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The cost of Thanksgiving dinner is going up — here's what to do about rising food prices this holiday

Here are 6 tips to save money on food this holiday season.

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Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more. There are some offers mentioned below that are no longer available.

With food prices going up across the board, your upcoming Thanksgiving feast could be more pricey than last year's. The traditional Thanksgiving dishes you make — like turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, wine and dinner rolls could be pricier and more scarce this year because of increases in the cost of shipping materials, delivery disruptions and higher consumer demand. Last month, the consumer price index (which measures the average price change in a set of goods or services that consumers purchase) for food rose nearly 1% from August to September 2021 and 5.4% from September 2020. 

After Covid-19 forced many people to have smaller holiday celebrations last year, people are planning larger gatherings this year because of vaccine availability.

Larger Thanksgiving celebrations as well as labor shortages and supply-chain issues could mean higher food prices and shortages at the grocery store, says Trey Malone, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University.

Whether you're planning a small Friendsgiving or a large celebration with your entire extended family, you probably don't want to be spending through the roof on your Thanksgiving dinner. Select spoke to two economists and a budget food blogger about ways consumers can save money on Thanksgiving food shopping this year.

1. Save money on the turkey

The crowning dish of most Thanksgiving dinners is the turkey. However, this year you might reconsider purchasing that 15 pound turkey. While there isn't a significant turkey shortage this year, you might end up paying more than you typically would.

According to a 2021 Wells Fargo report, the cost of a whole turkey (between 8 and 16 pounds) has nearly doubled since 2019 due to higher demand for turkey and lower production. The same applies to turkey breasts: If you're thinking about buying a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey this year to save money, think again. Turkey breasts typically cost more than a whole turkey and the price of turkey breasts are rising too.

So what's your best bet this Thanksgiving? Well, if you're considering opting for a different meat like pork, beef or chicken to replace the turkey, it could be slightly cheaper and easier to find, but it could still end up costing you. The CPI for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs rose 2.2 percent between August and September and the index for beef rose 4.8 percent. In fact, the price has increased nearly 16% from August 2019 to August 2021.

The cost of all meat has gone up, in part, because the cost of feed has risen, says Michael Swanson, the Wells Fargo Chief Agricultural Economist.

So if you're looking to save money on what might be the most expensive dish in your Thanksgiving dinner, consider buying a smaller turkey or opting for a less expensive meat. If you're willing to break traditions, you could skip the Turkey entirely and rely more on a selection of tasty sides or go for a vegetarian substitute like a Tofurky (though do so at your own discretion!).

2. Host a potluck instead

For Thanksgiving hosts, purchasing all of the ingredients and cooking all of the dishes could be costly and time-consuming. If you're considering cooking the turkey and making the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce, you might want to rethink your plan. The cost of cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes are expected to rise because of the increased cost of shipping and storage materials, says Swanson. 

Erin Chase, a food blogger at 5 Dollar Dinners, recommends that people take a potluck approach to Thanksgiving this year by making a sign-up sheet where family members and friends can agree to make certain dishes. By taking a collective approach to cooking Thanksgiving dinner and spreading out the cost of expensive dishes, everyone will end up saving time and money.

3. Set a budget for dinner

Everyone has a different budget for their Thanksgiving dinner, but it's good to go into the holidays with a plan of how much you're willing to spend. Chase recommends that people who plan on cooking and paying for the entire meal have an idea of how much they're willing to spend per person. 

For example, if you don't want to spend more than $5 per person and there are 12 people at dinner, you should aim to spend no more than $60 in total. If you opt to do a potluck-style dinner, you should set a budget for how much you and your guests should spend per dish. So if you're bringing two dishes and don't want to spend more than $7 per dish, you shouldn't spend more than $14 in total.

By setting boundaries on the amount you're willing to spend, you'll be less susceptible to impulse purchases. You can consider substituting certain ingredients or omitting them entirely if they fall outside your budget (again, do so at your own discretion!). 

4. Shop in advance

If you think you can get all of your ingredients the day before Thanksgiving, think again. 

There aren't any shortages of Thanksgiving items this year, according to Malone. Instead, there are logistical problems in getting items to the store. This means that you might not be seeing all of the ingredients you need when you go shopping.

Both Swanson and Malone recommend consumers shop as early as possible to avoid not finding what they need. You might even have to go to multiple stores to find ingredients, says Swanson.

This year, make a plan for what you're going to purchase ahead of time and consider picking up some of the ingredients that won't perish quickly far ahead of Thanksgiving day. You'll avoid the headache of not having what you need and making last-minute substitutes or changes to the dishes you're preparing.

5. Use a rebate app to save money on ingredients

Facing higher food prices when you go grocery shopping this holiday season is inevitable. However, Ibotta, the rebate app, is offering consumers money back on some of their Thanksgiving-related food purchases at Walmart. With rebate services, consumers buy the products before submitting receipts for the items and then are reimbursed for the cost of them.

Ibotta is currently offering rebates on items for a Thanksgiving meal, with ten different items worth nearly $23 total. The items range from a turkey to mashed potatoes to stuffing mix.

In order to receive the rebate, you'll need to download the Ibotta app or browser extension, add the offers to your list within the app or browser extension and purchase your items online or in-store. You'll receive cash-back by either linking your Walmart account with Ibotta or submitting your receipt.

This offer is available through November 24 or as long as supplies last.

6. Use a grocery rewards card

If you're looking for a no-effort, simple way to save money on groceries, consider getting a credit card with rewards on grocery spending. Since grocery spending is often one of most people's largest expenses, there are a number of cards on the market that offer higher rewards on these transactions.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is one card that offer 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). The card also has introductory no-annual fee for the first year (then, $95) (see rates and fees) and comes with a welcome bonus of $300 (received in the form of a statement credit) if you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first six months of card membership.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more and 1% cash back on other purchases. Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $300 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 6 months.

  • Annual fee

    $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 12 months on purchases, N/A for balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

 

If you want a no-annual fee card, you could opt for the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express (see rates and fees) which offers 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). You're also still eligible for a welcome bonus with the Blue Cash Everyday: You'll earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases within the first six months of card membership.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

On the American Express secure site
  • Rewards

    3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1%), 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores, 1% cash back on other purchases. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits.

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $200 statement credit after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months on purchases, N/A for balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    13.99% to 23.99% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    N/A

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees, terms apply.

Bottom line

When it comes to grocery shopping this holiday season, you'll probably have to pay more for your Thanksgiving meal than you did last year. However, if you start shopping early, you can ensure you get what you need for Thanksgiving day. Consider setting spending limits and start looking for discounts on grocery items ahead of time.

For rates and fees for the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, click here.

For the rates and fees for the The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.