CHARLESTON, W.Va.--Frugal cooks will have something new to be thankful for as they serve guests this Thanksgiving Day: the cost of the annual feast actually went down this year.
The average cost for a traditional Thanksgiving meal for 10 fell 44 cents this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation's 28th annual cost of Thanksgiving survey.
The survey found an average thrifty shopper should be able to put together a meal -- complete with turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, cranberries, peas and pumpkin pie -- for about $49.04 this year.
That's down just less than 1 percent from the $49.48 cost in 2012. The decline is just the eighth drop in price in the survey's 28-year history.
"This year we can be thankful that Thanksgiving Dinner, a special meal many of us look forward to all year, will not take a bigger bite out of our wallets," said John Anderson, deputy chief economist at the federation.
To compile the survey, the Farm Bureau Federation enlisted the help of 167 volunteer shoppers to check prices in stores in 34 different states. Shoppers were asked to look for the best possible prices, without taking advantage of special promotional coupons or other purchase deals.
The main contributor to the decline was the holiday's centerpiece itself: the turkey.
The survey found the average cost for a 16-pound turkey came in at $21.76 this year, a drop of 47 cents from the $22.23 price in last year's survey. On a per-pound basis, the cost fell about 3 cents from $1.39 to $1.36 between 2012 and 2013.
"Slightly higher turkey production for much of the year coupled with an increase in birds in cold storage may be responsible for the moderate price decrease our shoppers reported," Anderson said.
Other items down in price this year: A dozen brown-and-serve rolls fell 15 cents, a pound of green peas dropped 12 cents, a 14-ounce package of cubed stuffing fell 10 cents, a 12-ounce serving of fresh cranberries dropped 3 cents and two nine-inch pie shells fell 2 cents.
Among items up in price this year, sweet potatoes saw the biggest increase. A three-pound helping of the orange tubers jumped 21 cents to $3.36 this year.
Other items saw more modest increases.
A 30-ounce container of pumpkin pie mix saw an 8-cent increase, a gallon of milk rose 7 cents, a one-pound carrot and celery relish tray increased 5 cents, a half-pint of whipping cream rose two cents while a basket of other miscellaneous meal ingredients (including coffee, onions, eggs, sugar, flour, evaporated milk and butter) also saw a 2-cent bump.
Because the survey's shoppers weren't allowed to take advantage of coupons or promotions, Anderson said some strategic bargain hunters might be able to see a larger decline in costs this year.
"Special sales and promotions on turkey and other holiday food items will continue right up to Thanksgiving," Anderson said. "If you have the patience to wait until the last minute to buy a turkey you might come home with an exceptional bargain."
This year, Foodland introduced a new Rewards Card program through which shoppers could get a free frozen turkey if they spent more than $350 at Foodland stores between Oct. 13 and Nov. 16.