Money

Here's why Thanksgiving is one of the most cost-effective meals of the year

Sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones can be priceless. And, while the meal itself isn't exactly priceless, it doesn't have to be that expensive, either.

That's according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, which conducts a yearly cost analysis of the holiday feast. It found the average cost per Thanksgiving meal for a group of 10 is $49.87, or $4.98 per person.

The Farm Bureau's report includes the costs of turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, peas, cranberries, a vegetable tray and coffee and milk — "sufficient to serve a family of 10, with plenty for leftovers," the report says.

The prices are averaged from grocery stores in 40 states. Volunteer shoppers were asked to look for the best prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or deals.

"Consumers will pay less than $5 per person for a classic Thanksgiving dinner this year," John Newton, the Farm Bureau's director of market intelligence, says in the report.

"We have seen farm prices for many foods fall from the higher levels of recent years. This translates into lower retail prices for a number of items as we prepare for Thanksgiving and confirms that U.S. consumers benefit from an abundant, high-quality and affordable food supply."

While $4.98 per person for a hearty meal can seem pretty inexpensive, the near-$50 total can still feel like a splurge, depending on your budget.

According to an analysis from financial website GOBankingRates, the average American family spends around $4,050 per year on groceries, or $340 a month. A $50 Thanksgiving meal could equal about 15 percent of that monthly budget.

The meal could cost even more if you include other elaborate dishes, serve alcohol or don't shop at the right places. For instance, GOBankingRates compared prices on the Farm Bureau's list to a major grocer in Los Angeles. The total came to $64.39, which is an increase of 29 percent.

If you live in a state that charges sales tax on groceries, like Alabama, Mississippi or South Dakota, GOBankingRates adds, your Thanksgiving dinner items could cost more still.

However, that doesn't mean you can't find some deals. "Shoppers with an eye for bargains in all areas of the country should be able to purchase individual menu items at prices comparable to the Farm Bureau survey," the Farm Bureau says.

"Another option … is ready-to-eat Thanksgiving meals, with all the trimmings, which are available at many supermarkets and takeout restaurants for around $50 to $75."

If you haven't finished your shopping yet, use a grocery list to decrease impulse spending, create a budget, look for promotional offers and discounts and have your guests bring a dish. Play your cards right and maybe your meal could look like this lavish spread that costs $76,000.

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