To save on Thanksgiving, let's talk turkey

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A fully loaded Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be a turkey for your budget.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has yet to release its annual estimate of Thanksgiving costs, but last year, the group pegged the typical family's spending at $50.11. That meal, they said, includes "turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10. There is also plenty for leftovers."

That estimate — which works out to $5 per person — already sounds like a bargain, but avid couponers say they can easily trim costs further.

"For me, dinner for eight people with an 18- to 20-pound turkey, I'm spending $25 to $30," said Jill Cataldo, founder of

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Focusing on finding a cheaper turkey can drop meal costs quickly. The average hen runs $1.45 per pound and the average tom, $1.47, according to the turkey Market News Report from the Department of Agriculture — putting a 16-pound bird at roughly $23.

Deals vary by supermarket chain and region, but it's common this time of year to see offers for a free or deeply discounted bird when you spend a set amount, said Cataldo. Some offers are easier to snag than others: In northern New Jersey, for example, ShopRite's deal offered a free bird with $400 in spending, while Acme required just $100.

Advance planning and flexibility can help you pull together the rest of the meal on the cheap, said grocery expert Teri Gault. Monitor store circulars and coupon offers between now and Thanksgiving, she said, and you're bound to find stackable deals on ingredients that were already on your list, like baking supplies for pies, stuffing mix and rolls.

"Use whatever produce is on sale for your side dishes," said Gault. "All those things are going to come together, so, so inexpensively."

If you don't want to cook, compare options for prepared meals from supermarkets that you can reheat and serve at home. They're not cheap — per-person prices can easily top $10, said Cataldo. But that's still cheaper than dining out, and you can supplement that base meal with other sides and desserts.