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Just say no to mindless holiday price surveys

“The American Farm Bureau Federation reported Thursday that a meal with turkey and all the trimmings will cost about 13 percent more this year. The trade group estimated a classic meal for 10 will cost $49.20 on average. That is $5.73 more than last year’s $43.37 average.” (Associated Press)

Logo for Phillip Blanchard blog postsIt’s the holiday season, so brace yourself for downright useless numbers such as those. Business writers are often stuck with writing about these things, so if you can’t get out of doing it, take some time, look around, and tear those lists apart.

It’s too late to stop them for Thanksgiving, but hold on: The granddaddy of stupid cost estimates is right around the corner.

The Farm Bureau Federation has been compiling its Thanksgiving shopping list for 26 years. By its own admission, as it says toward  the end of its 2011 release, it’s useless: “ While Farm Bureau does not make any scientific claims about the data, it is an informal gauge of price trends around the nation.” The numbers reflect prices gathered by “volunteer shoppers.”

turkeys on sale

Turkeys were on sale at Target.

The list includes various foods that might or might not appear on a Thanksgiving table. The prices surely are not arbitrary but are not necessarily realistic. For example, it says a 16-pound turkey (for 10 people? Is that a lot or a little?) should cost $21.57. I picked up a newspaper and, in the first grocery ad I found, Perdue turkeys were listed at $1.27 a pound, or $20.32. I’ll bet I could do better if I looked around. Why, yes I can! On Saturday, a nearby Target was selling frozen turkeys for 97 cents a pound.

You can go on and on with this, even without challenging some of the foods on the list (“two nine-inch pie shells, $2.52.” Who wants a pie with a store-bought crust?) And alcohol is missing. What’s Thanksgiving without it?

There might be a good story to be done on this topic, but I can’t think of one.

PNC Christmas Price Index

The Testy Business Copy Editor says to eschew the PNC Christmas Price Index because it's meaningless.

Which brings us to the infamous Christmas Price Index from PNC Wealth Management, issued to coincide with slow news days after Thanksgiving.  The “whimsical economic analysis” has been plaguing us for 27 years with its calculation of what it would cost to buy all the gifts mentioned in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

“Each year, educators across the country use the Christmas Price Index to teach economic trends to middle and high school students,” PNC tells us.  Now that’s scary.

“This thing seems to be trotted out annually, in a demonstration of the overall lack of imagination in American journalism. Not that we lacked other examples,” a prominent wag wrote on Testy Copy Editors in 2007. It’s true that no one takes this seriously (except, apparently, fun-loving teachers,) but don’t we have better things to do?

Imagine the man-hours wasted by graphic artists in their futile attempts to compellingly  illustrate this trite publicity grab by PNC.

This year’s list comes out on Nov. 28. Be strong. Say no.

About the Author

Phillip Blanchard was in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, most recently as a financial copy editor at the Washington Post. Previously he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and newspapers in upstate New York. He founded Testy Copy Editors, the online forum, in 1992. Follow him on Twitter: @testycopyeditor. Or email Phillip at blanp@testycopyeditors.org.

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