Some are holding potluck dinners instead of springing for the entire feast. Others are staying home rather than flying. And a few are skipping the turkey altogether.
On the fourth Thanksgiving since the economy sank, prices for everything from airline flights to groceries are going up, and some Americans are scaling back. Yet in many households, the occasion is too important to skimp on.
Said one mother: "I don't have much to give, but I'll be cooking, and the door will be open."
Thanksgiving airfares are up 20 percent this year, and the average price of a gallon of gas has risen almost 20 percent, according to travel tracker AAA.
Still, about 42.5 million people are expected to travel, the highest number since the start of the recession.
But even those who choose to stay home and cook for themselves will probably spend more. A 16-pound turkey and all the trimmings will cost an average of $49.20, a 13 percent jump from last year, or about $5.73 more, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, which said grocers have raised prices to keep pace with higher-priced commodities.
In Pawtucket, R.I., Jackie Galinis was among those looking for help to put a proper meal on the table. She stopped at a community center this week seeking a donated food basket.
But by the time she arrived, all 300 turkeys had been claimed. So Galinis, an unemployed retail worker, will make do with what's in her apartment.
"We'll have to eat whatever I've got, so I'm thinking chicken," she said.
Then her eyes lit up. "Actually, I think I've got red meat in the freezer, some corned beef. We could do a boiled dinner."
Galinis has another reason to clear out her apartment's freezer. Her landlord is in the process of evicting her and her 3-year-old son.
The unemployment rate in Pawtucket -- a city struggling with the loss of manufacturing jobs -- is 12.1 percent, well above the national average.
Carole Goldsmith of Fresno, Calif., decided she didn't need to have a feast, even if she could still afford it.
Goldsmith, an administrator at a community college in Coalinga, Calif., said she typically hosts an "over-the-top meal" for her friends and family.
This year, she canceled the meal and donated a dozen turkeys to two homeless shelters. She plans to spend Thursday volunteering before holding a small celebration Friday with soup, bread "and lots of gratitude."
"I think everybody is OK with it," Goldsmith said. "They understand. Everybody is in a different place than they were a year ago."
In suburban Chicago, the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry got rid of turkey altogether. Last year, the pantry had a lottery in October to distribute 600 turkeys among almost 1,500 families.
The pantry's management has decided to give all its families a choice between other kinds of meat -- ground turkey, sliced chicken, fish sticks and hamburger patties -- along with the other trappings of a Thanksgiving feast. The decision will save $16,000, money that can go to feeding the hungry for the rest of the year.
"Do we give turkeys and hams to half of the people, or do we give them to none of them and put that money back in the general food budget?" said Kathy Russell, the pantry's executive director.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository is paying more for many basic items. Executive director Kate Maehr said she recently ordered peanut butter that cost 38 percent more than just six months ago.
And the price increase comes at a bad time, when the economy has forced more families to resort to food pantries, she said.
Andrew Thomas, a mailroom worker for a Washington, D.C., law firm, had hoped to take his two children to see his grandmother in North Carolina. But with Christmas around the corner, Thomas concluded he needed to save money.
"We're just going to eat real good and stay home for this year," he said.
But George Gorham and his fiancee, Patricia Horner weren't deterred.
They flew to Washington, D.C., from the West Coast and planned to rent a car to drive to Fort Bragg, N.C., to visit Gorham's son, an Army sergeant. They used frequent-flier miles and planned to use their trip to see the tourist attractions in the nation's capital.
Gorham said he would have made the trip without his frequent-flier miles, but "it would have been more painful."