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Thanksgiving Dinner Costs Rise, but Budgets Don't

Friday, 12 Nov 2010 | 12:45 PM ET

American families are going to have to be a bit more savvy to bring their Thanksgiving dinner to the table on budget.

Uppercut RF | Getty Images

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the cost of the turkey and all the fixings has risen 1.3 percent from last year. However, according to a survey by Walmart , three out of five American families are trying to serve their holiday meal on the same budget as last year.

For the past 25 years, the AFBF has based its price survey on a set list of traditional holiday items, designed to serve 10 guests. This year, the cost of that shopping basket is $43.47, a 56-cent price increase from last year's average cost of $42.91.

Still, even with the increase, the meal is actually $1.14 cheaper than what shoppers paid two years ago, when the total was $44.61.

The traditional star of the holiday meal—a 16-pound turkey—is actually less expensive than a year ago, at $17.66 in 2010. That comes out to about $1.10 per pound, a decrease of 6 cents per pound, or a total of 99 cents per whole turkey, compared with 2009.

While this makes the turkey the most expensive part of the meal, it's the item that showed the biggest price decline.

Talkin' Turkey Prices
What a Turkey and all the fixings are going for these days, with CNBC's Jane Wells.

"Turkey prices are down some this year despite the fact that, according to the Agriculture Department estimates, turkey production has been slightly lower in 2010 than in 2009 and supplies of turkey in cold storage are below last year's level," said John Anderson, an AFBF economist.

This shows stores are using the turkey as loss-leader, to coax in customers, according to Anderson.

In general, it pays to watch for deals and specials in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Stores will often put the holiday trimmings on sale, and items such as stuffing and pumpkin mix can be purchased ahead of time and stored.

These deals can often account for wide swings in the cost of these products. For example, Walmart is advertising that it's selling twin pack boxes of Kraft's Stove Top stuffing mix for $1.50. That's lower than the average price of $2.64 quoted by the AFBF in their survey.

Another factor that is swinging the price of the meal is dairy prices, which have rebounded from unusually lower prices in 2009.

A gallon of whole milk increased in price by 38 cents per gallon, to $3.24. Other items that showed a price increase from last year were a 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix, two nine-inch pie shells, a half pint of whipping cream, three pounds of sweet potatoes, a one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery and a dozen brown-n-serve rolls. (To see how these costs break down further, click through our slideshow.)

The cost of green peas and stuffing fell, while the price of fresh cranberries remained flat.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com

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