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Angelo DiTocco

Everyone seems to forget about Thanksgiving in favor of making their Halloween costumes in August and shopping for Christmas in October, but Thanksgiving is actually a pretty cool holiday. You get to come together as a family, have a delicious feast, express your gratitude for all of the good things in life, and honor what few peaceful interactions there were between the settlers and the natives. But in these Unprecedented TimesTM, it’s not so easy to celebrate this important holiday in a traditional manner. From fuel to food to housing to education to technology, everything is more expensive these days. You can’t even get a decent meal from McDonald’s anymore without forking over $15. It just seems impossible to put enough time and money aside to prepare enough food to feed your family, your extended family, and your extended family’s extended family.

But fear not, because as an expert economist, investor, and alpha hustler (making $10 a month on YouTube definitely counts), I’m here to show you how you can celebrate Thanksgiving to the fullest without breaking the bank. All it takes is a few simple substitutions and a bit of ingenuity, and you’ll have a cheap, delicious Thanksgiving dinner lined up in no time!

The Turkey

Let’s start by covering the most essential part of the Thanksgiving dinner. Unless you’re from one of those weird vegan families that only eats Impossible Turkey or whatever it’s called, you should agree that it’s not a real Thanksgiving dinner unless turkey is involved. But do you really want to spend upwards of $30 at the store for only a fraction of your dinner, only to have to spend hours seasoning it, basting it, and roasting it? That’s a massive opportunity cost when you realize you could spend that valuable time working on your side hustle and getting one step closer to affording rent this month. Once time travel is invented, you’ll be able to go back to the first Thanksgiving and get turkeys off the menu, but for now, here are some workarounds.

The “Turkey & Cheese Cracker Stacker” Lunchable is priced at only $2 per serving. Not only is that a steal, but it also allows you to offload the preparation onto your guests. You can even choose between American and cheddar cheese depending on the preference of you and your guests. And each one has 13 grams of protein!

But what do you do if you can’t find the Cracker Stacker at your local supermarket or if they’re out of stock? You might think you’re screwed, but I have a backup plan for you. Simply tell your family that you caught the new BA.2.86 COVID variant and that you have to postpone the Thanksgiving celebration “for their safety”. Then you can go to the back of the store the day after Thanksgiving and check the dumpster, where they’ll likely be throwing out perfectly good Thanksgiving turkeys because no one wants them anymore. No one except you, that is. Just make sure to avoid the rats crawling around in the dumpster. They might bite you and infect you with diseases that make you crazy.

The Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are another staple of the Thanksgiving dinner. There’s nothing that goes better with a turkey (or in your case, a turkey Lunchable) than some soft and creamy ‘taters. Yet the process of buying a bunch of potatoes, boiling them, seasoning them, and mashing them can be way too costly. Fortunately, there are many cheaper forms of potatoes you can get with most of the basic steps of preparing them already done for you. These include French fries, potato chips, and hashbrowns. Find out which of those options is cheapest, get a bunch of those, and then go HAM on them until they start to lose their shape. Simple as that. If your guests complain that they’re too crispy, just tell them it’s your style of making them. You can even pretend you have some fancy recipe where you peel the skins off and fry them separately before putting them back in or something like that. So not only will you have some delicious mashed potatoes (in the technical sense), but you’ll also have the satisfaction of gaslighting your guests at the same time.

The Condiments

Most of your focus will be on the actual food, but the various condiments used to garnish your meal are just as important. No one wants to eat dry ass turkey and mashed potatoes. You might as well be eating paint chips. But after spending what little money you have on food, you might not be able to spend any more on condiments. Luckily, you don’t have to! If you look in the right places, you can get them for completely free. 

The dining halls on campus are great places to steal condiments. You can either take home a few cups worth every day until you have enough, or if you’re pressed for time, you can wait until no one is looking and then take the whole bag out of the dispenser. You might also be able to easily abscond with condiments from fast food restaurants, but some chains are better for this than others. At the KFC near campus, the condiment shelves are placed at the front of the dining area, almost completely out of the line of sight of the employees. You could easily just walk into the place, stuff your pockets full of packets, and then leave. Not that I’ve ever done this, of course.

