More affordable turkeys, milk and sweet potatoes keep this year’s feast under $50.
This Thanksgiving won’t gobble up your budget.
In fact, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual price survey of classic Turkey Day dishes released Thursday puts the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 at $49.12, or less than $5 per person. That’s a 75 cent decrease from last year’s average $49.87 bill, and after adjusting for inflation, the cheapest Thanksgiving dinner in five years.
That’s largely because the holiday centerpiece – a 16-pound turkey – will tip the scales at just $22.38 this year, 36 cents less than last year’s $22.74 bird. That’s about $1.40 per pound, a decrease of 2 cents per pound from 2016.
“We’ve got an ample supply of frozen turkeys – the supply in cold storage is up about 22% from where it was last year,” AFBF Director of Market Intelligence Dr. John Newton told Moneyish. “The turkey represents close to 50% of the cost of Thanksgiving dinner, so if the cost of the turkey goes down, it’s reflected in the overall cost, as well.”
The AFBF has been conducting its Thanksgiving dinner survey since 1986, sending 141 volunteer shoppers to check prices at grocery stores in 39 states. They’re tasked with finding the best prices without using special coupons or promotional deals, like spending $50 and getting a free turkey.
The annual shopping list includes enough turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk to feed a family of 10 with plenty of leftovers.
Besides bagging budget-friendly birds this year, shoppers will also see lower prices on: A gallon of milk ($2.99); a dozen rolls ($2.26); two nine-inch pie shells ($2.45); a three-pound bag of sweet potatoes ($3.52); a one-pound bag of green peas ($1.53); and a group of miscellaneous items including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal, such as butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour ($2.72).
Dr. Newton said that the U.S. produced a record amount of milk this year, which helped drive down some dairy costs. “But retailers will also use milk and turkeys as loss leaders [or price them with the thinnest profit margins] around Thanksgiving to drive foot traffic into stores,” he dished.
The grocery items that got more expensive this year include: A half-pint of whipping cream is up 4% ($2.08); a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing ($2.81); a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix ($3.21); a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries ($2.43); and a one-pound veggie tray (74 cents).
Dr. Newton noted that increased demand for full-fat products like whipped cream bumped up some prices, and that processed foods like the canned pumpkin mix fell victim to non-ingredient preparation costs such as labor, energy and transportation expenses.
The under $50 Thanksgiving budget is pretty modest compared to what Americans are actually expecting to spend, however, according to a recent LendEDU survey, which polled 1,000 people planning to celebrate Thanksgiving and found that the average consumer will spend $165.14 on overall expenses, including $67.59 on travel to the family dinner table, and $97.55 on food, drinks and other sundries.
And those hosting a Friendsgivings told Moneyish that they expect to spend up to $250 to feed their friends.
Dr. Newton agreed that the AFBF’s Thanksgiving menu may be modest compared to what many households plan to prepare, but the informal survey aligned with the Consumer Price Index is meant as a useful gauge to price trends across the country.
“Obviously if you buy a 20-pound turkey instead of our sample 16-pound turkey, or you add another meat like a ham or a steak to your dinner, or you buy beer to watch the football game, the cost of your dinner is going to go up,” he said. “But I think this is a good barometer for what consumers are spending on Thanksgiving each year.”
He added that, “The biggest surprise is that this is the cheapest Thanksgiving in five years, which says something about the productivity of the U.S. farmers and ranchers, and the abundance of safe and high-quality food they supply even as they continue to face economic challenges. We can feed a group of 10 for under $5 a person? This Thanksgiving, thank a farmer.”
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