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Economy in Brief

Prices Down a Little for Home-Cooked Thanksgiving Dinner
by Carol Stone November 22, 2006

Is a turkey dinner cheaper this year than last? Maybe so. The BLS's CPI Detail includes some actual prices for a number of basic commodities and foodstuffs in consumers' budgets. Haver carries these in the CPIDATA database. We don't have all the ingredients in a turkey dinner, but there's enough for an idea of the turkey and stuffing along with some potatoes. We've used the CPI for October compared with October a year ago.

The turkey is NOT cheaper, but it's not up very much. The price is $1.149/pound, up a mere 1.2 cents or 1.1%. A 15-pound bird thus costs about 20 cents more. (Since the BLS price is for frozen turkey, we might well have bought it toward the end of October and paid this price.) Potatoes are also up, $0.04 a pound to $0.545; that's 7.9%, and if we use 5 pounds, the increase also amounts to just 20 cents over last year. Prices of bread and flour are also higher, bread by 5.2% and flour by 3.2%.

But all the other ingredients have lower prices. Eggs are off marginally, about a penny a dozen and milk is down 11 cents a gallon. Butter, used widely in this meal to baste the turkey, help mash the potatoes and as an ingredient in the stuffing, is down more noticeably: 20 cents a pound, a 6.4% decrease. We assume we'll use a whole pound. Coffee has declined 9% to $3.14, saving us 15 cents on a half-pound. Finally, we have to have some nice wine with this feast and a typical liter bottle is off 56 cents, saving us $1.12 if we consume two bottles.

So the main course of our Thanksgiving dinner costs $43.50, down from $44.60 in 2005. The BLS data also include apples and sugar, so we could have made an apple pie for dessert. Apples have had a hard season and their cost is 21% ahead of a year ago. Ice cream, for the "a la mode", is up 4%. So if we had too much dessert, we might have eaten up the savings on the main meal. In any event, we probably wouldn't have done any worse than break even on our Thanksgiving dinner expenses compared with 2005. Does that mean we can spend more for Christmas?

[This little section of the CPI data is used frequently for its gas and utility prices, but the food portion is an extensive collection, particularly of various cuts of beef and a number of fruits. The energy data are also available for select metropolitan areas and both the food and energy products are given for the four major Census regions, although not all foods are published for all four regions.]

Amount Oct 2006 Price Value Oct 2005 Price Value Change
Turkey, Frozen, Whole ($/lb) 15 1.149 17.24 1.137 17.06 1.1%
Potatoes, White ($/lb) 5 0.545 2.72 0.505 2.52 7.9%
Bread, White, Pan ($/lb) 1 1.097 1.10 1.043 1.04 5.2%
Flour, White, All Purpose ($/lb) 1 1/2 C. 0.321 0.12 0.311 0.12 3.2%
Eggs, Grade A, Large ($/dozen) 2 eggs 1.257 0.21 1.264 0.21 -0.6%
Milk, Fresh, Whole, Fortified ($/gal) 1/2 gal. 3.064 1.53 3.171 1.59 -3.4%
Butter, Salted, Grade AA, Stick ($/lb) 1 2.981 2.98 3.186 3.19 -6.4%
Coffee, 100%, Ground Roast ($/lb) 1 3.138 1.57 3.447 1.72 -9.0%
Table Wine ($/liter) 2 8.013 16.03 8.575 17.15 -6.6%
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