However, the places you’re taking condiments from most likely won’t have the exact kinds of condiments found in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, so you’ll probably have to make a few compromises. First, you’ll have to find a substitute for cranberry sauce. For this, you can use ketchup, marinara sauce, or anything else that’s red. It might not taste like your guests are expecting it to, but they say half the quality is in the presentation, so if it looks fine, it’ll be fine. Also, the KFC I mentioned earlier has grape jelly, which is pretty close. As for the gravy, you can replace that with barbecue sauce because that’s also brown. Even billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg are beginning to take advantage of this more economical option.

The Stuffing

Another cornerstone of a good Thanksgiving dinner is stuffing. This can be used to fill up your “turkey” or even be enjoyed on its own. You might be turned off by its complex combination of ingredients and extensive preparation time. But what is stuffing, really? At its core, stuffing is just bread. So take whatever borderline inedible bread is chilling in the back of your pantry (or check out the dumpster behind your local bakery) and then go HAM on it just like you did with the mashed potatoes. You can add moisture by using the free condiments that you obtained earlier. Lastly, sprinkle some salt and pepper (KFC has that in packets too) on the result. It’ll look so good that even Mr. Beast won’t be able to tell the difference between your $0 stuffing and some gourmet chef’s $1,000,000 stuffing.

The Appetizer

If you invite your guests over early, they might become impatient while waiting for dinner to be ready, so you’ll need some appetizers to hold them over. If you can get your hands on the turkey Lunchable, that’s perfect because it also doubles as a charcuterie board. But if you can’t seem to find Oscar Mayer’s gift to the working class, there are other cheap ways to placate your hungry guests. Although I’m personally not a fan of it, Brie cheese seems to be all the rage these days. When it’s melted, it functions as a white sauce that you can dip your crackers in. So just substitute it with any other white sauce you can get your hands on, such as mayonnaise, ranch, or even Cool Whip. And instead of crackers, you can use the chips left over from making your mashed potatoes. Who doesn’t love a good helping of chips and mayo?

The Dessert

If you want to go above and beyond this Thanksgiving, you should think beyond just your dinner. The classic Thanksgiving dessert is a pumpkin pie. Now, pumpkins aren’t particularly expensive; in fact, you could probably get one for free by stealing your neighbor’s jack-o-lantern. But if you’re too busy participating in the gig economy to take out the pumpkin’s innards and do whatever it actually is that turns them into a pie, then you’ll probably need to settle for something quicker. There are lots of different places you could go to get some cheap desserts, but McDonald’s has a variety of options. If you want to be as close as possible to a traditional Thanksgiving dessert, you can get apple pies for just over a dollar each. If you need to be as frugal as possible, you can get a pack of 3 cookies for roughly $1.50 and split them up between your guests. That’ll get the job done for only 50 cents per person! I would also recommend the ice cream, but there’s a 99.9% chance that their ice cream machine will be “broken”.

If you apply all the tips and tricks I’ve outlined throughout this article, then you should end up with a fantastic 3-course meal for only a tiny fraction of the cost. It might not look and taste quite as good as a “normal” Thanksgiving dinner, but that’s the price you (don’t) pay when you’re on a tight budget. If your guests continue to complain about your low-cost cuisine, you should remind them that Thanksgiving is not necessarily about the food but instead about uniting as a family and showing your appreciation for life it’s actually Joe Biden’s fault that things are so expensive, not yours. Or you could say that the holiday is offensive and that you’re trying to make a mockery of it. This’ll be sure to start an intense political debate, which is basically a requirement for any family gathering. There’s no time to worry about the return on investment of the food you’re eating when you’re too busy screaming in someone else’s face about which party is burning the country to the ground and which one is saving it. Now that’s what Thanksgiving is all about!

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