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How not to blow your budget on Thanksgiving this year

Thanksgiving ingredients may cost more this year. Here are ways you can spend less.

how-to-cook-turkey-thanksgiving
In 2021 the cost of the traditional Thanksgiving meal has increased.
Chowhound

Like many Americans, I'm eagerly anticipating the Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. I even plan to smoke my turkey outside. But before you start to shop for ingredients, we all should acknowledge that doing so in 2021 is different.  As with other goods and services, prices of food items have risen this year. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, the price for groceries have increased 5.3% over the past 12 months. 

Indeed the October 2021 report states that prices for everything across the American economy have risen an average of 6.2% over the last year. For Thanksgiving specifically, a yearly survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation has calculated that the average cost for the traditional feast ($53.31) has increased 14% compared with last year ($46.90). All this means you'll likely pay more this year for the same Thanksgiving dinner you enjoyed 12 months ago.   

Don't freak out though. There are steps you can take If you want to avoid spending more money this holiday, and you can still have a satisfying Thanksgiving while shopping smart. 

The cost of Thanksgiving dinner is going up.

AFBF

Rethink the turkey

The turkey is the classic centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal. That said, it often plays second fiddle to the many side dishes also on the table. Maybe this year it makes sense to go with a turkey breast instead. They cost less than a whole bird, yet still offer a good amount of meat. There are plenty of tasty recipes for turkey breasts out there, too.

My local Kroger supermarket offers them for $2.29 per pound and they range between 3 and 8 pounds. A middle-of-the-road price for one (5 pounds) costs $11.45. The smallest whole turkey Kroger offers is 16 pounds, they range from 16 to 20 pounds. While whole turkey is less per pound ($.99), the cost of a small 16 pound bird will set you back more ($15.84). 

Pricing will vary from region to region, but the AFBF found that the average price for a 16-pound turkey is $23.99, up 24% over last year.

Hone your sides game

With the prices of many food ingredients up from last year, you may want to consider dropping the number of side dishes you plan to serve. In my experience, there's always at least one that no one seems to touch. That could be the sweet potato casserole. Or perhaps it's the green bean casserole that doesn't receive a warm welcome. 

And do you really need those dinner rolls? They're up 15% in price over last year. The same is true for fresh cranberry sauce. According to the AFBF the average cost of a 12-ounce bag of cranberries ($2.98) has increased 11%. Honestly though, canned cranberry sauce has always been my guilty pleasure. Right now, I can get a 14-ounce can for $1.79. That beats 12 ounces of fresh cranberries priced at $2.50.  

Maybe all those dishes you usually make aren't really worth it this year.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Go big on breaded stuffing

On the other side of the scale is the change in price of stuffing mix. Instead of increasing, the cost of a 14-ounce bag of cubed stuffing mix ($2.29) has dropped 19% from last year. 

When I asked the AFBF why that is, its Senior Economist Veronica Nigh suggested that stuffing manufacturers may have overestimated the demand for stuffing this year. Either that or perhaps grocery stores are using stuffing as a loss leader. Whatever the reason, this year may be a good time to forgo the Stove Top and try doing it yourself at home

Encourage potluck participation

Your family and friends probably already help out with the Thanksgiving meal preparation. Still, this year it feels more important than ever for everyone involved to lend a hand. One big way is to have guests bring one of the side dishes or main components to the holiday feast.

Make dessert from scratch

Buying premade desserts is always more expensive than making it yourself. This year however, one of the key dessert time-savers has seen a steep price increase. The AFBF calculates that the cost of frozen pie crusts is up 20% over last year. So perhaps this will be the year you finally learn how to make a pie from scratch.