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Talking Turkey: A Cost Breakdown Of Thanksgiving

Posted by MoneyKey on November 14, 2018
Thanksgiving Celebration Traditional Dinner Table Setting

What comes to mind when you think about Thanksgiving? If you’re like most people, the November holiday inspires thoughts of turkey and stuffing, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and back-to-back football games. With cool weather and a soundtrack of Christmas hits, it may also jumpstart thoughts of the holiday season.

For many, the feast with friends and family acts as a rehearsal dinner for December’s big celebration. To make sure yours goes off without a hitch, we’ve put together a simple guide outlining some of the most common expenses you may face this November. From the cost of being the host with the most to the price you may pay as a guest, this breakdown of the holiday comes with money-saving tips to help you stay on track this year.

So dig in and feast on these simple tricks to the season. They just might help you prepare for the big day!

The Main Event: Will You Pay a Fortune for Your Family’s Feast?

With visions of herb-glazed turkey, mountains of silken mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie topped with homemade vanilla bean whipped cream, your dream Thanksgiving may easily be one of the most decadent meals of the year — and the most expensive. But what does it really cost to invite friends and family into your home?

Thanksgiving Turkey with Brussel Sprouts

To gain a better perspective on the feast’s cost, we turn to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 31st annual informal price survey. They enlisted 141 volunteer shoppers across 39 states to report the best possible prices for the typical Thanksgiving fare.

They found that a typical Thanksgiving dinner for 10 that included leftovers cost $49.87 in 2017 — or just $4.97 per person.

The Farm Bureau’s menu included the cost of turkey, a vegetable tray consisting of carrots and celery, stuffing, cranberries, peas, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, and pumpkin pie served with whipped cream, coffee, and milk. There are more elaborate Thanksgiving meals in the world, but this basic menu has all the fixings of a hearty feast.

According to the Farm Bureau’s results, the average cost of this meal was the lowest it has been in the past five years. If the downward trend of farm food prices continues, Thanksgiving may be once again kind on hosts’ wallets this year. How these numbers relate to your own dinner depends on a couple of factors:

1. Your existing finances

For less than $5 per guest, Thanksgiving dinner is relatively inexpensive. Some won’t think twice about claiming the role as Thanksgiving chef this year, but for others working with a small budget, they may find it a challenge.

Where you fall on this spectrum depends on your budget. This financial document is a great litmus test of your finances, letting you know how much you make and spend in any given week. As a result, you’ll know exactly how much money is left over to spend on special things like Thanksgiving.

To find an accurate estimate of how much leftover cash you’ll have to spend on the holiday, you need to tally all your expenses against your income. It doesn’t matter how small or irregular they may be. It’s important to track everything — from repayments on personal loans to snacks you pick up at the gas station.

A good rule of thumb to remember is: if you spent it, you list it. If you don’t, your calculations will be off. Working with the wrong numbers may lead you to believe you have more money than you do, which can land you in financial hot water if you overspend on Thanksgiving.

Use a list to keep track of Thanksgiving spending

There’s no doubt creating a budget will take time, which you may not have a lot of in the run-up to the holidays. Although the holidays are a busy time of year, don’t use your hectic schedule as an excuse to ignore your financial responsibilities. You need a budget during the holidays more than any other time of year thanks to the added responsibility of Thanksgiving’s celebrations and December’s gift-giving. Your budget is a helpful tool for tackling these end-of-year expenses without endangering your ability to pay your bills.

To help get you started, we have a simple guide that walks you through three basic budgeting methods. Choose the one that makes the most sense to you, using it to create your very first household budget or overhaul an old one. It could help you serve Thanksgiving without worrying about your other obligations.

2. Your expectations

If carrots and celery don’t get your mouth watering, then you’re probably disappointed in the Farm Bureau’s basic menu. But there’s a reason why they stuck to a plain meal.

Although things like maple roasted brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese are common (and welcome) additions to the table, each side dish increases the overall cost of the dinner — as do extra desserts like pecan and apple pies.

Moderation is the key to limiting the impact your menu has on your budget. You may want to mine this affordable Thanksgiving menu from The Food Network for inspiration if you want to keep your costs low. This guide shows you how you can save on a menu that isn’t stingy with flavor.  

