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10 ways to fight Turkey Day gouge

Turkeys are more expensive this year. Here's how to make Thanksgiving dinner more affordable.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 14, 2012 1:31PM
Logo: Pilgrim hat (Siede Preis / Photodisc Green/Getty Images)It's not your imagination: Turkeys are pricier this year. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gobblers are 6% more expensive than they were in 2011.

We have the Midwest drought to thank for the increase, and for increases for several other traditional T-day foods and ingredients as well:
  • Ice cream (0.9%)
  • Breads (1.2%)
  • Processed vegetables and fruits (2.3%)
  • Fats and oils (3.8%)
On the bright side, some items are cheaper than last year: Butter is down by 8.2%, and on average fresh fruits and vegetables are down 1.1% and 4.9%, respectively. However, certain individual items are actually costlier; for example, the apples for your pie went up 5.9%.

The turkey is the biggest-ticket item, though. Last weekend I bought one for a food drive and was surprised to see the birds retailing for $1.49 per pound. (I actually wound up paying less; more on that in a minute.) Someone in the market for a 16-pounder would have spent almost $24 without a single side dish.

If you're hosting a Thanksgiving spread, use some (or all) of the following tips to keep costs within reason.

A cheaper bird (or none at all)

1. Look for promotions.
I got a 30-cents-per-pound discount on that food bank turkey because I spent $50 at the supermarket. Then again, I live in Alaska. Laura Harders, who blogs at, has seen D.C.-area turkeys priced as cheaply as 47 to 59 cents a pound with a minimum grocery purchase of $35 to $40. Chances are, you need to buy plenty of supplies for a big dinner, so read the food ads/follow a local grocery blogger to learn which market has the best deal.

2. Cook a smaller turkey.
Try a 10- or 12-pound bird. "Given all the scrumptious sides to be had on Thanksgiving, buying a smaller bird will be good for both your waistline and your bank account," says Andrea Woroch, who writes about consumer savings. 
3. Have a semi-turkey.
Cooking only for a few? Roast a turkey breast. Or select the biggest turkey you can find -- usually cheaper per pound than the more petite poultry -- and ask the store butcher to cut it in half. (Even if it's frozen: They've got some pretty stout saws back in the meat department.) "You can cook half for Thanksgiving and save the rest for a later date," says Karen Rodriguez of Saving the Family Money.


4. Forget the turkey. There are no rules. Eat whatever you want. "Our family is having a nice chicken (because) that's what we already had in the freezer," says Merissa Alink of the Little House Living blog. I'd be willing to bet that pizza delivery places will be pretty darned busy this Nov. 22, too.

Rethink your table

5. Avoid the prefab.
That supermarket veggie tray looks so pretty, and wouldn't those fresh pineapple and melon chunks be a nice balance to the richer dishes? You'll pay 40% more per pound, according to the Learning Channel, for precut fruits and vegetables. And don't get me started on those bags of "stuffing mix" at the in-store bakery --  how long does it take to cut a loaf of day-old bread into cubes? But if time is of the essence, then make it your business to . . .

6. Delegate.
There's no reason you should have to do everything. Get your family involved with the prep work. Ask guests to bring side dishes or desserts. (Or beverages, which can really hurt your budget if people want wine and/or beer with dinner.) Still feeling so overworked you're willing to pay the up-charge for those baby-cut carrots? It might be time to . . .

7. Scale back.
There is more than one way to cook a turkey dinner. Just because your mom made her own rolls and three kinds of pie doesn't mean you have to do it. You'll spend a lot less on the dinner -- and enjoy it a lot more because you won't be too tired to chew. Along those lines . . .

8. Rethink "required" dishes.
Some people are determined to have green bean casserole or sweet potatoes with marshmallows because, well, it's a family tradition. But think back to last year's feast: What got eaten and what hung around in the fridge until you got disgusted enough to throw it away? "Does anyone ever eat the canned cranberry jelly or the stuffing with oysters in it? Sometimes it's OK to let go," says Lisa Lightner of


Avoiding waste

9. Get creative with leftovers.
Cue the groans of "turkey again?" Instead of just nuking and re-nuking the dishes, do a Bing search for "turkey leftover recipes." Southwestern turkey soup, turkey Waldorf salad or wontons stuffed with a creamy turkey filling and served with a spicy cranberry salsa are a little more intriguing than yet another round of shepherd's pie. Just don't waste any of the food. In fact . . .

10. Plan ways to stretch that bird.
Freeze some of the meat right after dinner, lest it dry out in the fridge. No one will recognize it a couple of weeks from now if you turn it into chili or curry.

Got small amounts of leftovers -- a couple of spoons of mashed potatoes, half a cup of corn, some slightly dried-out celery and carrot sticks from the relish tray? Start a "garbage soup" bag in the freezer; after a couple of days, dump the leftover gravy in there, too.

And speaking of soup: Boil down the carcass for some amazing stock. If you've never done so, let show you how. That soup base will come in handy in January as a frugal repast right when the bills for holiday indulgences start to arrive.

Got any frugal-Thanksgiving tips to share?

More on MSN Money:

Nov 14, 2012 3:39PM
Thanksgiving is for the family; with that said my family contributes almost everything at my house.  I buy the turkey, potatoes, and stuffing.  Everything else people bring.  With 5 other familes coming it is easy to divy up cranberries, squash, pies, rolls, drinks, gravy, sweet potatoes, and more!!!  Everyone also helps clean up at the end.  Definitely a great system that we have had going for years, and it is cheap for everyone!!!!
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.