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"It's probably the biggest sticker shock of the year you get because it's probably the one time of the year where you buy as much," says Jim Sartwelle, an economist at the American Farm Bureau.
updated 11/10/2008 2:39:28 PM ET 2008-11-10T19:39:28

Crazy economic times have Americans counting their pennies along with their blessings this Thanksgiving. And that has many people wondering, just how much will it cost to give thanks this year?

Thanksgiving, the intersection of gratification and gratitude, can leave a thrifty shopper feeling as plucked as the bird of honor.

"It's probably the biggest sticker shock of the year you get because it's probably the one time of the year where you buy as much," says Jim Sartwelle, an economist at the American Farm Bureau, which since 1986 has released an annual Turkey Day tally based on an informal survey by volunteer shoppers across the country.

But unless you splash out on specialty ingredients, such as a free-range heirloom breed turkey — $100 and up — Thanksgiving isn't that expensive a meal taken serving by serving, Sartwelle says.

Last year, the bureau estimated the average cost for a traditional meal for 10 people was $42.26, up nearly 11 percent from 2006. But adjusted for inflation, the cost was $20.46, a decline of 9 percent compared to prices from 20 years ago.

The farm bureau won't be releasing results of its current survey until mid-November, but Sartwelle said early information indicates prices are somewhat higher than last year, mostly because of higher gas prices.

But the cost of putting enough bird, spuds, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie on the table to leave eight to 10 people satisfied can vary widely across the country, a recent Associated Press survey of grocer prices in six cities found.

The bargains were in Little Rock, Ark., and Concord, N.H., where all the fixings could be had for about $30. In Omaha, Neb., Atlanta, and Oceanside and Westbury, N.Y., the price went up another $10 to $14.

The costliest surveyed area in which to give thanks? Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., where the total ran more than $59.

Despite the chill winds sweeping across the economy, shoppers interviewed a month before Thanksgiving at Whole Foods Market in Berkeley said they doubted they'd be cutting back much this year, although they were thinking about cost.

Helen Greenspan was looking into buying an entire meal ready-cooked from the store, more expensive than starting from scratch but still cheaper than going out to eat.

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"I can do it because everybody's chipping in," she explained.

And it's worth it because "no preparation and no clean up afterward," she said with a grin.

Carol Williams, who usually switches off holding the family Thanksgiving with a sister, also wasn't expecting to make any changes this year, although she thought that might be a possibility if the economic indicators keep heading south.

"Maybe next year might be worse," she said. Video: The top turkey brands

The same turkey tranquility prevailed at a No Frills Supermarket in Omaha, Neb.

Shopper Jerry Tegtmeier said he doesn't expect the economy to carve a hole in his plans. Tegtmeier said about 40 people usually attend his family's Thanksgiving in Omaha, and everyone brings part of the meal.

"We've got a large family, and we share the price," Tegtmeier said.

Jason Perrotto said his dad's side of the family always gathers at his grandmother's house in Omaha for Thanksgiving. Everybody brings a side dish or dessert, so nobody bears the burden of preparing the entire meal.

Nick Heustis, marketing and community relations specialist for the Berkeley Whole Foods, said customers have definitely being showing a marked attention to prices this year, prompting the market to run more specials and start running "value tours" that highlight ways to save money, whether it's by clipping coupons or buying from the bulk aisle.

The best tools for keeping Thanksgiving from turning into Thanks-taking? Paper and pencil.

People often over-shop "because the last thing we want to do is run out. But having good planning, really looking at what you're going to be serving and who's coming over and buying appropriately can save tons of money," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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