NJ Thanksgiving Dinner Cost: How Much Has Inflation Inflated?

NEW JERSEY — The cost of Thanksgiving dinner in the United States is up 20 percent this year, according to the Farm Bureau’s 37th annual survey, which found that dinner for 10 New Jersey residents costs about $64.02 will cost.

Nationally, dinner costs $64.05, a $10.74 increase from last year’s average cost of $53.31.

The estimated cost is still a pretty good deal, costing about $6.50 per person nationwide. The cost increases are due in large part to the price of Thanksgiving turkey, which is about $1.81 a pound, up 21 percent year-on-year. At that price, a 16 pound bird costs about $28.96.

In New Jersey, you may be able to avoid the big price hikes by shopping at Walmart, Aldi, Lidl, BJ’s Wholesale Club, or ShopRite, which are among a handful of retailers that are cutting Thanksgiving prices and offering other specials.

There’s a catch to high turkey prices — a good one, which could mean you’re spending less than the Farm Bureau survey estimates. It’s based on the insights of “voluntary shoppers” who checked prices from October 18-31, before grocery chains began slashing prices on turkey.

According to the latest data from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the average price per pound for whole frozen turkeys was $1.11 for the week of November 3-9 and 95 cents for the week of November 10-16, which a drop of 14 percent corresponds to just one week; and the proportion of stores offering special prices increased from 29 percent to 60 percent.

The higher turkey prices are also the result of an outbreak of bird flu that decimated US turkey farms. Ongoing supply chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine are also contributing to higher Thanksgiving dinner costs, according to the Farm Bureau.

Even if New Jersey buyers find a cheaper bird, they’re likely paying higher prices for the rest of the meal. Headline inflation slowed to 7.7 percent in October, but food prices are still about 12 percent higher than this time last year, according to the latest CPI report.

In addition to the turkey, the Farm Bureau looked at the cost of stuffing, sweet potatoes, a buttered bun, peas, cranberries, a vegetable tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in amounts enough to feed a family of 10, which is plenty for leftovers.

According to the Farm Bureau’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner Comparison, Americans can expect to pay about $1.59 more for diced filling but 41 cents less for fresh cranberries.

Aside from the cranberries, every other grocery item on the Farm Bureau’s list went up pennies to almost a dollar. Here’s the breakdown of prices nationwide:

  • 16-pound turkey: $28.96 or $1.81 per pound (up 21 percent)
  • 14-ounce bag of diced filling mix: $3.88 (up 69 percent)
  • 2 frozen pie crusts: $3.68 (up 26 percent)
  • Half a pint of whipped cream: $2.24 (up 26 percent)
  • 1 pound frozen peas: $1.90 (up 23 percent)
  • 1 dozen buns: $3.73 (up 22 percent)
  • Other meal preparation ingredients: $4.13 (up 20 percent)
  • 30-ounce can pumpkin pie mix: $4.28 (up 18 percent)
  • 1 gallon whole milk: $3.84 (up 16 percent)
  • 3 pounds of sweet potatoes: $3.96 (up 11 percent)
  • 1-pound vegetable peel (carrots and celery): 88 cents (up 8 percent)
  • 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries: $2.57 (down 14 percent)

More ways to save money

There are a few ways to save money on Thanksgiving dinner.

Check your pantry before heading to the grocery store. Already have broth, soups, canned green beans, and other things you need on hand? Using what you have on hand, you may find some room in your budget to account for some of the items that have increased significantly over the past year.

Think of “shrinkflation,” a tool that food manufacturers use to covertly raise prices without actually saying it. Buy a smaller turkey, limit other portion sizes, or consider the potluck approach and ask guests to bring sides, wine, or dessert.

If people don’t eat side dishes, don’t make them just because it’s “traditional.” According to a study published two years ago in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Americans throw away $240 billion worth of food every year — 39.1 percent of what they bring home from the grocery store. The most wasteful behaviors were found among people with healthier diets and higher incomes.

The Farm Bureau’s national median cost was calculated using 224 surveys completed using price data from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The volunteer shoppers checked prices in person and online using grocery store apps and websites, looking for the best possible prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or shopping offers.

The American Farm Bureau’s Thanksgiving Dinner Survey was first conducted in 1986. The menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.