Restraint comes in all shapes and sizes during the holidays. If you’re looking to save a bit of cash, you may also want to try:

  • Organizing a potluck: There’s no shame in asking friends and family to pitch in for the big meal. In fact, a potluck where each guest brings a dish would be more in the spirit of the first Thanksgiving than a meal catered by one cook.

    In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag peoples came together to share one table. Why not host an updated version of the Thanksgiving potluck by delegating sides and desserts to guests so you aren’t saddled with the full cost of making the entire meal?

  • Downsizing: Though it shares its name with a blockbuster starring Matt Damon, downsizing isn’t just a movie that your mom wants to watch with the family over the holidays. Downsizing is a way of scaling back, so you have fewer responsibilities during Thanksgiving. For some, downsizing may involve cutting the original guest list from 25 to 10. For others, it may mean prioritizing your menu to a small group of your favorite dishes rather than making every possible side. You may end up opting for several turkey breasts instead of the whole bird. (This last tip is helpful if you find it hard to use the leftovers of the turkey once the white meat is gobbled up!)
  • Buying in bulk: Bulk stores like Costco are ideal for special occasions like Thanksgiving. You’re feeding so many people that it makes sense to flash your membership to cash in on wholesale prices. Just be careful to always look at the price-per-unit before you commit. While bulk stores typically offer considerable savings, sometimes the price-per-unit is more expensive than what you would find in a normal grocery store. And don’t forget to stock up on the free samples!
    Shop smart and small on Thanksgiving
  • Shop strategically: How you shop for ingredients may have an impact on your final total at the till. The Farm Bureau’s poll was conducted using data from shoppers who didn’t use coupons when stocking up. This is a critical misstep if you want to maximize your savings. Coupons and other discounts are easy ways to keep your costs low this Thanksgiving.

Above all else, it’s important to remember that good company takes precedence over good food. Spending time with the people you love is what this holiday is all about. Having a table full of tasty goodies is just the whipped cream topping on the pumpkin pie, so don’t worry if your meal doesn’t compare to a 10-course dinner catered by Thomas Keller.

Being the Host with the Most: Don’t Forget These Three Expenses

Once you’ve figured out your menu, you aren’t in the clear yet. As host, you need to split your attention between the big meal and all the other trimmings of the season. They may include:

  • Alcohol: Whether pairing turkey with red or white, roughly 63 percent of Americans toasted to the season with a glass of wine last year, according to a Thanksgiving drinking habit survey. Another 19 percent of respondents drank beer, while just 10 percent washed it all down with spirits.
    Friends having a toast over meal

    Whatever their poison, 56 percent of respondents spent $50 on alcohol. If you recall, this is a few cents more than what the average person spent on a meal for 10 people.

    If you’re worried about the impact alcohol may have on your budget, you can host a dry Thanksgiving — and we aren’t talking about the turkey. You can replace your usual Pinot Grigio or craft beer with a creative non-alcoholic punch. You won’t miss the alcohol when you serve in their place.

    Alternatively, you can lower how much you spend by shopping for the right wines. Special vintages can cost hundreds of dollars, but most sommeliers will tell you that you don’t have to drop a fortune to find a good wine. Check Food and Drink’s list of the best wines under $15 to find a bottle that fits both your palette and your budget.

  • Extra Furniture: If you have a small living space but a big guest list this year, you may be wondering where you can fit everybody. As the big day nears and your place is no bigger, you may be tempted to pick up extra chairs and a pop-up table for the meal, plus a few blow-up mattresses for guests who need to stay the night.

    If basic foldable chairs, collapsible tables, and air mattresses are on your shopping list this year, you may want to consider whether there’s a need to purchase them new. If you plan on using these items only once a year for Thanksgiving, there’s no need to get something fancy. You could buy them used and earn some savings while you’re at it.

    Your local Habitat for Humanity’s Restore is the perfect place to find well-made second-hand stuff. It sells gently used furniture, appliances, and more at reasonable prices, so you’ll have a good chance of finding whatever you need there. In many cases, these items are donated by construction companies that overestimated what they needed for recent builds, so you may find something that was never used at all.

    Check to see where the nearest Restore is before you head out. If there isn’t one nearby, you can search online to see if anyone is selling what you need through Craigslist.

