The Cost of Thanksgiving Dinner: Cooking vs. Buying

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TURKEY OUT OR TURKEY IN?


Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to share a festive meal and reflect on their blessings. With that comes the expectation of a full-on turkey dinner and the stress associated with planning, shopping, and cooking. But hosts have options besides preparing a meal from scratch. And believe it or not, the alternatives may be easier on the wallet, especially considering the time they save. In a comparative price check, Cheapism.com found that a home-cooked meal for four rang up at about $13 a person compared with $12 for a restaurant meal at a national chain (before tax and tip) and $12.50 for family-style takeout with all the fixings. Dinner for eight, though, was cheapest at home: $9.30 a person. Here's how the prices break down.

Related:11 Classic, Affordable Thanksgiving Recipes
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HOME COOKING: $9.30 - $12.98

A Thanksgiving feast made from scratch is the most expensive option for four people. The total bill for the cheapest available ingredients from Kroger is $51.93, or $12.98 a person. But double the number of guests, and the total cost comes to $74.37, or $9.30 a person. These totals reflect a special price of 79 cents a pound on turkey for shoppers with a (free) Kroger card who spend $35 on other groceries. Many supermarkets have sales on turkey this time of year, selling the birds at a loss to attract customers purchasing all the trimmings. Prices below are for eight people and assume that a few pantry staples, such as sugar for the cranberry sauce, are already on hand.

Turkey (16 lbs. on sale): $12.64
Mashed potatoes (potatoes, milk, butter): $9.17
Gravy (made with turkey drippings)
Stuffing (bread, celery, poultry spice, chicken broth): $10.46
Green bean casserole (green beans, fried onions, cream of mushroom soup): $8.25
Corn: $2.76
Cranberry sauce: $3.98
Rolls: $3.99
Pumpkin pie (canned pumpkin, eggs, sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin pie spice, pre-made crust, tins): $23.12

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DINING OUT: $12

To avoid meal prep and cleanup entirely, eating out is the way to go. A Thanksgiving meal at the Cracker Barrel chain costs $12 for adults and $7 for children (tip and tax not included). That brings the total to $38 for a family of four.

Turkey and gravy
Cornbread dressing
Sugar-cured ham
Sweet potato casserole
Cranberry relish
Choice of country side
Biscuits or corn muffins
Slice of pumpkin pecan streusel pie with real whipped cream
Beverage

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SUPERMARKET TAKEOUT: $11.25

Many restaurants and grocery stores offer prepared meals that include everything needed to satisfy Thanksgiving cravings. Kroger offers the "supreme" Thanksgiving dinner, which serves eight, for $90 ($11.25 a person).

Roasted turkey (13-16 lbs.)
Mashed potatoes (24 oz.)
Turkey gravy (24 oz.)
Stuffing (28 oz.)
Green bean casserole (30 oz.)
Cranberry celebration (16 oz.)
Dinner rolls (12)
Pumpkin pie (10 inches)

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SUPERMARKET EXPRESS TAKEOUT: $8.33

Kroger also offers just the essentials for six diners, which lowers the price to $50, or $8.33 a person. Shoppers may want to factor in a few homemade side dishes and dessert to round out the meal.

Roasted turkey (10-13 lbs.)
Mashed potatoes (24 oz.)
Turkey gravy (24 oz.)
Stuffing (28 oz.)
Green bean casserole (30 oz.)



Related:Skip the Turkey: 10 Great Getaways for Thanksgiving Weekend
Photo credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

RESTAURANT TAKEOUT: $10

National chain Bob Evans charges $80 for a complete dinner for eight ($10 a person), with a choice of a slow-roasted whole turkey, ham, or pot roast. That's just a bit more than buying groceries to feed eight ($74.37). The same Farmhouse Feast for four people costs $50 ($12.50 a person).

Turkey, ham, or pot roast
Bread and celery dressing
Home-style mashed potatoes
Buttered sweet corn
Green beans with ham
Cranberry relish
Gravy
Dozen rolls
Pumpkin pie with whipped topping
Pumpkin bread

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SAVINGS TIPS FOR HOME COOKS

Although takeout might be a cheaper option, for some people there's just no competing with a homemade Thanksgiving feast. To cut costs, keep an eye out for sales and savings that come with a loyalty card. Alternatively, save money and time by purchasing the dishes that are costly to make from scratch and prepare the rest of the feast in the kitchen. A store-bought pumpkin pie costs about $5 compared with about $16 to buy the ingredients. Another money-saving idea: Delegate responsibilities by arranging a potluck. The host provides the turkey and the guests contribute the fixings.