15 Ways to Save on Thanksgiving Food Shopping
Holiday grocery shopping is a little bit like Black Friday shopping. You need to plan and shop early in order to save.
Don’t let the news about food inflation and scarcity dissuade you from having a fabulous, filling, and economical Thanksgiving this year. True, the price of food from the grocery has risen 5.3 percent in the past 12 months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. But the most jarring, double-digit inflation is reflected in meats. Turkey and fresh vegetables—the stars of many a Thanksgiving table—are up just 1.7 percent.
Typical Thanksgiving foods actually are priced less on average this year than in the past two years, says the grocery shopping app and analytics company Basket, which ran the numbers for CR. A market basket of fresh root vegetables, as well as name-brand items such as Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, and French’s Original Crispy Fried Onions, costs $22.31 this year, compared with $23.67 last year, and $22.52 in 2019.
“Thanksgiving is actually one of the most economical meals you can host,” says Annette Economides of Phoenix, who with her husband, Steve, runs the website MoneySmartFamily. The key to saving, she notes, is to treat holiday food shopping like Black Friday: Plan ahead, look for sales, and follow common money-saving tips.
Read on for a handful to help you keep food costs in line. (We’ve got a separate guide on how to entertain with ease this season.)
1. Nab the big bird. There’s actually no turkey shortage, and prices of larger birds—16 pounds and up—have dropped around 9 percent from 2020, Basket reports. (It’s the price of smaller birds—an increasingly popular option—that has risen—about 7 percent.) A bigger bird is more economical per pound and per serving, and can produce days’ worth of leftovers. So assuming your freezer, fridge and oven can handle it, go big. A 16- to 24-pound whole turkey averages $1.13 per pound, Basket says. An even bigger bird costs an average $1.09 per pound; in contrast, turkeys weighing 15 pounds or less cost an average $1.40 per pound.
7. Check the circulars. Planning well to minimize your trips to the store can save you time and reduce your impulse purchases. “If you can spend $30 by spending 15 minutes looking at grocery ads, is it worth it?” Economides asks. “I certainly think it is.”
8. Get a store loyalty card. Most grocery chains’ loyalty programs offer special member deals. Some, notably those of Safeway and Stop & Shop, also let you build rewards toward gas purchases at affiliated gas stations.
9. Use shopping apps. Three we like are Basket, Ibotta, and Flipp. Basket shows real-time grocery prices online and in-store at local grocers, so you can see where to shop for the best deals; it crowdsources its data, the same way a traffic app like Waze works. Ibotta and Flipp both identify manufacturer promotions and coupons, and offer direct rebates after you buy from a participating retailer.
10. Compare unit prices. Unit price shelf stickers under each product can help you better compare prices of like items. But if the store doesn’t have the stickers, download a unit price calculator on your smart phone to do the work for you: We found free ones for both iOS and Android phones.
11. Go with store brands. The cost of store-brand foods and beverages is at least 20 to 25 percent less than name brands of the same product, Flickinger says. (When CR members were surveyed about the grocery stores and supermarkets they liked best, three grocers earned top marks for their store brands: national names Costco and Trader Joe’s, and Central Market, which is based in San Antonio and is a subsidiary of the privately owned H-E-B supermarket chain.) You can often find store brands right next to comparable name-brand items.
12. Use a cash-back credit card. Some offer rewards for grocery purchases. If you’re looking for a new one, consider the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card; it returns 6 percent on the first $6,000 in groceries each year, among other benefits. The card is currently offering a $300 rebate for spending $3,000 in the first six months, and the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Keep in mind that you may need a credit score of 700 or higher to qualify, says Ted Rossman, an industry analyst at CreditCards.com. The annual percentage rate on this card ranges from 14 percent to 24 percent, so it’s best to use it only if you pay off your balance each month.
13. Embrace digital coupons. Most grocers will accept manufacturers’ paper coupons, and may even double or triple their value at checkout. Certain retailers do it every day or week; others, less regularly. In the Northeast, Stop & Shop doubles manufacturers’ paper coupons every day. Bi-Lo, in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, doubles coupons with a value of 60 cents or less every day, unless noted otherwise at the individual store. (At both chains, other restrictions apply.)
14. Buy in bulk. When 10 cans of your favorite soup go on sale for $10, it’s always wise to load up. And larger packages often have lower per-unit pricing. When you go this route, consider donating a portion to a local food pantry (though they prefer cash because they get bigger discounts); the pandemic has amplified the need of these organizations.
15. Get creative. CR’s Facebook followers have plenty of ideas for stretching their grocery dollars. For instance, Linda White of Nevada City, Calif., expects to save about $100 this year on her Thanksgiving for four by serving lasagna instead of turkey. Her guests are also helping out. “They’re bringing a pumpkin cheesecake for dessert,” she says.
Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an article that first appeared in the July 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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