  • Decorations: You tell yourself you’re only opening Pinterest or Instagram for inspiration but checking out the fall décor and Thanksgiving hashtags can become a slippery slope for your finances. One click turns into several, and before you know it you’ve forgotten how many designs you’ve pinned to your profile.
    Thanksgiving centerpiece decoration

    With these color-coordinated, picture-perfect table settings in mind, you’ll feel inspired to hit the malls. It’s easy to fill your shopping cart at stores like Pier 1 Imports. They have professional merchandisers whose sole purpose is to design beautiful living spaces, convincing you to load up on copper napkin holders. What starts as just a quick shopping trip can turn into a huge splurge as you pick up the latest vases, ornaments, and floral arrangements for the big day.

    Although these items help create a festive ambiance in your home, they can easily topple your budget. If you want to save your cash for the feast itself, consider avoiding the stores and opting for a DIY approach. Decorative gourds and dried flowers and herbs bring simple touches of the season to your table. Best of all, they are much more affordable than designer vases and china.

Although alcohol, extra furniture, and decorations may not be in your plans, they help illustrate how a host intent on curating the perfect Thanksgiving can get carried away. 

Opening your home to the people you love involves a lot more than just feeding them. You’ll face other expenses you may not anticipate.

Though they may be unexpected, fun gifts and other well-intentioned gestures aren’t the kind of unexpected costs you should use a payday loan to cover. An online cash advance is best used in an emergency, like when your oven breaks down right when you want to start the turkey. Although you may be able to cover a small repair on your own, the technician’s holiday rate may end up pushing the total too high. You can use an online loan to help you make up the difference.

Traveling for Turkey: Americans Put in Serious Thanksgiving Mileage

Travelling is about as Thanksgiving as the pumpkin pie that so many Americans eat for dessert. The holiday is all about being with the people you love — even if they live on the other side of the country.

If you aren’t taking up the mantle of host this year, you may have the privilege of being a guest at someone else’s table. Your seat affords you certain luxuries. You can breathe a big sigh of relief as you probably won’t have to wake up at dawn to prepare the turkey or worry about the seating arrangements for argumentative relatives.

As a guest, you’re allowed to shirk these tasks in exchange for just one responsibility: getting there. It’s not always easy. You may have to travel across town, across the state, or even across the country to find your place at their dinner table.

As you may know, distance doesn’t always discourage during the holidays. to get to their Thanksgiving celebrations. For the most part, they took to the roads or skies to make their journeys.

Let’s take a look at two of the most common methods of travel over Thanksgiving weekend.

By road

A staggering majority of travelers – nearly 90 percent – drove to their destinations last year. Roads saw an increase of 45.5 million people who packed their cars, checked their GPS, and headed out on the highway to see their family.
45.5 million people drove on Thanksgiving in 2017

If you’re planning for a Thanksgiving road trip this year, here at MoneyKey, we’ve created a list of items you should remember to budget for:

  • Gas: GasBuddy’s senior petroleum analyst, Patrick DeHaan, predicts gas prices may drop by as much as 25 cents by Thanksgiving. Although lower prices are expected for the fall, you may keep your costs even lower by using the GasBuddy app on your trip. Its users share current gas prices in real time, so you can search for the lowest price at the pumps in your area.
  • Maintenance: Proactive maintenance is key. Paying a little attention to your car now can stave off a major breakdown later. Not only will you avoid experiencing a problem on the road, but you’ll also avoid having to find an auto center open over the holidays.

    Holiday rates may bump up the cost of a repair you could normally cover, leaving you with few alternatives such as taking out an installment loan online to pay for the repairs. By scheduling a tune-up before you leave, your local mechanic could catch a small issue before it worsens on the road, saving you time, money, and stress on Thanksgiving.
  • Rental car: If you don’t own a car, you may end up renting one to get where you need to go. Last year, the average cost of a rental was $. For savings, try choosing a subcompact sedan — as smaller cars tend to be cheaper. You may also want to check for any online discounts to see if you can save on insurance and other add-ons to your rental.

By air

If your trip is closer in distance to what the pilgrims traveled on the Mayflower, a plane is a faster way to cross the miles. Last year, roughly 5 percent of travelers — or 3.95 million people — booked flights for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Traveling by air on Thanksgiving can be expensive
In many ways, flying is a more convenient method of travel, but it may also be an expensive one. To keep your costs low as a flyer, consider:

  • Booking as early as possible: With Thanksgiving just around the corner, there isn’t much time to put this piece of advice to work. For next year, consider booking in the month of October. NBC reports this month as the Thanksgiving “sweet spot”. Patrick Surry, the chief data scientist for Hopper, says you’ll add $1 for every day you wait if you book after Halloween. 
  • Traveling on the big day: Timing matters not only when you book; when you fly also affects the price of your ticket. Jeff Klee, the CEO of suggests flying on unpopular days. He cites the Wednesday before and the Sunday following Thanksgiving are the busiest days, so try to plan your holiday for alternative dates. Making these changes may save you as much as $150 on your ticket. 
  • Using your points: If you own a credit card with an annual fee, there’s a big chance it comes with several privileges — one of which could be cash back or travel rewards points. Even credit cards without annual fees may come with similar benefits, so it’s a good idea to check what options are available to you to help pay for your flights. Don’t forget to check any frequent flyer programs and similar points cards to see if you have enough points to pay for a full or partial ticket.

Whether you plan to travel by plane or car this Thanksgiving, don’t let the expense of your journey stop you from arriving at dinner. If you’re finding that hard advice to put into practice, you may be able to take some of the pressure off your budget by setting up a quick savings plan.

Use our guide to learn how your daily choices can affect how much you can set aside for a rental car or plane ticket. Once you’ve mastered these everyday saving techniques, you can move on to the weekly, monthly, and yearly changes listed on our guide. These tips help free up more of your cash to go towards the things you want all year round.

Try to resist Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Thanksgiving dinner is officially over when the leftovers are packed away in Tupperware, the dishes are left to dry, and the television is blasting the football game at full volume. The Thanksgiving weekend, on the other hand, is far from complete. What follows Thanksgiving Day are some of the biggest shopping days in the country, when millions of deal-hungry Americans left unsatisfied by turkey leave their empty plates behind for the packed malls.

Avoiding Black Friday deals can help you save money

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the final pieces of the Thanksgiving puzzle for many people in search of big savings. But in some cases, you have to spend big to save big. Last year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) reported 174 million Americans took to the malls. According to RetailMeNot, the average shopper spent $743 over the weekend.

If you’re planning on joining the chaos at the malls in search for a deal, dodging the errant elbows of your fellow shoppers isn’t your only concern. You need to think about your finances, too. Before you rush to the checkout line with your cart full of deals, it might be a good idea to consider whether you really need those items. Take a minute to check if you can afford them given all the other holiday spending.

Last-minute add-ons or the cost of shipping may bring your spending beyond your budget. Although it may be tempting to do so, you shouldn’t use an online loan to cover these expenses. While an online payday loan acts as a reliable failsafe for when you face unexpected bills you can’t cover on your own, they aren’t meant as a way to fill your wallet during Black Friday — even if the deal is too good to pass up.

If you don’t have the cash to nab an amazing deal this November, then don’t buy it. You can revisit your savings plan to add this item to your wish list and work towards saving enough money to pay for it.

Don’t forget to check your budget. It will show you if you have any spending cash left over after Thanksgiving. If your budget reveals you have less than you thought, try spending your long weekend in other ways. By filling your weekend with other distractions, you’ll be less tempted to swing by the mall to see what’s on offer.

Thanksgiving marks the start of an expensive season

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just the beginning to a very long season of shopping. They sound off like a starter’s pistol, and what follows is a mad dash to see who can spend their money the fastest as they cross off loved ones from their lists. According to the NRF, the average shopper spent just under $1,000 on gifts, decorations, and food last year, and they expect spending for 2018 to rise by as much as 4.8 percent.

But first — it all starts with Thanksgiving.

Just like the 100-meter sprint, how well you fare depends on how you start the race. Wrong-footed and unprepared, you’re less likely to take on the hustle and bustle of the season with financial and emotional poise. But approach Thanksgiving with the right strategy, and you’ll have the power to push off with a strong and confident stride, ready to take on the season.

With Thanksgiving coming soon, now’s the time to embrace your inner Usain Bolt and put your best foot forward by using our Thanksgiving tips. From downsizing the big feast and creating your own decorations to booking flights on less common days and using your points to help pay for your ticket, these tricks may help you cross the finish line of the holidays with your finances intact.

Good luck, and more importantly, enjoy yourself. It’s possible on a budget! However you celebrate and with whomever you celebrate, the crew at MoneyKey would like to wish you and your loved ones a happy and wealthy Thanksgiving.


Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and does not constitute financial, legal or other professional advice. For full details, see MoneyKey's Terms of Use.

Posted in: Financial Tips Holiday Tips Lifestyle

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