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The Margin: Thanksgiving dinner will be more expensive than ever this year: report

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner could stretch your wallet even worse than your waistline. 

That’s the dish from the latest American Farm Bureau Federation survey, which has been itemizing the average cost of several dishes traditionally served at Thanksgiving dinner for almost four decades. The Farm Bureau’s shopping list includes enough turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a vegetable tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee and milk to feed 10 people — with plenty of leftovers, of course. 

And this year, the average cost of a turkey dinner with the trimmings comes in at $53.31 on average, not counting drinks or decor. The good news is, that’s less than $6 a person. The bad news: this tab is up a whopping 14% from last year’s average of $46.90. In fact, it’s the highest it’s been since the Farm Bureau began tracking prices in 1986.

And if you were to add ham, Russet potatoes and frozen green beans to the mix, the overall cost of the meal would jump another $15.41, to a grand total of $68.72 — which is also a 14% increase over last year. 

MarketWatch illustration

“Several factors contributed to the increase in average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner,” said AFBF senior economist Veronica Nigh in a statement. “These include dramatic disruptions to the U.S. economy and supply chains over the last 20 months; inflationary pressure throughout the economy; difficulty in predicting demand during the COVID-19 pandemic; and high global demand for food, particularly meat,” she explained. 

Nigh also noted that more people cooking and eating at home during the pandemic has led to increased supermarket demand and higher retail food prices in 2020 and 2021, compared to pre-pandemic prices in 2019.

As usual, the turkey is gobbling up most of the Thanksgiving budget: $23.99 for a 16-pound bird, or roughly $1.50 per pound, which is up 24% from last year. But the Farm Bureau notes that there are some mitigating factors with their turkey figures. For one, its volunteer shoppers were checking prices between Oct. 26 and Nov. 8, 2021, which is about two weeks before many grocery chains began featuring whole, frozen turkeys at lower prices. So shoppers who haven’t bought their turkeys yet could still find them at a lower price than the Farm Bureau’s average. 

Still, a recent Bank of America chart tracking turkey prices also warned that this year’s Thanksgiving bird is going to cost you more than at any time this century. According to its chart, the price of a 15-pound turkey has surged 25% from $11 in 2018 to nearly $21 this year. 

The Price of Thanksgiving

Bank of America Global Investment Strategy, USDA

Other cooking staples, such as dairy, eggs and sugar, are also taking a bigger bite out of budgets after the cost of groceries jumped 5.4% in the past year, marking one of the biggest increases in the past two decades, according to the consumer price index. That’s contributed to the biggest surge in U.S. inflation in almost 31 years.

Read more: High inflation is eating up the budgets of American households

Indeed, almost every single Thanksgiving menu item on the Farm Bureau’s list is more expensive than it was last year, particularly frozen pie crusts (up 20% to $2.91), a dozen dinner rolls (up 15% to $3.05) and the carrots and celery veggie tray (up 12% to 82 cents.). The only ingredient that got cheaper was the 14-ounce bag of cubed stuffing mix, which is down 19% to $2.29.

But keep in mind that shoppers could still spend significantly more than $53 on Thanksgiving dinners in expensive cities like NYC or San Francisco. Bagging organic products or specialty turkeys could also drive up that holiday grocery bill even more. 

In fact, a new LendingTree survey of more than 2,000 Americans found that folks expect to spend just under $400 hosting Thanksgiving this year, which includes bankrolling the meal, as well as the booze, the paper products and the decorations to fully set the table. And 44% expect to take on debt by hosting the feast — which is even more troublesome when you consider another recent LendingTree survey, which found that more than one in 10 shoppers (13%) is still paying off last year’s holiday bills

On the flip side, bargain-hunters can trim their Thanksgiving tab by shopping around. German grocery chain Aldi recently announced that it’s “saved” Thanksgiving this year by offering many of these ingredients for under $30, including: a Butterball turkey, bagged stuffing, sweet potatoes, Hawaiian sweet rolls, frozen peas, fresh cranberries, carrots, celery, canned pumpkin pie mix, pie crust, whipping cream and a gallon of whole milk. 

The Farm Bureau calculated the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner by drawing on more than 200 surveys featuring pricing data from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers also checked prices online using grocery store apps and websites. And these volunteer shoppers looked for the best possible prices without using special promotional coupons or purchase deals, meaning you can certainly take advantage of these kinds of discounts while doing your own grocery shopping.

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