Seven Ways to Combat Rising Grocery Prices
In addition to the recent hike in gasoline prices, you might have noticed that grocery prices have jumped significantly during the pandemic. Specifically, a recent summary of findings by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that the overall cost of groceries increased by 11.9% between from May 2021 and May 2022.
Leaving the supermarket with enough to feed your family has now become even more of a challenge. Here are seven tips for combatting rising grocery prices.
1) Compare Prices and Stores
Now more than ever, it is good to compare not only prices of different brands of products, but prices among the stores in your area as well. Usually, there are high-end grocery stores that charge a few cents more for the same product versus their competitors. For those of you who are used to the amenities of the high-end supermarket (e.g., grocery bagging services), it might be time to sacrifice those and switch to a store without the perks to save money.
2) Buy Locally
There are many advantages to buying locally-purchased foods including health benefits, freshness and investing in your local farms and communities. By going to local venues such as farmers markets, produce is fresher, so it will last longer, saving you money. (Produce at the supermarket has already been sitting in transport for a day or two.) Farmers markets also give you access to more organic and non-GMO produce. You can search for a farmers markets near you by using the USDA’s food portal.
3) Have a Grocery Budget
In my financial counseling sessions, food costs tend to be the expense that fluctuates the most for people I support. You can rein in this cost and make it more predictable by having a monthly allotment for what you spend on your groceries. Don’t know where to start?
Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Set spending limits on your food budget. For example, allocate 10% to 15% of your monthly net household income towards ALL food costs, and stick with that amount.
- Use the Grocery Budget Calculator tool, developed by Iowa State University. This calculator is based on the different food plans set by the USDA. It will give you an idea, based on your family size, what baseline amount you should spend monthly on groceries.
4) Plan Meals/Make a Grocery List
Like anything else, you must ALWAYS have a plan of action and not go into a situation blindly. Grocery shopping is no different. If you simply head to your local supermarket without a plan, you are going to get whatever seems appealing at that moment, which leads to overspending.
This is a two-step process:
- Step 1: Plan your meals a few days in advance. Determine what you will serve for meals over a set period of time (week, half-month, month, etc.). Then do a thorough inventory of your pantry to make sure you do not accidentally purchase anything that you might already have.
- Step 2: Once the meals are planned, create your list. You can resort to the old school methods of either writing it down on a sheet of paper or using your smart phone’s “To Do” list. There are now also free apps you can use, including Anylist, Mealtime, Our Groceries, Bring!, Cozi Family Organizer or Opt Up.
5) Buy Generic Store Brands
Generic store brands have quality that is just as high as their name brand counterparts. You’d be surprised how much you can save by switching even a fraction of your food purchases to the generic store brand for items such as milk, eggs, pasta, meat or household products. Some grocery stores have gained popularity within the last 20 years because they sell primarily generic items. Consider these types of stores when deciding where to do your shopping as well.
6) Coupons and Deals Are Your Friends
Believe it or not, it is common for the average consumer to take these for granted. Heck, we just go in get what we want and go about our lives. However, it’s important to take a step back and take notice of these small gems that can make a large impact on our wallets.
Usually, grocery stores have their printed list of specials for the week. You can also do what your parents or grandparents probably did and purchase the Sunday paper to clip the coupons. Also, remember that pesky junk mail you receive regularly? You might have been quick to shred it or throw it into the trash, but take a moment to search for any valuable coupons for your next supermarket visit.
Finally, keep in mind some grocery stores have rewards programs where coupons are linked automatically to the app, rewards card, or fob. Using these rewards can sometimes save you money elsewhere, such as on fuel. It’s all free, too; you just have to remember to use your card/fob when you check out at the grocery store to use coupons/earn rewards.
7) Leave the Kids Out of the Equation
When you take your kids shopping with you, it’s possible to spend extra time on your trip, and you might feel pressure to buy things you didn’t initially intend. While the traditional solution would be to leave the kids at home, this might not be possible for everyone.
Another solution is to pre-order your groceries for curbside pickup, as opposed to having them delivered to you and paying high delivery fees. Some major stores usually charge a low fee or no fee at all for curbside pickup if you buy over a certain dollar amount.
Shopfood.com has compiled a detailed list of national chain supermarkets and compared the fees they charge for curbside pickup. The highest fee on this list is $4.99, and the minimum amount you have to spend ranges from $10 to $35 to either waive the fee or lower it. The Shopfood.com list does not include local grocery store chains, So, check with your local grocery store to see if they have curbside service.
If curbside isn’t an option, think about how you can avoid your kids asking you to buy them something. For instance, set expectations ahead of time and/or compromise and tell them they can pick one thing outside of your list.
Here is a bonus tip from the National Council of Aging: if you receive public food support or have an electronic benefits card, click here for information on how to take advantage of grocery delivery services like Instacart, Amazon Fresh or FarmboxRX.
If you are looking for other ways to reduce your monthly expenses, LSS Financial Counseling can provide support, tools and advice. Our certified financial counselors can work with you on a budget that will assist you in keeping expenses under control. Call 888.577.2227 for a free, confidential appointment, or get your support online.
Author Ray McCoy is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling.