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Thanksgiving is going to be more expensive this year — here's how to save

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner is up 14% this year.
/ Source: TODAY

Thanksgiving turkey will be more expensive this year, but so will many of the ingredients used in traditional dishes that round out the holiday meal.

"We are going to continue to see price increases throughout the entire supermarket and shortages for the next 12 to 18 months," Phil Lempert, a food trends analyst and editor of the Supermarket Guru told TODAY.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released the monthly Consumer Price Index, which shows that the cost of living is skyrocketing in the United States. The Consumer Price Index for October climbed 6.2% from this time last year, making it the largest monthly increase in more than 30 years. In September, prices jumped 5.4%, another record, showing that monthly budgets, particularly those for food, will continue to be squeezed.

In August, meat suppliers warned that there would likely be a shortage of smaller turkeys in stores due to labor and production problems caused by the pandemic.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner is up 14% this year.

While prices are rising across the board (food prices jumped 0.9% in October, according to the latest CPI report), certain items may cost much more than usual, Lempert said.

"The biggest price increases are anything to do with an animal, such as milk, butter, turkey, eggs and ham," he said.

There are several reasons why these holiday staples are being hit particularly hard. Lempert described a perfect storm of factors, including the ongoing labor shortage at meat plants during the pandemic, the trucking shortage and the rising cost of animal feed.

While he expects to see the biggest increases there, he said canned items might have less of a sticker shock.

"Pumpkin, for example, is canned probably six months to a year ago so those prices won’t increase as dramatically," Lempert said.

The biggest takeaway is to plan ahead and leave enough time to shop around. A survey from Instacart found that 48 percent of Americans are concerned about finding everything on their Thanksgiving shopping list due to ongoing supply chain issues.

When it comes to saving money, there are also a few tips to keep in mind before you start your holiday shopping.

1. Look online for coupons

"A lot of the coupons we are used to aren’t happening. Retailers have to plan those 3-4 months ahead and since they don’t know what will be on the shelves, a lot of those have disappeared," Lempert said. "Look for digital deals."

2. Plan around the items in your pantry

Laurentia Romaniuk, trends expert at Instacart, told TODAY that there are many Thanksgiving sides that can be made from items most people probably have already stocked in their pantry.

"You can cut down on your Thanksgiving grocery bill by planning the meal based on items you already have, and if you’re looking for some harvest meal inspiration, you can search ingredients on Instacart and the app will serve up recipes based around that."

3. Look at unit prices and compare

Sometimes it's not immediately clear whether that name brand can of green beans is a better deal than the jumbo store brand. Romaniuk recommends checking the unit price, that's the price you pay per ounce or per pound. It can usually be found on bottom of labels on the store shelves and will let you know which one is really the better deal.

4. Shop around — even at unexpected places

Lempert said people should look beyond traditional grocery stores if they are worried about getting a turkey in time for the holiday.

"Retailers and meal kit providers are saying order now and they will deliver right before the holiday. You might not be buying your turkey at a supermarket this year and instead through Fresh Direct or another provider," he said.

For everything else, from the divisive cranberry sauce to the stuffing mix and green beans, he recommends shopping at dollar stores and grocery outlets to find the best deals.

If all else fails and the thought of shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, cooking, cleaning up and staying on a budget sounds like too much trouble, Lempert said many restaurants, eager to boost their bottom line, will be offering Thanksgiving takeout once again this year. Just be sure to order ahead.

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