Price of Thanksgiving dinner rises – how to split the cost

Now that your Thanksgiving menu is set, it’s time to brave the grocery store. But the traditional turkey meal can get pricey, particularly if family and friends are joining you for the feast.

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 29th annual informal price survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $49.41, a 37-cent price increase from last year’s average of $49.04.

“America’s farmers and ranchers remain committed to continuously improving the way they grow food for our tables, both for everyday meals and special occasions like Thanksgiving dinner that many of us look forward to all year,” federation Deputy Chief Economist John Anderson said. “We are blessed to be able to provide a special holiday meal for 10 people for about $5 per serving – less than the cost of most fast food meals.”

The shopping list, which hasn’t changed since the survey began in 1986, includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. However, tack on any specialty or organic items, alcohol or last-minute trips to the store for forgotten tarragon or more butter and the cost can quickly skyrocket.

JJ Montanaro, a certified financial planner with USAA, says sharing the cost of Thanksgiving dinner with guests doesn’t have to be awkward or stressful.

“You’re more likely to spend quality time with your friends and family if you’re not worried about getting hammered by a big bill to make it all happen,” said Montanaro.

Besides stocking up on coupons to save a buck or two at checkout and choosing the least expensive or generic brand on basics like canned goods and starches, Montanaro suggests the host set expectations early about who is paying for what. Start the conversation now and “ask everyone who is coming to help out with a little piece of the festivities,” said Montanaro.

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For Kirsty Wherry, a 29-year-old stay-at-home mom, it started when she offered to host her Kansas City and Seattle, Wash., relatives at her North Carolina home for Turkey Day. They talked peas and potatoes, stuffing and dessert. After that it was all gravy. “When they arrived, they went right to the store, bought everything and cooked it at our house,” said Wherry.

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Jenny Kuckuk almost always treks to her sibling’s Wisconsin home for the November fete. When she arrives, Kuckuk insists on paying for the big-ticket items, like alcohol.

“In our family that can get expensive,” said Kuckuk, a 50-year-old artist from Vermont.

Another idea? Guests can order the turkey and pick it up on Wednesday. Drop it off with some fresh flowers or a dinner table centerpiece.

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On the off chance that guests don’t offer unprompted, it’s best to be honest and forthcoming about asking them to pitch in.

“They are family and friends for a reason,” said Montanaro. “They will respect your financial reality.”

Help like cleaning and helping out with kids is also valuable to hosts. Northern Virginia stay-at-home mom Michelle Moll, 39, said she’s thankful so long as guests entertain her two busy little girls while she peacefully preps pumpkin pie. 

“That’s worth its weight in sweet potatoes.” 

Let's face it: Family can get awkward. On the year's biggest family holiday, celebrate the good, the bad and the weird with these awesome images.