Here’s What Thanksgiving Will Cost in 2023—and How to Save Money on Food
What does the rising cost of food mean for your Thanksgiving table? Experts reveal what we can expect at the cash register and how to save money on that turkey feast.
If you’ve felt sticker shock when grocery shopping this year, you’re not alone. According to the Consumer Price Index, food prices are up 3.7% compared with one year ago. When you add that to the 9.9% increase we saw in 2022, it’s no wonder people are desperate for grocery saving tricks. With the holidays approaching, you may be wondering just how much you need to budget for this year’s Thanksgiving feast—and depending on what you cook, it might be a pretty penny.
The good news? “People won’t feel the same sticker shock as a year ago, but the cumulative impact is still tough to deal with for many consumers,” says Michael Swanson, PhD, chief agricultural economist for Wells Fargo’s Agri-Food Institute. Swanson is an industry expert and helped produce an annual report on how food inflation will affect the meals being served on Thanksgiving. By compiling a wide variety of data from sources (including the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Nielsen), Swanson and his team of financial experts studied which traditional Thanksgiving ingredients will cost more at the cash register this year, and which will cost less, in order to help you budget more wisely.
So what’s your holiday feast’s financial forecast? And how can you mitigate costs? If you’re pinching pennies like most Americans, here are the money-saving tips you’ll need to satisfy your wallet—and your appetite.
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Stick to turkey over ham
If you traditionally serve turkey at your Thanksgiving feast, you have at least one reason to be grateful: Turkey will cost 16% less this year, according to the annual report. But if ham is your meat of choice, you may want to rethink your Thanksgiving menu.
“Retail ham prices are near an all-time high with a price of $4.56 per pound in September, up 5.2% from last year,” says Swanson. This is due, in part, to high feed costs for hog farmers, as well as a historically large spread between the wholesale price and retail price of many food items. “Retailers are dealing with the challenges of higher labor costs and overhead like heating and cooling their stores,” says Swanson, so they’re making up for it by marking up the retail price of many foods.
How to save: No matter your meat preference, shop as close to Thanksgiving as you can. “Thanks to competition for the shoppers’ dollar, retailers are starting to do more features and promotions,” says Swanson. “We expect to see more deals and savings for consumers the closer we get to the big meal.” Another money-saving tip: Shop around and compare prices. Swanson says that because stores all choose different things to promote, no one store will have the best price on every item. “In order to maximize these promotions, you will need to shop around.”
Ditch the canned goods
While produce is often inflation-resilient, products that are processed tend to cost more because of energy and raw material costs, says Swanson. So what does that mean for your Thanksgiving or festive Friendsgiving feast? Skip the canned goods. Canned cranberries saw a 7% increase in price this year, while fresh cranberries are 20% cheaper—that’s thanks to this year’s healthy crop and the lower trucking rates to move it to the consumer, says Swanson, who adds that produce often remains inflation-resilient.
How to save: Consider roasting vegetables or utilizing fresh fruits as sides, says Swanson. Instead of canned goods, use fresh produce in your favorite traditional dishes, such as green bean casserole—canned green beans have increased 9% in price this year. Another tip: Consider the cost of your time. While the price of canned pumpkin has increased 30%, you might not have time to make pumpkin puree from scratch. And although 30% is a big jump, the relative cost of some canned vegetables is still low and shouldn’t break the meal budget, says Swanson. If made-from-scratch isn’t important to you, look for deals on pre-made desserts and sides, like this fan-favorite $5.99 Costco pumpkin pie.
Add a showstopping salad
With all that carb-loading, why not add some leafy greens to the Thanksgiving table? This year, salad isn’t just an underdog side that’s great for your waistline—it’s good for your wallet too. “Last year, weather and disease hindered the lettuce crop, driving prices up in November 2022,” Swanson says. “However, this year, there is plenty of supply. Fresh vegetables [also] benefited from last year’s excellent snow pack, allowing the California and Mexican producers to plant more acres.”
How to save: Highlight the season’s best lettuce (especially romaine) in a showstopping harvest salad. Consumer prices for romaine lettuce are currently down approximately 10% from a year ago, making salads a “value option for the table,” says Swanson. Another idea: Stock up on fresh veggies for crudité trays.
Serve sweet potatoes over russet potatoes
Bad news for mashed-potato lovers—russet potato retail prices are at an all-time high, with costs coming in at $1.17 per pound, up from $1.08 per pound this time one year ago. “Last year, the Pacific Northwest had a severe drought that really cut the russet potato crop,” says Swanson. “The market has improved its supply, but it will take another year to get the prices back down in a noticeable way.” There is some good news: The sweet potato crop is grown in North Carolina, for the most part, and its supply has been better, helping keep the prices from jumping.
How to save: “It could be a fun year to try a sweet potato side,” says Swanson. “Sweet potatoes are a Thanksgiving favorite that is versatile, tasty and friendly to the wallet.” If you just can’t give up those mashed potatoes, look for price drops closer to the big day, shop around for the best deals and avoid these mashed-potato-making mistakes.
Toast with wine, not beer
Before you stock the adult coolers, you should know beer prices are up 5.3% from this time last year. “The beer sector has seen some of the most persistent inflation due to aluminum, transportation and labor costs,” says Swanson. But wine has only increased 1.2% from this time last year—and year-over-year retail prices for wine actually fell for the first four months of 2023. “The global supply of wine makes it difficult for domestic producers to raise prices,” Swanson explains. “And the recovery of the global shipping market will ensure that wine reaches stores for the big celebration.”
How to save: Consider wine over beer given the cost savings. But whichever you pick, look for smaller brands that might not be well known—and therefore don’t pad their prices to make up for marketing and advertising costs. Ask a local expert or wine shop for good alternatives to the well-known brands you’re used to purchasing, he says. “They can direct you to great deals on wines and beers that usually are a better value.” If all else fails, there’s always Trader Joe’s two buck chuck. Cheers!
About the expert
- Michael Swanson, PhD, is the chief agricultural economist for Wells Fargo’s Agri-Food Institute. He analyzes the impact of energy on agriculture and forecasts for key agricultural commodities, including wheat, soybeans, corn and livestock sectors, such as cattle, dairy and hogs.
- Wells Fargo: “Consumers get mixed relief from food inflation this Thanksgiving”