods in bulk and use them throughout the holiday season.