It’s time to break a leg. A turkey leg.

Families are ready to get back together after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, but rising prices could damage their Thanksgiving plans. The U.S.’s annual inflation stood at 8.2% in September, according to the latest government data, the highest level in 40 years. 

What’s more, the consumer-price index for food surged 11.4% in September, the largest annual increase since 1979, the government said. Some lower-income households have changed their eating habits to curb costs, while middle-income households cut back discretionary spending. 

Wholesale turkey prices exceeded $1.80 per pound in October, up more than 40 cents per pound over last year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Record-high feed prices and avian influenza hurt supply, and contributed to the price increase, said Al Jansen, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Butterball, a major turkey producer.

28% of people plan to spend up to $100 on Thanksgiving celebrations, while 57% plan to spend between $100 and $200.

So how much are people willing to fork out? Some 28% of people plan to spend up to $100 on their Thanksgiving celebration this year, while 57% say they will spend between $100 and $200, according to a poll published last month by Personal Capital, a digital wealth-management company headquartered in Redwood, Calif.

Families are under pressure to stick to tradition. “No matter what, some Thanksgiving dinners won’t be complete without a few core items,” the report said. “Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls, and green beans all made the top 12 dishes Americans would never cut from the menu.”

Yet, this year’s celebration does not appear to be getting smaller: Most Americans (87%) plan to celebrate Thanksgiving, up from 83% last year, according to market-research firm Morning Consult. However, 22% said they were stressed out about paying for a Thanksgiving Day meal. (Another 37% said they were excited.)

Millennials and Generation Xers are generally more likely to be concerned about their holiday finances, the report found. “That stress is only likely to grow as the holiday meal occasions near and shoppers are confronted with the reality of high price tags on grocery store shelves,” Morning Consult said. 

Here’s how to enjoy the day — without putting an excessive dent in your finances:

Put together a financial plan, and stick to it

Many people are more worried about their finances than a year ago, Morning Consult said. Some 51% of adults earning less than $50,000 a year “somewhat/strongly agree” that they’re worried about their finances vs. 45% for those earning between $50,000 and $99,000, and 34% for people earning over $100,000 a year.

Not everyone will be facing Thanksgiving with the same monetary concerns. Compare your income and expenditure with this time last year, and make the necessary adjustments, said Nadia Fernandez, a certified financial planner and financial coach at Financial Finesse, a workplace financial wellness coaching provider based in El Segundo, Calif.

Indeed, facing a change in financial circumstances head-on will help Thanksgiving Day hosts to figure out a plan in accordance with their budget, Fernandez said.

Some employers offer holiday grocery discounts, she added. Occasionally, retailers give out a free turkey if shoppers spend a certain amount. And several credit cards have offers of up to $200 cashback when you first sign up; just be careful to pay off the balance every month.

Cutting down on meal costs without compromising on fun

With nearly nine in 10 people in the U.S. planning to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, 85% of them plan to have a turkey as the centerpiece, according to Butterball’s 2022 Thanksgiving Outlook Report.

While people are eager to gather with friends and loved ones this Thanksgiving, half of hosts said they were concerned about inflation, said Rebecca Welch, director of brand marketing the Garner, N.C.–based turkey producer.

But people will also “get creative with ways to cut costs that won’t compromise a memorable Thanksgiving,” she added.

Here’s how they plan to work around it:

  1. Cutting down on the sides they prepare (32%)
  2. Cooking from scratch (24%)
  3. Making meals less formal (20%)
  4. Asking guests to bring a side (15%)

That last point — involving guests in meal preparation — is key to saving money without scaling back the fun, Fernandez told MarketWatch. “Think potlucks, bring-your-own-bottle — or host an appetizer-only party, since finger foods are less expensive,” she said.

A word about turkey: rising prices and smaller sizes

Avian Influenza this year persisted into the fall, experts said. This means more extensive damage to bird production. For instance, it has already significantly impacted egg production, leading to a sharp increase in prices this year.

Bigger male turkeys, or “toms” — those that weigh 16 to 24 pounds, or more — are usually used for deli meats, and they are in short supply, said Brian Earnest, lead economist for animal protein at CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving industries across rural America. 

On average, toms are about one pound, or 3%, smaller than last year, Earnest added. This will put pressure on the supply of all larger turkeys that are popular for bigger family gatherings at Thanksgiving, he added.

There are other options. Frozen turkeys will be easier to find than fresh ones, Earnest said. Frozen birds are typically processed at the beginning of the year, which was before the bird flu impacted 2022 production. 

While consumers can already find frozen turkeys in stores, Butterball’s fresh ones are expected to make their way to stores during the week of Nov. 12, Jansen said. “If the size of the turkey is important to you, go out early to buy it,” he added.