Thanksgiving hosts sacrifice a lot – but they love it, anyway

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Thanksgiving is a time for family, food and making lasting memories. But it’s also a time of overspending. Those who host Thanksgiving sacrifice a lot of time and money during this holiday — however, it doesn’t seem to stop them.

LendingTree conducted a survey of 1,040 people who are hosting Thanksgiving dinner in 2018 to reveal:

  • How much effort and stress is expected while hosting Thanksgiving
  • How much money it will cost
  • How Thanksgiving hosts are going to manage these costs

But, while a lot of responsibility goes into hosting Thanksgiving dinner, the survey found only 18% of people are very stressed about it; meanwhile, nearly half of respondents (46%) showed no signs of being stressed at all.

Key takeaways

  • Hosts will spend on average of $334 to host 11 people, or about $31 per guest.
  • More than one in four hosts (28%) say this Thanksgiving will be a financial strain.
  • 42% will take time off of work to prepare; of those taking time off, 56% will give up an average of $588 in pay to do so.
  • 28% will charge credit cards or borrow money to pay for Thanksgiving, and over one third don’t expect to pay it off right away.
  • One-in-four hosts wish they had more help around the holiday, while one in ten wishes someone else was hosting the dinner altogether. Over one-half say they have stress around the holiday.
  • Despite the stress and financial strain, 76% say they love to host Thanksgiving dinner.

The holidays put a strain on Americans’ already tight finances

The holidays can put such a financial strain on Americans that many tend to fall behind in their monthly finances. With all the hustle and bustle, Americans shell out money for gifts, entertaining and more during the holidays. But they’re also taking unpaid time off from work.

LendingTree’s 2018 Thanksgiving survey reveals that an average 1.8 days are taken off during Thanksgiving, resulting in a pay loss of $587.62. The average Thanksgiving dinner, meanwhile, will cost a whopping $251.11, plus an additional $83.23 for housewares.

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that Americans will spend around $1,007 this holiday season, including $638 for gifts, $215 on food and decor, and an extra $155 on doorbusters this year. That total amount is up 4.1% from last year ($967.13) and may, in part, be due to lower unemployment rates and higher wages.

But a 2015 LendingTree survey, which looked at the finances of 1,421 adults ranging from 25 to 34 years of age, found that 38% are living paycheck to paycheck. The added expenses of the holiday season may put some Americans behind on their finances, forcing them to lean on holiday bonuses or tax season to help them get caught up.

How to trim your Thanksgiving costs

The holidays can be costly. While Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily require you to purchase gifts, it does require a lot of food, decor and preparation, making for an expensive holiday to host. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to keep your holiday costs low:

Make it a potluck dinner

With the average amount spent on dinner this Thanksgiving sitting at $251.11 this year, asking your guests to bring a dish could substantially cut down on costs. But if you’re not looking to spare any room at the dinner table, you can ask your guests to bring beverages, like their favorite booze or wine.

Create a realistic budget

LendingTree’s Thanksgiving survey showed that most Americans aren’t budgeting properly this holiday season:

  • only 24% have a strict budget for holiday spending
  • 55% have a general idea of their budget
  • 21% had no budget in mind at all 

It’s important to know how much money you can spend before spending any. Go over your monthly finances and determine the amount you are able to spend on Thanksgiving, taking gift-giving holidays into account. If you go over your budget, understand that you may need to make budget cuts elsewhere to keep your finances in the green this holiday season.

Stick to your grocery list

As you grocery shop around Thanksgiving, it can be tempting to buy all the treats you see displayed on the shelves. However, that will only end up costing you in the end — the average amount spent on one guest for Thanksgiving dinner is roughly $31. So be wary of buying food items you don’t need, lest your costs are higher or unaffordable. Make a grocery list — and check it twice before hitting the store.

Buy generic and use coupons

At the store, keep an eye out for ways for cut costs even further. Chances are, no one will notice you opted for generic-brand cranberry sauce at the store. Even fewer will fault you for using coupons or modifying the dinner menu so you can buy items on sale.

Keep decorations simple

Don’t go overboard with decorations this Thanksgiving. Your dining room will be the focal point of the holiday, so if you opt to have any decorations, put them in there. But keep in mind: Once the food is served, your guests will be focused on the food.

Pay your bills early

Many Americans (around 28%) are going to use a credit card to help pay to host Thanksgiving dinner with 64% planning to pay it off in about a month and another 20% plan to pay off the debt within two months. If you can pay your bills before you start your holiday shopping (or put something toward the bills early on), it can relieve the stress of getting them paid later while also helping to structure your budget.

Consolidate your debt after the holidays

Once the holidays are over, it may be a good time to consider consolidating your debt. This can help you pay off debt sooner by potentially cutting the interest you pay over time. LendingTree has a personal loan tool to help you explore your loan options.


LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to survey 1,040 Americans who say they are hosting Thanksgiving dinner in 2018. The survey was conducted online from Nov. 2 to 6, 2018.

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