Many American families will wake up this morning to a kitchen full of ingredients, all ready for a Thanksgiving meal.
But if you're like many families, you may have been a bit surprised by what it all cost this year.
Each November, the American Farm Bureau Federation conducts a survey to determine the cost of a Thanksgiving meal. Asking shoppers to estimate what they spend on a basic basket of goods, including turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie mix and the like, the AFBF's unscientific study provides at least a baseline to compare the cost of food from one year to the next.
In 2004, the total cost of the basic basket was about $35.68, down a bit from 2003. But this year, a late October trip to a Casper grocery store put the price closer to $45.
"It certainly has (increased) this year," said Ruth Petersen, a nutrition educator with the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service. "Here in Wyoming, food is shipped to us … so anything that takes petroleum products is going to cost a lot more. Anything we can do, even though it seems like small savings, really adds up."
Fortunately, Petersen said, there are plenty of ways to feast over the holidays without spending a fortune.
Try out these grocery shopping and party planning tips to keep your budget in line:
* Be organized - Survey your refrigerator and pantry before shopping. Make a detailed shopping list, and check the ads before you go. Fewer trips to the store will cut down on impulse spending, and buying in bulk often will save money. "But don't overlook using unit price tags," Petersen said. "Figure out the cost per serving or cost per pound."
* Start from scratch - Processed foods may seem cheap, but they add up. If you buy the ingredients to cook meals from scratch, your money actually will go further. And, you'll end up with a healthier meal. "When you're cooking from scratch, if you will, usually the items you're using will have a dual purpose," Petersen said. "Basic staples, you already have them and can use them for a number of food items."
* Think healthy - Sometimes even if it doesn't seem cheaper, the healthier choice is best in the long run. Fruits and vegetables give you more nutrients for your money than processed foods. And, Petersen said, leaner meats also are less expensive in the long rune. "You're not paying for the fat you're going to cut off or for the bone," she said. "You pay the same amount for that as edible flesh."
* Pick and choose - Try to balance the cheap and expensive dishes in your menu, and don't over-do it. It's not necessary to have both ham and turkey at a holiday meal, and not every dish needs to look like it came from a gourmet restaurant. If you're having a party, pick one or two beverages to serve.
* Don't toss it - Mistakes in the kitchen often can be "fixed." The University of Wyoming's Cent$ible Nutrition program offers a few corrective tips for cooking goofs. For example, over-salted dishes can be corrected by adding a cut-up raw potato and simmering for about 30 minutes. Overcooked vegetables can be added to soup. A slice of apple in your brown sugar will soften it up. And dried-out bread can be turned into croutons.
* "Plan over" - Write out a menu for what your family will eat during your week, and remember to include leftovers. Cooking a large meal and eating it for a few days will save time and energy, and making use of extras ultimately will save money.
* Go natural - When decorating or planning for a party, consider spending time instead of money. Evergreen boughs and pine cones make great Christmas decorations and can be found outdoors instead of in the stores. Doing dishes may take a little while, but it's cheaper than stocking up on paper plates and cups.
* Team up - There's nothing wrong with asking guests to pitch in. With a little planning, a potluck can have more variety than a one-kitchen meal, and everyone gets off cheap. Also, if you're buying a specialty item you'll only use once (maybe pumpkin spice, Petersen said) consider going in on it with a friend.
* Fam over glam - Remember, the point of the holidays isn't impressing your friends and family or showing off your perfect hosting skills. Keep it low-key and enjoy the time together.