Giving Thanks for a Budget-Friendly Feast


I'm a sucker for the inevitable seasonal news stories. The fourth quarter is rife with random year-end countdowns, which never cease to spark my interest.

In the spirit of the season, I give you the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 28th annual informal price survey of classic Thanksgiving dinner stalwarts, the average cost for which this year rings in at $49.04 -- a 44-cent price decrease from last year’s $49.48 average.

“The cost of this year’s meal, at less than $5 per serving, remains an excellent value for consumers,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Texas, who noted that many farmers and ranchers will be reaching out to consumers this season, either in-person or through social media, to answer questions about the food that they grow or the poultry and livestock they raise.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes the usual suspects – turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk – all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 (including leftovers).

The big ticket item – a 16-pound turkey – tallied an average price of $21.76 this year – roughly $1.36 per pound, which represents a decrease of about 3 cents per pound, or a total of 47 cents per whole turkey compared to 2012.

The lower per-pound turkey price is one more cause to be thankful this year, although John Anderson, AFBF’s deputy chief economist, said most Americans will still pay about the same as last year at the grocery store for a turkey and all the trimmings. “Slightly higher turkey production for much of the year coupled with an increase in birds in cold storage may be responsible for the moderate price decrease our shoppers reported.”

Strategic shoppers may pay even less for frozen tom turkey compared to AFBF’s 167 volunteer shoppers who checked prices at grocery stores in 34 states.

In addition to the turkey, other items that declined in price included a dozen brown and serve rolls, $2.18; one pound of green peas, $1.54; a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.67; fresh cranberries, $2.42; a half pint of whipping cream, $1.85; and two nine-inch pie shells, $2.49.

Items that showed a moderate price increase from last year included three pounds of sweet potatoes, $3.36; one gallon of whole milk, $3.66; and a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, $3.10. A combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and essential meal ingredients (onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter), increased to $3.20, while a one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery jumped 81 cents.

The average cost of the dinner has remained around $49 since 2011. Further, despite retail price increases during the last year or so, American consumers have enjoyed relatively stable food costs in general over the years, particularly when adjusted for inflation.

In case you're wondering, Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers were asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking into accout promotional coupons or purchase incentives, such as spending $50 and receiving a free turkey. Thus, bargain-hunters in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages

The AFBF turkey day survey, first conducted in 1986, does not make any scientific claims about the data, but is merely an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Also good to know: the Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since its inception to allow for consistent price comparisons.

Prices and preparations aside, Thanksgiving provides an ideal occassion to reflect on the abundance of goodness that's come our way in the past year, and I honestly can’t think of a deal better than that.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds