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The average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is less than you think

Tony Wagner Nov 21, 2017
How much does that Thanksgiving feast cost? John Moore/Getty Images

The average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is less than you think

Tony Wagner Nov 21, 2017
How much does that Thanksgiving feast cost? John Moore/Getty Images

Thanksgiving dinner is cheaper this year — but you might not be feeling it.

The American Farm Bureau Federation pegs the average cost of a Thanksgiving feast at $49.12, a five-year low. The Federation has been doing price surveys on the same list of groceries for 32 years now, tracking the average cost of a modest, traditional meal for 10.

Here’s the full shopping list, along with this year’s average prices:

  • 16-pound turkey: $22.38
  • 14-ounce package of stuffing: $2.81 
  • 3 pounds of sweet potatoes $3.52
  • 12 brown-and-serve rolls: $2.26
  • 12-ounces of fresh cranberries: $2.43
  • 1 pound of green peas: $1.53
  • 1 gallon of milk: $2.99
  • 2 9-inch pie crusts: $2.45
  • 30 ounces pumpkin pie mix: $3.21
  • Half a pint of whipping cream: $2.08
  • 1 pound veggie tray: $.74
  • Coffee and other miscellaneous ingredients (butter, evaporated milk, onion, eggs, sugar, flour): $2.72

Does this sound like your shopping list, or some kind of dream from yesteryear? Probably the latter, based on our own informal survey. We asked Marketplace listeners to guess the average cost of the feast, and most of them guessed several times what the Farm Bureau found.

Another survey of 1,000 adults from the loan company LendEDU found respondents were planning to spend  an average of $97.55 on non-travel Thanksgiving expenses. The discussion of that survey over on The Billfold found quite a few folks adding a Thanksgiving line item to their budgets this fall, indicating they might be penciling in more than $5 per person or so for dinner this holiday.

So what gives? First of all, the Farm Bureau makes it clear that while this is a feast, it’s a humble, no-frills feast. There’s no alcohol, for one thing. There’s also no organic, heritage birds. Some of the food is packaged, and there’s only one type of pie.

The 141 volunteers who complete the survey are instructed to shop around for the best price possible, the Farm Bureau says, and most shoppers should be able to do the same and get similar results. Thirty-nine states are represented in this year’s survey, and Farm Bureau deputy chief economist John Anderson told the “Today” show a couple years ago that its members mostly live in rural areas, doing their shopping at chains like Walmart, Kroger and Safeway. Shoppers in urban centers may have a harder time coming in under $50.

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