Trim Costs? for All Trimmings? Forget It; Turkey Day Costs Are Up 13 Percent, Marking the Largest Increase in 26 Years

There’s a lot to be thankful for when living in the United States, but this Thanksgiving, one thing there won’t be a lot of thanks for is the rising price of the traditional Thanksgiving Dinner.

A recent national survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) showed that the cost of a Thanksgiving Dinner for 10 people has risen 13 percent this year, mostly due to the rising cost of Tom Turkey.

According to the survey, which has been conducted for the past 26 years at Thanksgiving, the average price of a 16-pound turkey has risen from $17.66 to $21.57. Overall, the price of a full dinner for 10 increased from $43.47 last year to $49.20 this year.

It was the largest increase in price, year to year, since the survey began.

“Turkey prices are higher this year primarily due to strong consumer demand both here in the U.S. and globally,” said John Anderson, an AFBF senior economist. “In addition, the era of grocers holding the line on retail food cost increases is basically over. Retailers are being more aggressive about passing on higher costs for shipping, processing and storing food to consumers, although turkeys may still be featured in special sales and promotions close to Thanksgiving.”

He did also shed this bit of light on the frustrating cost increases, noting that Thanksgiving Dinner is still a better value than fast food.

“Although we’ll pay a bit more this year, on a per-person basis, our traditional Thanksgiving feast remains a better value than most fast-food value meals, plus it’s a wholesome, home-cooked meal,” he said.

Increases in the annual Thanksgiving Dinner price survey began going upward in the mid-1990s. However, since 2006, the annual costs have jumped more than $11.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes 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.

The survey is conducted by 141 volunteer shoppers from 35 states, all of who have purchased the same items for the past 26 years, leaving room for consistency year over year.

Of those items surveyed, only the one-pound relish tray with carrots and celery showed a decrease, going down by one penny.

However, basic ingredients such as onions, eggs, sugar and flour showed a 13-cent decrease.

The second highest increase was for a gallon of whole milk, which increased by 42 cents over last year’s price.

For those looking to cut into those increases, here are a few tips provided by Andrea Woroch, a national consumer money-saving expert from Kinoli, Inc.

•Smaller Can Be Better

If you’re not a fan of leftovers, buying a smaller turkey will save you some cash, since guests often fill up on side dishes anyway.

Buy Early

Got extra space in your freezer? Then buy the bird now. Supermarkets tend to stock up early, and offer some excellent prices per pound. Shop early sales and keep an eye out for printable grocery coupons at websites like

Be a Borrower

Borrow serving dishes and specialty cookware, instead of purchasing them. That particularly applies to that tin-foil turkey roaster you end up buying each year to avoid cleaning.

•Bring Nature Indoors

Use decor inspired by nature, like pine cones and intertwined twigs. Pumpkins spray-painted gold offer a festive touch, one that would cost over $30 if purchased at a specialty store. Plus, they’re cheaper after Halloween. Or you could cut holes in fruit, insert tealights, and create a natural and inexpensive centerpiece.

Save at Dollar Stores

Buy paper goods, napkins, favors, etc. at dollar stores. You’d be surprised how many party fixings you can buy for just $1 apiece.

Do Your Own Prep

Buy your veggies whole and do the prep yourself. Pre-cut and pre-sliced produce are more expensive and often not as fresh. You can enlist a friend to help handle all the prep and chat while working.

Stick to Your list

It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday spirit while shopping for Thanksgiving goodies, and supermarkets guide you in the direction of overspending. Before heading to the store, make a detailed list of what you need and stick to it. And also fix yourself a sandwich; there’s nothing more dangerous than holiday grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

Yearly Thanksgiving Dinner Averages (for a family of 10)

1986 – $28.74

1987 – $24.51

1988 – $26.61

1989 – $24.70

1990 – $28.85

1991 – $25.95

1992 – $26.39

1993 – $27.49

1994 – $28.40

1995 – $29.64

1996 – $31.66

1997 – $31.75

1998 – $33.09

1999 – $33.83

2000 – $32.37

2001 – $35.04

2002 – $34.56

2003 – $36.28

2004 – $35.68

2005 – $36.78

2006 – $38.10

2007 – $42.26

2008 – $44.61

2009 – $42.91

2010 – $43.47

2011 – $49.20

Source: AFBF Annual Thanksgiving Survey

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