The Average Person Eats $5 of Food on Thanksgiving

You can save money on your Thanksgiving feast.

Spending times with loved ones on Thanksgiving might seem invaluable, but hosting the meal isn’t cheap. The decadent spread tends to translate into a high grocery bill. Between the turkey, potatoes, stuffing, casseroles and pies, the holiday can blow a hole through a budget quickly.

If you tend to overspend on Thanksgiving, you might want to read how your budget stacks up against other families’ feasts. Read on to find ways to cut down your spending this holiday season — you’ll definitely be thankful.

Thanksgiving Dinner Costs $5 per Person

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual analysis of Thanksgiving dinner costs in 2016 estimated an average cost of $49.87 for a meal for 10 people with plenty of leftovers. This dinner took into account food that required preparation and convenience foods like boxed cube stuffing, pumpkin pie mix and prepared pie crusts. According to the analysis, the average person ate about $5 worth of food.

Although $5 per person might seem cheap, the total $50 price is significant for a typical household. The average American family spends about $4,050 a year on groceries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or around $340 a month. For an average family, hosting a $50 Thanksgiving dinner could eat up about 15 percent of the monthly grocery budget in a single meal.

The Farm Bureau’s average cost of $50 derived from food price data collected by volunteers in 40 states. These volunteers were asked to look for the best prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals like getting a free turkey for spending over $50. The report said that shoppers “with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey averages.”

Why Your Thanksgiving Meal Costs More

If you’ve put on a Thanksgiving spread before, $50 might seem surprisingly low to you. Many Americans end up spending much more than $5 per person for the meal. Here are some of the reasons your Thanksgiving menu could cost you more.

You’re Not Shopping Around

Finding the best prices can take a fair amount of diligence, planning ahead and possibly trips to different stores. But it’s best to avoid costly mistakes while shopping — customers who make their entire Thanksgiving dinner purchases in a single trip to one store could pay higher prices, though going to multiple stores could cost you more time, gas money and spur-of-the-moment buys.

GOBankingRates compared prices at a major grocer in the Los Angeles area and found that the same items on the Farm Bureau’s list cost $64.39 when purchased from this single store. That’s 29.12 percent higher than the number reported by the Farm Bureau.

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Your Thanksgiving Menu Is Longer

The Farm Bureau based its price analysis on a menu that included the following items:

  • Turkey
  • Cubed bread stuffing
  • Fresh sweet potatoes
  • Brown-and-serve dinner rolls with butter
  • Peas
  • Fresh cranberries
  • Carrots and celery
  • Canned pumpkin pie filling, two prepared crusts and whipped cream
  • Coffee and milk

The Thanksgiving turkey, the big-ticket item on this list, averaged $21.65 for a 16-pound bird by the Farm Bureau’s account. The store price for the comparable bird GOBankingRates found was $20.64. Turkey is the food item that most Americans agree has to be on the Thanksgiving dinner table, a Gallup poll found. Half of Americans name turkey as their favorite Thanksgiving food.

Other Thanksgiving side dishes and Thanksgiving desserts are also popular, and adding them to the table would push the cost of a dinner beyond $50. Here’s what it can cost to add some of your favorite traditional dishes to the menu for 10 people:

  • Mashed potatoes: $4.22
  • Gravy: $2.50
  • Ham (two pounds): $8.78
  • Leafy green salad with dressing: $16.99
  • Green bean casserole: $12.22
  • Roasted brussels sprouts: $4.62
  • Jellied cranberry sauce: $3.18
  • Pickles, olives and radishes added to relish tray: $7.82
  • Homemade pecan pie with crust from a mix: $18.69

You’re Serving Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages can drive up the cost of a Thanksgiving meal. Wine, for example, provides about four standard glasses per bottle. Some experts suggest having one bottle of wine on hand per drinking adult for a Thanksgiving dinner lasting about three hours.

