Cash-strapped consumers should have more left in their wallets when they finish shopping for their Thanksgiving feast this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual price survey.
The total cost of a turkey dinner and all the fixings should be about $42.91, or about 4 percent less than in 2008.
"Consistent with the retail food price declines seen throughout the year, consumers will pay just a bit less for their Thanksgiving feast this year," said Jim Sartwelle, an AFBF economist. "Consumers are benefiting at the grocery store from significantly lower energy prices and the effects of the economic slowdown."
The Farm Bureau's survey is based on the average prices found by 200 shoppers from 35 states.
The largest contributor to the lower cost of the meal was the milk, which — at $2.96 a gallon — was priced about 92 cents below last year.
Of course, the turkey is the star of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, and its cost also declined. It was down about 3 cents a pound from 2008, bringing the price of a 16-pound turkey to about $18.65, compared with $19.09 a year ago.
Together, these two items accounted for 80 percent of the lower costs, said Stephanie Gambrell, an AFBF economist.
"It's been a tough year for the dairy industry," Gambrell said, explaining that milk prices have been under pressure all year as consumers cut back on their milk consumption in a tough economy.
Prices that climbed upward included the cost of cubed bread stuffing and the pumpkin pie mix and pie shells needed to bake a traditional pumpkin pie dessert. (For price detail by item, click through our slideshow: "The Cost of a Thanksgiving Dinner 2009.")
Although the prices of those three items crept up over the past year, consumers are enjoying relatively stable food costs over the years, particularly when adjusted for inflation, Gambrell said.
Some stores are trying to make these food costs even cheaper. In addition to special promotions grocery stores offer, stores like Wal-Mart Stores are trying to heap on additional savings.
Wal-Mart has been advertising its turkey at 40 cents a pound, about 4 cents less than the average price discovered by the Farm Bureau shoppers.
The retailer also claims customers can buy the remaining holiday ingredients for eight people for just $20. (The Farm Bureau bases its survey on a meal for 10 people.)
However, it's a different story if consumers opt to stay out of the kitchen. The cost of a ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meal for 10 people, with all the trimmings, from a supermarket or take-out restaurant has been climbing in recent years, and could cost between $50 and $75 this year.
By putting in your own labor, consumers can bring the cost of the dinner down to less than $4.30 a person, Gambrell said. She adds, "That's cheaper than a meal at a fast-food restaurant."
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