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Opinion: Five inflation-beating tips for Thanksgiving dinner

Unfortunately, inflation will bring hardship this Thanksgiving across Michigan and the U.S. For us, the wisdom of world-renowned Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman comes to mind. Inflation, as Friedman correctly noted, destroys the purchasing power of a nation’s currency and results in higher prices and reduced purchasing power for its citizens. 

Americans faced an inflation rate of 7.7% as measured by the Consumer Price Index at the end of October, down slightly over the last few months yet still close to its 40-year high. Real U.S. wages were down for the 19th month in a row, with annual wages increasing 4.7% and inflation increasing 7.7% in October leaving real wages down 3% on an annualized basis, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite this decline in purchasing power, many Americans are not curtailing their spending appropriately and instead are going deeper into debt as evidenced by near record high U.S. credit card debt of $930 billion currently being financed at an average national record-high rate of 19.04%. 

U.S. credit card debt has increased by more than 15% year over year and is growing at its fastest pace in more than 20 years according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Americans also have dipped into their previously-high savings rates to offset their loss of purchasing power and lower real incomes. Note: The average American savings rate in October of 2022 was 3.1%, down from 7.9% a year ago. 

Finally, as Friedman noted, “inflation is a cruel tax that harms poor people the most.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the poorest 20% of American households spent almost 31% of income on food in 2021, while the wealthiest 20% spent roughly 7.5% on the same. Sadly, Northwood University's McNair Center is predicting 2022 food costs could reach 35% for low-income households, largely due to higher inflation rates again in 2022. 

Milton Friedman always encouraged his students to think rationally and make choices to be better off.  We believe thoughtful decision-making will pay high dividends this upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Here are five suggestions to consider:

Look for sales: There are great food bargains out there. We recently noticed several grocery stores had significant sales on items from food to decorations.

Buy Michigan products when entertaining: Michigan-made beer, wine and liquor prices have risen less than national and especially international brands over the last year, Tony Karim, the owner of Ann Arbor Party Center, told us.  It seems like a wise idea to look for sales and especially made in Michigan products to serve guests at Thanksgiving.

Purchasing a prepared meal: Take advantage of a prepared take-home meal from your local grocer. You’ll save time and most likely spend less than preparing a large family dinner, given that staple items are up sharply compared to last year.  In fact, Meijer is featuring a “you cook” food bundle for six people for under $30 and their prepared meal for six is only $59.

Purchasing in bulk: buying in bulk for your household or neighborhood can help reduce costs. Examples like purchasing a bushel of potatoes and dividing it among your neighbors could result in substantial savings if the process is duplicated across Thanksgiving dinner items.

Consider substitutes: Consumers could consider substituting lower-priced vegetables, fruits, meats or fish for higher priced items with the price of turkey up this year.

Americans are going to need to be as frugal as possible to stretch every dollar to maximize their material enjoyment of Thanksgiving this year. But despite the economic challenges, what is most important is we celebrate and give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy. This does not cost a penny.

It is also important we send a message to those in Washington, D.C., especially the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW and those who will join the 118th Congress that we are holding them accountable to bring government spending and inflation under control while unleashing the economic capabilities of the American competitive free enterprise system.  

We will be looking for a much cheaper Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 23, 2023.

Timothy G. Nash is director of the McNair Center at Northwood University. Murray E. Kyte is vice president of advancement at Northwood University.