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The hidden costs of Thanksgiving dinner

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By The Investopedia staff

With the skyrocketing price of corn, organic produce and specialty turkeys, your Thanksgiving dinner may become the priciest meal you eat all year. If you're planning to host this season's feast, be prepared for a variety of items to cost more than you remember.

The Problem with Corn
 
The USDA reported the average cost per bushel of corn in 2012 to 2013 would increase by $1.20 or more, bringing it over the six dollar mark. Why the increase? Combined with crop-damaging weather and supplies diverted to feed livestock, our quantity of edible, available corn has been reduced due to the rise in popularity of ethanol, a fuel made from corn. How will this impact your Thanksgiving dinner? Expect to pay more for this harvest staple in its original form, as well as in any product made from corn. Some common grocery items using corn include:

Snack foods
Salad dressings
Soft drink sweeteners
Hominy grits
Flour products
Candles
Dyes
Starch products

While it might be hard to imagine Thanksgiving dinner without corn, keep this pricey veggie (and products made from it) to a minimum for a small reduction in your grocery bill.

Designer Turkeys

As the star of Thanksgiving dinner, a bad turkey can ruin your night. Do you really need to spend $120 or more on boutique birds? While heritage turkeys are becoming the go-to choice for a tasty and trendy dinner, they're also a great way to spend your entire budget on a single item. Known for their near 50/50 ratio of white to dark meat, heritage turkeys are prized for their centuries-old bloodlines and distinctly gamey flavor (your average supermarket turkey has been bred to produce predominantly white meat). Do you prefer white meat? If you do, then heritage turkeys likely aren't worth the money. If you do like dark meat but can't afford the $7+ per pound price tag, consider buying two or more small, traditional-brand turkeys at around $1.50 per pound and slow roasting them. More turkeys mean more dark meat, and a slow roast method will help preserve juiciness.

Organic Side Dishes Will Cost You
 
As if the price increase of corn wasn't enough, other vegetables are likely to cost you more this year as well. While organic produce is always a great choice when it comes to your health, it's also an easy way to spend $50 or more on Thanksgiving produce alone. Instead of shelling out the extra cash or skipping your fruits and veggies altogether, check out which produce is worth the higher organic price.

The Dirty Dozen
 
These 12 fruits and vegetables feature the highest levels of pesticides, making pricier organic options actually worth the money:

Apples
Celery
Sweet Bell Peppers
Peaches
Strawberries
Nectarines
Grapes
Spinach
Lettuce
Cucumbers
Blueberries
Potatoes

The Clean 15
 
By contrast, these fruits and vegetables tend to have the lowest amount of pesticides on them, making it safer to buy them as non-organic at a lower price. Consider frozen or canned options for an even bigger price drop:

Onions
Sweet Corn
Pineapples
Avocado
Cabbage
Sweet Peas
Asparagus
Mangoes
Eggplant
Kiwi
Cantaloupe
Sweet Potatoes
Grapefruit
Watermelon
Mushrooms
 
Carefully selecting which fruits and vegetables are worth the higher costs can make a pretty big impact on your Thanksgiving grocery bill. If you're truly concerned with pesticides, then set aside a healthy chunk of your dinner budget for fresh, organic produce. Otherwise, stick to traditional frozen and canned versions of your favorite fruits and vegetables to see significant savings.

More Money-Saving Tips for Thanksgiving Dinner

- Provide ice cream with pies. It costs less, and will help fill up most guests before they want another slice!

- Scope out sales at your local grocery store. Buying the ingredients for a pumpkin pie could cost you less than ordering one from a bakery. Just make the pies a day or two in advance so you're free to tend to the turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

- Recycle your Halloween decor. Any pumpkins, branches, berries, acorns, leaves or other harvest decor can be left in place or simply shifted around to seamlessly transfer from Halloween to Thanksgiving.

- If you do have to buy new decor for Thanksgiving, stick to a few simple statement pieces. One medium to large centerpiece on the dining table, one thick garland in your doorway and one cornucopia will look appropriate and stylish compared to dozens of small knickknacks scattered throughout the house. Invest in quality pieces and you'll be able to use them at Halloween and Thanksgiving for years to come.

- Avoid fresh flowers or produce in your displays as they'll cost more and need to be replaced each year.

The Bottom Line
 
Expect to pay more for corn and products made with it, as well as any organic fruits and vegetables included in your holiday meal. Need big savings on your Thanksgiving dinner costs? Skip Heritage Turkeys and you'll likely save up to $100. Your average supermarket turkey won't have as much dark meat, but several smaller birds from your local store can easily be slow-cooked, providing plenty of delicious dark meat. Supplement pricey pies with cheaper sweets and invest in a few faux pumpkins and garlands to reuse year after year.
Originally posted on Investopedia.com


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