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How Much Do Americans Spend on Thanksgiving?

Andrew Lisa
·6 min read
Selective focus of african american girl holding digital tablet near parents during thanksgiving celebration.
Selective focus of african american girl holding digital tablet near parents during thanksgiving celebration.

With 2020 almost in the history books ? mercifully ? weary Americans are looking forward to a calm and tranquil holiday season. Most won?t get it. The coronavirus is spreading as fast as ever, and Thanksgiving is clearly in the crosshairs of the dysfunction that has largely defined the year so far.

While even Congress can?t cancel Turkey Day outright, celebrations are likely to be more scattered and much smaller this year. Far fewer people are expected to travel, and much of the country will change spending habits that are usually quite predictable in the run-up to Thanksgiving. Read on to learn how this pandemic Thanksgiving is shaping up.

Last updated: Oct. 29, 2020

shopping-crowds
shopping-crowds

Thanksgiving Was Big Business in 2019

An annual survey from financial products marketplace LendEDU determined that the average American planned to spend $186.05 on Thanksgiving in 2019. That represented a slight increase from the two previous years, when the average person spent $175.65 and $165.14 in 2018 and 2017, respectively.

People Celebrating Thanksgiving Holiday Tradition Concept.
People Celebrating Thanksgiving Holiday Tradition Concept.

Food and Festivities Cost the Most

The LendEDU survey found that less than 20% of the $186.05 total average expenditure ? $33.49 ? was spent on travel. The remaining 82%, or $152.56 per person, was spent on food, drinks and other expenses directly related to the feast. Anyone who planned to host a pre-pandemic Thanksgiving could have expected to pay an average of about $500 for the honor, depending on the number of guests.

grocery-shopping
grocery-shopping

In 2020, More People Will Spend Less

A study from market analysis and data firm Numerator found that the spending habits of the average Thanksgiving reveler will likely change this year. Although a healthy majority, 60%, plan to spend about the same amount of money this year as they did last year on Thanksgiving, more than one in three ? 34% ? will spend less. There are several reasons for this, but the main driver is, of course, the pandemic. Budgets are tighter, uncertainty is widespread, and out of either necessity or an abundance of caution, many households are cutting back.

mealtime during the coronavirus
mealtime during the coronavirus

Gatherings Will Be Fewer and Smaller

The Numerator study found that 65% of the survey?s respondents will be celebrating all holidays this year with only immediate family or members of their own households. Another 18% will celebrate virtually, with no face-to-face activity at all. More than one in four ? 28% ? expect Thanksgiving in 2020 to be ?very different? from last year, whereas 68% expect to celebrate at least ?somewhat differently.?

Close-Up Of Roast Turkey With Orange Slices In Plate on thanksgiving dinner.
Close-Up Of Roast Turkey With Orange Slices In Plate on thanksgiving dinner.

Turkeys Will Be Smaller

Turkey farmers also are bracing for an unconventional Thanksgiving season. No one can say for sure exactly how that will pan out, but one clear trend is emerging: Most major turkey producers expect an increase in smaller gatherings to translate into greater demand for smaller turkeys, according to The New York Times.

It?s logical to assume that hosts of downsized feasts could save money buying undersized birds, but there?s a catch. The turkey industry has entrenched practices designed to bring birds to market at predetermined sizes and at predetermined times. Turkey producers didn?t have enough time to pivot and adapt to the new demand for smaller birds, which could cause prices to rise. Also, cheap supermarket turkeys called ?loss leaders? ? designed to lure people into the stores, where they?ll spend more money on other ingredients and side dishes ? will likely be in much shorter supply.

Stuffed-Peppers
Stuffed-Peppers

Lots of Turkeys Will Get Clemency

According to a 2020 study conducted by Dynata on behalf of Meatless Farms, nearly 30% of Americans are now considering going meat-free on Thanksgiving Day. Tofurky alone sold 5 million vegan roasts for Thanksgiving in 2018. With countless more smaller gatherings planned this year, plant-based brands might get a boost as preparing even a small whole turkey is quite a commitment for a host expecting only a handful of guests.

A high end restaurant reopens after the 2010 Covid-19 lockdown, with measures in place to protect staff and customers.
A high end restaurant reopens after the 2010 Covid-19 lockdown, with measures in place to protect staff and customers.

Restaurants Might Cash In ? Or Not

Tofurky isn?t the only trend that?s challenging long-standing Thanksgiving traditions. In recent years, more people have opted to forgo hosting all together and instead let their favorite restaurants do the heavy lifting in the kitchen. Restaurants in every corner of the country have taken notice and offered all-inclusive Thanksgiving specials for parties large and small.

You might actually save money by eating out, too. A survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation says the average at-home Thanksgiving dinner costs just shy of $50. However, many restaurants offer full-course dine-in specials for $10 to $20 per person. This year, virus fears might keep patrons out of restaurants, but on the other hand, a lack of travel plans might send the more daring out in droves. Either way, many restaurants will be open for business this Thanksgiving.

Young woman wearing a protective face mask and waiting for a train at the airport station.
Young woman wearing a protective face mask and waiting for a train at the airport station.

Airfare Is Cheap ? But Maybe Not for Long

Many airlines are in full-on survival mode this year. The pandemic hit the air travel industry harder than perhaps any other sector of the economy, and the holiday season could make or break some carriers. Travel Pulse reports that major carriers such as American and United are seeing declines of up to 75% in November bookings.

So far, that dynamic has led to widespread bargains on flights. According to the Kansas City Star, Thanksgiving Day domestic round-trip tickets ? a common metric for identifying the lowest-priced tickets ? now average only $163. That?s well down from $454 as Thanksgiving Day approached last year, according to AAA. However, reporting from the San Francisco Chronicle predicts that the airline industry as a collective will dramatically raise prices as the holiday draws closer, meaning that deep discounts available might soon disappear.

things
things

Car Rentals Usually Spike ? But This Year?

Far more people travel by car than by plane on Thanksgiving during normal years ? and even in the era of ridesharing, car rentals spike on Turkey Day. In 2019, car rentals hit a five-year holiday high of $70 per day, according to AAA. But predicting how this Thanksgiving will unfold is as tricky with rental cars as it is with turkeys and air travel.

Like the airline industry, the auto rental industry took a huge hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies are desperate to make up for those losses during the holidays. That should mean that discounts will be steep and common, particularly with so many people staying home. On the other hand, far fewer people are flying these days, and many are also apprehensive about taking public transportation. These dynamics might translate into increased demand for car rentals as well as higher rental car prices.

New Orleans, USA - Nov 25, 2017: In Lakeside Shopping Center, with Macy's and XXI retail stores.
New Orleans, USA - Nov 25, 2017: In Lakeside Shopping Center, with Macy's and XXI retail stores.

Thanksgiving Shopping Will Be Limited

Thanksgiving was once a day for family and feasting that preceded the annual ritual of frenzy shopping on Black Friday. At some point, however, the two holidays merged, and shopping for deals on Thanksgiving itself became the norm. Popular backlash eventually compelled some stores to reverse the trend and give their employees Thanksgiving Day off once again. This year, thanks largely to COVID-19, that reversal was put into overdrive. Many big-name chains ? including Best Buy, Costco, Home Depot, Macy?s, Target and Walmart ? have announced that their stores will close on Thanksgiving this year.

More From GOBankingRates

This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: How Much Do Americans Spend on Thanksgiving?