10 Tips For An Affordable Thanksgiving Tabletop

Posted on Nov 21, 2013

Layer table cloths


A couple of weeks ago my sister contacted me in a panic: she was asked to give a presentation at her church on affordable Thanksgiving table decorations.  Not one to decline a design challenge, I decided to see what I could come up with without having to spend a dime! It seemed to me that she and her church group are not the only ones who would like some ideas for an affordable Thanksgiving tabletop, so I put together some tips and tricks to share.

Most Importantly: The point of thanksgiving is to be with family and friends and reflect on how lucky were are to be free, so I say free yourself from the stress of having to have a perfect Thanksgiving. Start with an open attitude and accept the challenge of enjoying yourself.  You hear this a lot, but it’s helpful to be reminded.

  1. Take stock of what you already have:  Chances are you have table cloths, a table runner or two, napkins, plates and service pieces, candle sticks and candles.  Do you have a white ruffled sheet or any other linen you can use as part of your table decor? Take a good look at what you have and see what goes together.  You don’t even have to unfold your linens; just try them together with your existing dishes and see what you can mix and match.



2. Your table doesn’t have to have turkeys, pilgrims or Indians anywhere.  Let it hint at Thanksgiving rather than scream it.  Try neutrals with a dash of color.

3. Allow yourself to be inspired.  One year a friend of mine was looking at the corrugated cardboard between her stored dishes and admired their unique texture.  She decided to give an idea a shot and lightly dusted the cardboard with some gold spray paint which still allowed a bit of the original color to come through.  Thrilled with the effect, she then used them as perfectly fitting chargers!  No one even noticed they were cardboard and when the time came, they went back between her plates so she didn’t have more stuff to store.  That’s brilliant.

4. Layers look luxe.  Why use only one table cloth?  If you have two table cloths and a runner that look great together, use them!  Leave the bottom table cloth layer its full size.  Fold a coordinating one in half or thirds (or whatever you think looks good) the long way and place it on top.  Set a runner on top of that.  All the layers, especially if they are different textures, create interest and warmth, particularly if they’re monochromatic. Put that napkin to work, too.  Try folding it in thirds or fourths the log way and setting it under a salad plate or bowl with the end hanging over the edge of the table.  Even if you only have one tablecloth, the napkin will add another layer.

Napkin hanging over


5. White goes with everything.  Mix it in for a clean look.  Restaurants know a white tablecloth says this is special.

Thanksgiving table-Take stock


6. Bring outside in. Use a small planter with flowers or interesting greens you already have for a centerpiece.  Even succulents can add a dash of color.

7 Overall ps


7. Bring more outside in.  Natural materials look lovely at Thanksgiving.  Leaves, pine cones, seed pods, anything you find interesting or appealing can be added to your table top as a textural or color accent.  Plus, if it’s in your own yard, it’s free!

Thanksgiving Interesting greenery

The green spikey ball is the seed pod from Liquidambar styrasiflua, commonly known as Liqiudamabar.

8. Use candles. The real thing!  Not one replacement in all our modern technology has the quality of real fire.  Humans have a primitive, instinctive connection with fire that evokes a sense of warmth, safety and comfort.  They are a perfect fit for the Thanksgiving table.  Scrounge around: you know you have some!

9. Set your silverware out nicely and use every bit of silverware for each place setting. If you only do it once or twice a year, the holidays are the time.  Silverware adds a bit of sparkle as well as another layer.

overview ps


10.  Plan ahead for next year:  Think before you buy a new tablecloth or set of dishes, ask yourself, “is this a uni-tasker?” If it has too much of a theme that you can only use one day a year, forget it.  Instead buy neutral or white linens, dishes and candles. Pick candle holders in clear, silvers or golds.  That way, whenever you want to set a special table, you have some neutrals to mix in and make your table more interesting all year.  You’ll get more use of what you have and have less to store, always a bonus!   Stock up on consumable plain white tea candles. They are incredibly versatile and inexpensive.  I like to buy a big bag when they are on sale and end up using them for a long, long time.

Bonus: My single favorite thing to include on a Thanksgiving table is a blank piece of paper and a pencil at each setting.  Everyone writes what they’re thankful for and shares during the meal.  Perfect!


If you have ideas you’d like to contribute to this list, drop me a note and I’ll be happy to give you the credit and share! Use the comment page or contact me at TJones@theinspiredhomeandgarden.com.  I’m thankful you read my blog:0)





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