Something to be thankful for: Adjusted for inflation (and the cost in hours worked) the cost of Thanksgiving dinner this year has never been lower

From today’s annual report and press release from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) on the cost of a classic holiday meal “Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Down 4%“:

Farm Bureau’s 35th annual survey indicates the average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving feast for 10 remains affordable at $46.90, or less than $5.00 per person. This is a $2.01 decrease from last year’s average of $48.91.

“The average [nominal] cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is the lowest since 2010,” said AFBF Chief Economist Dr. John Newton. “Pricing whole turkeys as ‘loss leaders’ to entice shoppers and move product is a strategy we’re seeing retailers use that’s increasingly common the closer we get to the holiday,” he explained.

The centerpiece on most Thanksgiving tables – the turkey – costs less than last year, at $19.39 for a 16-pound bird. That’s roughly $1.21 per pound, down 7% from last year. The survey results show that retail turkey prices are the lowest since 2010.

The shopping list for Farm Bureau’s informal survey includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers.

This year’s national average cost was calculated using more than 230 surveys completed with pricing data from all 50 states. Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers were encouraged to check prices online using grocery store apps and websites due to the pandemic. They looked for the best possible prices without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or purchase deals.

The AFBF Thanksgiving dinner survey was first conducted in 1986. The informal survey provides a record of comparative holiday meal costs over the years. Farm Bureau’s classic survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

Some comments:

1. Compared to $48.91 last year, the cost for a classic Thanksgiving Day dinner for 10 people this year is 4.1% lower at $46.90 (see blue line in top chart).

2. The average price for a 16-pound turkey this year ($19.39) is 6.8% (and $1.41 cents) lower than last year’s price of $20.80, and the prices of other food items on the menu that are lower compared to last year are milk, 1-pound veggie tray, pie shells, green peas, whipping cream, sweet potatoes, and miscellaneous ingredients.

Items on the Thanksgiving menu that increased slightly in price since last year are pumpkin pie mix, rolls, fresh cranberries, and cubed stuffing.

3. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of a classic Thanksgiving dinner this year is 5.1% less expensive than last year, and the lowest in the history of the AFBF series that started in 1986 (see blue line in top chart above).

4. Compared to the inflation-adjusted cost in 2020 dollars of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in 1986 of $67.69, today’s classic turkey dinner is 31% cheaper at $46.90 this year (at only $4.69 per person).

5. Measured in time worked at the average hourly wage for all private production workers of $24.59 this year, the “time cost” of this year’s classic turkey dinner is only 1.91 hours, down by 8.2% from 2.08 hours last year and at the lowest level since 1986 when the annual AFBF report started (see bottom chart above). Compared to 1986 when the average American would have worked 3.21 hours to earn the income necessary to purchase the turkey dinner for 10, the “time cost” for a worker today at 1.91 hours (below 2 hours for the first time) is 40.5% lower.

Bottom Line: The fact that a family in America can celebrate Thanksgiving with a classic turkey feast for ten people for less than $50 (and less than $5 per person) and at a “time cost” of less than two hours of work at the average hourly wage for one person means that we really have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving: an abundance of cheap, affordable food. The average worker would earn enough money before their morning coffee break on just one day to be able to afford the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving meal for ten. Compared to 1986, the inflation-adjusted cost of a turkey dinner today is 31% cheaper, and 40.5% cheaper measured in the “time cost” for the average worker. Relative to our income and relative to the cost of food in the past, food in America is more affordable today than any other time in history.

Happy Thanksgiving and bon appetit!

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