If you’re serving an inexpensive wine at $8 a bottle, you’ll still be spending around $80 for a party of 10. If you opt for more expensive wine or champagne, costs will climb even higher.

You’re Buying More Ingredients Than You’ll Use

You’ll probably have to buy some ingredients in larger amounts than you plan to use. For instance, the Farm Bureau’s grocery list calls for a half-pint of whipped cream, though it’s typically sold in pints or quarts. Although the whipped cream for your pie will only use half of a pint, you still might have to pay for the whole pint at the register.

Other recipes might require specialized ingredients you don’t often buy or use. And then there are those enticing impulse buys grocery stores are set up to tempt you with, using everything from strategic lighting to compelling displays to fill your cart.

You’re Paying a Grocery Tax

If you live in a state that charges sales tax on groceries, your Thanksgiving dinner items will cost more. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia exempt most groceries from sales tax, reported the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, but Alabama, Mississippi and South Dakota tax groceries.

Idaho, Hawaii, Kansas and Oklahoma tax groceries, but they offer compensatory rebates or credits for qualifying households. Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Utah, Tennessee and Virginia also tax groceries, but at a lower rate compared with other goods and services.

Some Thanksgiving shoppers could pay even more with municipal or county taxes added in. The average state grocery tax is 4.3 percent, but in areas like Tuscaloosa County, Ala., it can be as high as 9 percent with combined local and state tax. That would add $4.50 to a $50 Thanksgiving dinner for 10, which is almost equal to an added guest.

Related: 35 Ways to Save Hundreds on Groceries

7 Money-Saving Tips to Cut Your Thanksgiving Dinner Budget

If your Thanksgiving feasts typically cost more than you planned, consider these moves to keep expenses under control this year.

1. Use Coupons and Promotional Offers

Many grocers will offer coupons, sales and discounts specifically for items needed for popular Thanksgiving dishes. Some stores even offer a free Thanksgiving turkey if you spend a certain amount, which could mean huge savings because the bird is often the most expensive single item on the menu.

2. Shop for Best Prices Early

If you’re shopping around for Thanksgiving dinner ingredients, it can help to start a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving to find the best deals. You might also want to look at circulars from stores you don’t usually visit to see if they’re offering better prices or check for online specials on their websites.

3. Shop From a List

To avoid impulse buys, create a list of everything you plan to purchase before you hit the supermarket, then stick to your list. This approach is especially important if you plan to shop at more than one store because each trip exposes you to alluring extras.

4. Ask Guests to Bring a Dish

Encouraging guests to bring a dish or a bottle of wine helps spread the costs more evenly between the host and guests. It’s also a way for people to make sure their own Thanksgiving dinner must-haves are included and any special dietary needs, like being vegetarian or having a food allergy, are accommodated.

5. Serve Smaller Portions and Fewer Dishes

The easiest way to cut Thanksgiving costs is to serve less food, both in the size of portions and the dishes you plan to include, unless you’re certain you’ll make the most of the leftovers. Skip dishes that rarely get eaten fully, making larger portions of crowd-pleasers instead.

6. Choose Foods With Less-Expensive Ingredients

Get creative by coming up with less-pricey alternatives to more-expensive dishes. Steamed green beans can replace green bean casserole, for instance, negating the need for extra items like creamy soup and fried onions.

7. Cook More From Scratch

If you have time and enjoy cooking, you can save substantially by making dishes from scratch — especially compared with a Thanksgiving dinner prepared by a restaurant. Restaurant Thanksgiving dinners can cost $60 to over $200 for 10 to 12 people.

Items like homemade pie crust cost significantly less than pre-made. It could also help to plan dishes that use items you already have or choose recipes with ingredients you know you’ll use in the future.

Thanksgiving is a special day when families gather to enjoy a feast. If you’re preparing the meal, don’t let food costs add stress or empty your wallet. Use these ideas to stay happy, satiated and under budget so you can focus on what matters most to you and your loved ones.

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