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Nov 12, 2019

Don’t Let Thanksgiving Costs Gobble You Alive

By Sarah Netter

From dog-sitters to pie and turkey, it can all add up

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You know the Thanksgiving drill: Sit around a white linen table and pass the bountiful spread of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes back and forth among your family and friends. It’s tradition, and uniquely American.

But those warm, fuzzy holiday celebrations don’t come for free. Because to get to that picturesque scene of fall holiday bliss a lot has to be accomplished. There’s travel, grocery shopping, food preparation, supplies, packing, and then more last-minute runs to the store than you want to think about.

Stash has researched the cost of a traditional Thanksgiving, so you can know what to expect, and where you can save some cash.

Hitting the road (and the air)

The week of Thanksgiving is historically one of the busiest travel times of the year in the U.S. An estimated 54 million Americans traveled more than 50 miles for their Thanksgiving celebration in 2018, the highest Turkey Day travel volume since 2005.

Most of these people, about 49.5 million, hit the roads while another four million took to the skies.The average cost of a plane ticket during the week of Thanksgiving ranges from about $450 to $510, according to AAA’s 2018 numbers.

The good news this year for people who plan to drive is that gas prices average about $2.60 per gallon, according to AAA, about 21 cents per gallon lower than last year.

Apps can save you a bundle

To save even more at the pump, keep an eye on apps that help you track the lowest gas prices on your route. Some apps you might consider include GasBuddy and Waze.

And if you are flying and haven’t yet booked your tickets, there are some tricks of the airfare trade that will get you there without paying top dollar. Traveling on the actual holiday itself can save you at least $100 over flying the weekend before, whereas flying the Wednesday before will be one of the most expensive days, according to the travel blog The Points Guy. If you can’t risk being late for dinner, the second cheapest time to fly would be the Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

You can also sign up for alerts through websites that monitor decreases in ticket prices, like, which can pull together your best options for Thanksgiving travel and send them directly into your inbox.

Avoid the $5 water

Whether you fly or drive, there are a few other things you can do to save yourself some green this Thanksgiving.

  • Travel at off-peak times, like maybe 4 a.m., to reduce stress, traffic, and overcrowding. This means less gas money and less of a chance of missing a connecting flight.
  • Pack your own food, especially if you are traveling with children. It requires a little bit of advanced planning, but pulling out snacks from an under-the-seat backpack or a small cooler in the backseat of your car can save you a bundle when you consider the high markup on airport food and gas station snacks.

A bottle of water that may cost you $1 at your local grocery store could cost as much as $3-$5 in the terminal, while other snacks are often priced 10% to 15% higher than in stores outside the airport. So it’s best to fill up an empty water bottle after you pass through security and pre-pack your snacks.

That bird’s gonna cost you

Unless you’re having Thanksgiving catered, it’s likely to be an all-hands-on-deck effort to get that spread on the table.

The average cost for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner was $48.90 last year, down about 22 cents from the previous year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual holiday survey. That includes about $22 for a 16-pound turkey—or approximately $1.36 per pound—about $3 for a gallon of milk, about $3.50 for a three-pound bag of sweet potatoes, $2.65 for a 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries and $2.25 for a dozen rolls.

If you are responsible for the main course—the fat, juicy bird that will take center stage on the table—you will pay more per pound than last year. The turkey supply chain is seeing a 24% increase in production prices this year, according to research by Gro Intelligence,  and that cost is likely to get passed on to consumers.

Keep an eye out for deals from your local grocer, such as these turkey deals mentioned by CNN Money for 2018, including rebates, coupons, and store points. And don’t forget to check prices at big box stores or even your local farmer’s market.

If you are attending Thanksgiving dinner versus hosting it, a side dish or dessert may be more your speed. Which is even better news for your wallet.

This is where you will have to prioritize your time versus your cash flow and see what makes sense for you. Do you want to save a few dollars and make a pumpkin pie from scratch? You can make this simple pie recipe for just a few dollars worth of ingredients.

Or would you rather take the time to catch up with your friends and family and grab an already made pie? Costco got rave reviews last year for its oversized $5.99 pie.

As with the turkey prices, keep an eye on local circulars to find the best deals, and don’t forget cashback couponing apps like Ibotta, Paribus and Dosh that can deepen store discounts.

You’ve gotten through dinner. You’ve hugged your grandma and marveled over how tall your nieces and nephews have gotten. The last plates have been cleared away and washed. You did it.

Not so fast. There’s probably a lot more you had to shell out for (or will have to spend in the coming days) that you might not even be considering in your sleepy tryptophan-fueled haze.

Fido and friends

If you are one of the 85 million American households with a pet, you will need a place for them to celebrate Thanksgiving when you are away. Boarding facilities and pet sitters fill up fast and holiday pricing means you may pay more for Fido’s care than you would at any other time of the year. The average pet sitter costs $16.80 per hour, but if you throw in overnights, feeding, and medication administering, you could easily be seeing pet costs soar into the hundreds of dollars for Thanksgiving week.

Your best bet for savings is to hit up pet-sitting sites like and to compare available sitters in your area. Don’t forget to ask about discounts for multiple pets and ask whether or not it’s cheaper for your pets to stay with the sitter, or for the sitter to come to stay with your pet. The cheapest option? Take them with you, if possible, or find a pet-friendly friend that’s staying local to see if they’d mind a four-legged roommate for a few days.

Gym memberships?

Remember that $5.99 Costco pie? How many slices did you eat? The average Thanksgiving dinner totals a whopping 4,500 calories and 229 grams of fat, according to the Calorie Control Council.

Before you get too comfortable in your stretchy Thanksgiving pants—which could turn into Hanukkah or Christmas stretchy pants—you might want to get a jump on the inevitable return to the gym.

U.S. gyms and health and fitness clubs are a $36.5 billion industry. While monthly membership costs range depending on your city and the individual club—anywhere from $10 a month to $80 per month, plus sign-on fees—you can expect to shell out a lot more than the cost of that pie to work off the calories you consumed.

Some online lists will compare the cost of numerous nationwide fitness chains. You can also call around to your local gyms and take advantage of free weekly tryouts to find a comfortable fit for your lifestyle and your budget.

And of course, hitting the pavement for a run or a brisk walk is free!

However you plan to spend your holiday, and however you get there, don’t forget the most important Thanksgiving lesson—be thankful for the good things in your life…and get that extra helping of pie.

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Written by

Sarah Netter

Sarah Netter is a is a freelance contributor for Stash Learn, based in New Orleans. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and ABC News.

Stash does not have any partnerships or affiliations with the apps and websites mentioned

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