Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Can you really afford that turkey?

If you've read the same (or similar) headlines I've read over the last week, you know that (horrors!) the price of a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal for 10 has skyrocketed to over $50!


But a funny thing happened in reality, which is that place where reporters, news readers, bureaucrats, SJW's and other assorted bottom dwellers never visit.

The comparative cost of the meal actually went down. Not by much, mind you, but down. As opposed to the increase (9.8 percent according to the major math challenged propaganda networks). 

Now that we've settled that, let's take a moment to think about thanks.
Rockwell, of course. S

And now, perhaps, a few moments to think about reality.

Last week the American Farm Bureau Federation released the results of their 30th annual nation-wide Thanksgiving meal cost survey.

The cost of the 2015 Thanksgiving meal for 10 came in at $50.11, seventy cents more than last year's average of $49.41.
"Are you sheetin' me?"
Now most of the headlines surrounding this year’s survey trumpet the dollars-and-cents increase over 2014, but that’s not the whole story.

When you factor inflation into the mix, using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) method, something interesting happens. You find that the 2015 meal came in at two cents less than 2014 meal.

A little pre-turkey food for thought.

The methodology of the AFBF survey, while not strictly scientific, is actually quite good. A total of 138 volunteer shoppers checked prices at grocery stores in 32 states. The shoppers are asked to look for the best possible prices, however, they are not allowed to include special promotional coupons or purchase deals, such as a “free” turkey with a certain level of spending.

The AFBF survey shopping list includes turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and beverages of coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10. There is also plenty for leftovers.

Here are the average 2015 survey costs:

A 16 lb. turkey came in at $1.44 per pound for a total of $23.04. This cost is up about eight cents per pound from last year.

Although survey shoppers were not allowed to take advantage of special promotions when purchasing their bird, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Special sales and promotions on turkey and other holiday food items generally continue until the doors close on Wednesday evening. Quite often prices are reduced sharply in the last day or two before Thanksgiving.

Some markets feature prices much lower than the survey average, even without special promotions or giveaways. At Kimball’s Main Street Market I paid $0.69/lb for my 16 pound turkey.
That's right, $0.69/lb.
Items that declined modestly in price were mainly dairy items including one gallon of whole milk, $3.25; a combined group of miscellaneous items, including coffee and ingredients necessary to prepare the meal (butter, evaporated milk, onions, eggs, sugar and flour), $3.18; a half pint of whipping cream, $1.94; and 12 ounces of fresh cranberries, $2.29. A one-pound relish tray of carrots and celery (79 cents) and one pound of green peas ($1.52) also decreased slightly in price.

Foods showing the largest increases this year were pumpkin pie mix, a dozen brown-n-serve rolls, cubed bread stuffing and pie shells. A 30-ounce can of pumpkin pie mix was $3.20; a 14-ounce package of cubed bread stuffing, $2.61; and two nine-inch pie shells, $2.47.

The AFBF survey was first conducted in 1986. While Farm Bureau does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation. Farm Bureau’s survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons.

Historically, the lowest AFBF Thanksgiving meal survey cost was in 1987, when the meal cost an average of $24.51. When adjusted for inflation, however, $24.51 is equal to $51.04 in 2015, so it’s fair to say that this year’s meal is less expensive than in 1987.

I conducted my own 2015 Thanksgiving meal survey at Main Street Market in Kimball this week, and priced the same items for $42.98, saving $7.13 compared to the AFBF survey. Although seven local items were more expensive, six were less expensive, including the turkey which, at 69 cents per pound, represented a $12.00 saving over the national survey price. And that's out here in the hinterlands, 200 miles from the nearest major food distribution hub. And just look at this -- a fully stocked supermarket out in the sticks doing a booming business in a town of fewer than 2,500.

When prices are adjusted for inflation, you find that not only have food prices remained quite stable over the last 28 years, but that food dollar value has steadily increased. For instance, when adjusted to the Consumer Price Index, the $28.70 paid for the 1986 survey meal would cost $69.86 in 2015. At $50.11, the 2015 survey meal is considerably less than the 30-year rate of inflation. When adjusted for inflation, the American food dollar has considerably more purchasing power than it did in 1986.

Just for fun, let's look back a bit farther. If you go here you can get a feel for various aspects of American life over the years. The information isn't comprehensive or encyclopedic, but what's there is valid and cited for the most part.

Let's do a little turkey price comparison, between 1950-dollars and in inflation adjusted dollars. In 1950, a 16 lb. turkey priced at $0.49/lb cost $7.84. In inflation adjusted dollars (as calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis CPI calculator) that would be a whopping $77.10 today! To take another couple of steps into the realm of comparative pricing, What do you suppose the per/lb price of my 2015 bird ($0.69/lb) would be in 1986? In 1950? Why $0.32 in '86, and $0.07 in 1950.

Another factor to consider when we think about the cost of our Thanksgiving meal is that Americans continue to enjoy the safest, most nutritious, most abundant and most inexpensive food supply in the world, and that by a fair margin.

All things considered, Americans have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season.

Tomorrow (or when I get around to it) I'll really go on a rant.


  1. Now that's some hard data a person can use!

    But I'm shocked at your suggestion of the media "getting it wrong." Again. Yup, this is my not surprised face.

    Great post. Happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful to be living in the greatest country ever.

  2. Last night I was reading about 1938, and was playing around with prices and the CPI calculator, ( I have it as a bookmark, as it makes history easier to understand ). In 1938, a gallon of moo juice was .50 cents. That's $8.00 today. Here in Wisconsin, we have a chain of stop and robs called Kwik Trip. That sell half gallon bags of 2% for $1.09, so a gallon of essence of cow is $2.18 ! The bags are cheaper, but you have to have the special pitchers to keep them in. They are admittedly free when you buy the milk, but eventually you somehow wind up with a half dozen of them, and whoever Kwik Trips buys them from, builds them to last. Ah, well, I work tonight, Thanksgiving , and Friday, but have Saturday off, work Sunday, and then have Monday/Tuesday off. Happy Thanksgiving Shaun.

    1. And $2.18 in 1938 bucks is 13 cents! When it comes to food, our 2015 purchasing power is extraordinary. No king or dictator or ruling class has ever -- EVER -- come close to the unbelievable wealth we all enjoy.

      Have a great Thanksgiving yourself Scott, whenever you celebrate it.

  3. I own a book, Norman Rockwell, Illustrator. It has the original of that painting, which has a fat old tomcat at the soldiers feet, supervising the whole thing. I wish he would have left him in the finished copy sent to the Saturday Evening Post. Tomcats add a certain snugness to a home. I have had 7 cats so far in my life Monty, Tyrone, Thomasina, Chairman Meow, Tristan, Lazarus, and MacCavity. Thomasina, the calico tabby, was owlier than the six toms combined.

    1. A three-legged calico lived at the ranch for a while. She could leap and snatch birds out of the air. Amazing creature.

    2. Tyrone once leapt into the air, and caught a bat in his mouth. With the wings spread on either side of his face, he looked like a small orange and white Frito Bandito!

  4. To show just how linked together we are here in the US, my Thanksgiving also came from SureFine! LOL!