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Northbound: Saving money this holiday season

How much did your Thanksgiving dinner cost this year?

It’s a question worth asking. Reconcile those receipts and credit card statements and take a look.

The American Farm Bureau Federation released its annual survey, and found that for the first time, the average Thanksgiving turkey dinner topped $50 ($50.11) this year. pinpoints the cost of a turkey dinner in San Diego at $54.80.

My mom estimates we spent about $24 this year on our Thanksgiving meal (with plenty of leftovers). How? She bought a 12-pound Archer Farms Cook-in-Bag Homestyle Turkey for $1.29 a pound, after coupons. We made our own mashed potatoes for 99 cents, and made two-dozen dinner rolls from scratch for a dollar. We made our own fried onions to top a fresh green bean casserole.

Two boxes of stuffing were two dollars, and pumpkin and apple pies for $1.99 each.

We also purchased wine from Trader Joes — $2.49 for a basic “two buck Chuck” Charles Shaw Shiraz and a more elegant Charles Shaw Nouveau red blend.

That’s not exactly a pumpkins-to-pumpkins comparison. The Farm Bureau estimate is for a family of 10, and for specific items we didn’t include in our holiday meal, like fresh cranberries.

Still, we crunched some numbers, and found we could have fed 10 people at about $30.

In a place with a high cost of living like North County, every dollar counts. Even for those of us who didn’t clip coupons and hunted down sales for Thanksgiving, there’s a second opportunity to save some cash for Christmas.

Once a month, I take a trip to my local dollar store. It’s eye-opening what you can find on the shelves — fresh and frozen produce, common household items, and seasonal pickings, too. Need Christmas tree decorations, sweets, or holiday wrapping paper? They’re there. Christmas card packs, toys, and household decor? They’re there too. Though I’d get there sooner than later — selection gets picked over early.

I typically host an annual Christmas party — which every year gets more expensive to cater. This year, we’ve decided to host the event at a nice bar and restaurant in the Gaslamp District, where our guests are welcome to dress up, have fun, and pay their own way for food and drink.

If you have a similar party, maybe find a great North County establishment to host it at? While my party has traditionally been held downtown, if it was in North County I’d probably host it at the Green Dragon Tavern & Museum in Carlsbad.

I found some great holiday savings ideas in the recent issue of USAA Magazine, but you can also check blogs and articles for similar suggestions.

Stick to a budget, and have fun trying to see how you can stretch every dollar. At the end of the day, your family and friends will remember the time you spent with each other — not the pedigree of the turkey or the brand of wine.

Vince Vasquez is a think tank analyst based in Torrey Pines. He is a Carlsbad resident.