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: Turkey prices are soaring — and bigger birds will be more scarce. How to host Thanksgiving on the cheap.

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It’s time to break a leg — a turkey leg. Turkeys and Thanksgiving dinners won’t come cheap this year.

Families are ready to get back together after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rising prices could damage their Thanksgiving plans. The yearly rate of inflation in the U.S. stood at 8.2% in September, according to the latest government data. 

What’s more, overall food prices were up 11.2% on an annual basis in September, the government said, with grocery prices up 13%. Some lower-income households have changed their eating habits to curb costs, while middle-income households cut back discretionary spending

Wholesale turkey prices exceeded $1.80 per pound in October, up more than 40 cents per pound over last year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Avian influenza hurt turkey supply in the industry, and record-high feed prices contributed to the price increase, said Al Jansen, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Butterball, a major turkey producer.

Avian influenza this year persisted into the fall, a lot later than that of previous years, experts say. This means more extensive damage to bird production: For instance, it has already significantly impacted egg production, leading to a sharp increase in prices this year.

It also means bigger turkeys will be harder to find, as they are somewhat more prone to the flu, experts said.

Bigger male turkeys, or “toms” — those that weigh 16 to 24 pounds or more — are usually used for deli meats, and they are in short supply, said Brian Earnest, lead economist for animal protein at CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving industries across rural America. 

On average, toms are about one pound, or 3%, smaller than last year, Earnest added. This will put pressure on the supply of all larger turkeys that are popular for bigger family gatherings at Thanksgiving, he said.

“Some of the turkeys that are being raised right now for Thanksgiving may not have the full amount of time to get to 20 pounds,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said on a press call Tuesday, Axios reported

But there’s no need to worry about scoring a turkey this Thanksgiving, he said. “It’s going to be there, maybe smaller, but it’ll be there,” Vilsack said.

“Some 28% of people plan to spend up to $100 on Thanksgiving celebrations, while 57% plan to spend between $100 and $200.”

So how much are people willing to fork out for their Thanksgiving celebration? Some 28% of people plan to spend up to $100 this year, while 57% say they will spend between $100 and $200, according to a poll published last month by Personal Capital, a digital wealth-management company headquartered in Redwood, Calif.

Families are under pressure to stick to tradition. “No matter what, some Thanksgiving dinners won’t be complete without a few core items,” the report said. “Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, and green beans all made the top 12 dishes Americans would never cut from the menu.”

Yet this year’s celebration does not appear to be getting smaller: Most Americans (87%) plan to celebrate Thanksgiving, up from 83% last year, according to the market-research firm Morning Consult. However, 22% said they were stressed out about paying for a Thanksgiving Day meal. (Another 37% said they were excited.)

Millennials and Gen Xers are generally more likely to be concerned about their holiday finances, the report found. “That stress is only likely to grow as the holiday meal occasions near and shoppers are confronted with the reality of high price tags on grocery store shelves,” Morning Consult said. 

Here’s how to enjoy the day — without putting an excessive dent in your finances:

Put together a financial plan and stick to it

Many people are more worried about their finances than they were a year ago, Morning Consult said. Some 51% of adults earning less than $50,000 a year “somewhat/strongly agree” that they’re worried about their finances, compared to 45% of those earning between $50,000 and $99,000, and 34% of people earning more than $100,000 a year.

Compare your income and expenditure with this time last year, and make the necessary adjustments, said Nadia Fernandez, a certified financial planner and financial coach at Financial Finesse, a workplace financial wellness coaching provider based in El Segundo, Calif.

Indeed, facing a change in financial circumstances head-on will help Thanksgiving Day hosts to figure out a plan in accordance with their budget, Fernandez said.

Saving on turkeys

Some employers offer holiday grocery discounts, Fernandez said. Occasionally, retailers give out free turkeys if shoppers spend a certain amount.

There are also alternatives to buying fresh. Frozen turkeys will be easier to find than fresh ones, Earnest said. Frozen birds are typically processed at the beginning of the year, which was before the bird flu impacted 2022 production. 

While consumers can already find frozen turkeys in stores, Butterball’s fresh ones are expected to make their way to stores during the week of Nov. 12, Jansen said.

“If the size of the turkey is important to you, go out early to buy it,” he added.

MarketWatch has more here on where to find retailer deals for free turkeys this Thanksgiving.

Cut down on meal costs without compromising on fun

Nearly nine in 10 people in the U.S. plan to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, and among those who are celebrating, 85% of hosts plan to have a turkey as the centerpiece, according to Butterball’s 2022 Thanksgiving Outlook Report.

While people are eager to gather with friends and loved ones this Thanksgiving, half of hosts said they were concerned about inflation, said Rebecca Welch, director of brand marketing for the Garner, N.C.-based turkey producer.

But people will also “get creative with ways to cut costs that won’t compromise a memorable Thanksgiving,” she added.

Here’s how they plan to work around it, according to the Butterball report:

Cutting down on the sides they prepare (32%)

Cooking from scratch (24%)

Making meals less formal (20%)

Asking guests to bring a side (15%)

That last point — involving guests in meal preparation — is key to saving money without scaling back the fun, Fernandez told MarketWatch. “Think potlucks, bring-your-own-bottle — or host an appetizer-only party, since finger foods are less expensive,” she said.

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