Cost of Thanks­giv­ing feast down slightly

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY J.M. HIRSCH

Here’s another rea­son to be thank­ful this hol­i­day sea­son — the cost of putting Thanks­giv­ing din­ner on the ta­ble is down slightly from last year.

But don’t bank on those sav­ings for any big Black Fri­day splurges. The av­er­age Tur­key Day din­ner will cost $49.04, or just 44 cents less this year than it did in 2012. And while ev­ery penny counts, if you need to do any trav­el­ing to belly up to the big meal, in­creases in air­line and train tick­ets mean that 44 cents won’t get you very far.

The good news is that af­ter some steep price hikes dur­ing the eco­nomic down­turn about five years ago, food prices have re­mained mostly sta­ble this year. It’s a wel­come change from 2011, when the cost of Thanks­giv­ing din­ner jumped $5.73, up from $43.47 in 2010, ac­cord­ing to the an­nual in­for­mal sur­vey of con­sumer gro­cery prices per­formed by the Amer­i­can Farm Bureau Fed­er­a­tion.

The group es­ti­mates the cost by av­er­ag­ing non­sale food prices around the coun­try based on feed­ing 10 peo­ple a meal of tur­key, bread stuff­ing, sweet pota­toes, rolls with but­ter, peas, cran­ber­ries, car­rots and cel­ery, pump­kin pie with whipped cream, and cof­fee and milk. And yes, their es­ti­mates ac­count for the need for those all-im­por­tant left­overs.

The credit for this year’s slight drop in price goes to sta­ble com­mod­ity and fuel prices, both strong driv­ers of the prices con­sumers pay at the store, says Ricky Volpe, a re­search econ­o­mist with the USDA’s Eco­nomic Re­search Ser­vice. He says over­all gro­cery prices are down about one-tenth of a per­cent since Jan­uary.

One ex­cep­tion — poul­try. Though the Farm Bureau didn’t de­tect a price in­crease in tur­key since last year (they ac­tu­ally found the price for a 16-pound bird down 47 cents), Mr. Volpe says con­sumers shouldn’t be sur­prised if that com­po­nent of the meal jumps as much as 5 per­cent over last year. Higher de­mand and feed prices are to blame.

How­ever, you might save a bit of cash on gas when you head to the gro­cer to get your tur­key. At the mo­ment, driv­ers are pay­ing about 25 cents less per gal­lon than they were a year ago, with a na­tional av­er­age of $3.19, ac­cord­ing to travel tracker AAA. And while the group hasn’t is­sued a pre­dic­tion for gas prices the week of Thanks­giv­ing, they say that in re­cent years prices gen­er­ally have dropped in the weeks lead­ing up to the hol­i­day.

Need another rea­son to drive? The av­er­age do­mes­tic air­fare is up 9.5 per­cent from last Thanks­giv­ing to $313, ac­cord­ing to the Air­lines Re­port­ing Corp., which tracks tick­ets sold by online and by tra­di­tional travel agen­cies. Mean­while, Am­trak prices in Septem­ber (the most re­cent month for which data were avail­able) were up more than 4 per­cent over a year ago.

Con­sumers won’t be able to do much about the cost of travel, but there are al­ways plenty of ways to spend less — and a lot more — on food.

The Farm Bureau es­ti­mate bud­gets $2.18 for a dozen brown-and-serve din­ner rolls. But if you’re will­ing break out a recipe and bake your own, a home cook could cut al­most a dol­lar off that price. On the flip side, if you’d pre­fer to leave the cook­ing to oth­ers and pur­chase a ready-to-eat meal from a gro­cer, ex­pect to pay a pre­mium for the con­ve­nience, maybe $75 or more.

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