Perhaps you’ve noticed the cost of about everything is going up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index, the agency that calculates the U.S. inflation rate, is predicting a very high inflation rate for 2021. Our annual inflation rate at the end of May was running at 5 percent. That is the highest rate since 1981, when the average for that year was 10.3 percent.
Here’s the deal: We either can stick our heads in the sand and pretend nothing has changed, or we can get smart and fight back.
Which brings me to the point of this column: To revisit the most effective ways to cut the cost of groceries and then make sure we are practicing them with determination and vengeance.
SHOP THE SALES
Check grocery ads for specials, then base your week’s meals on what’s on sale. The closer you can stick to buying only what’s on sale, the more you will cut your costs.
DON’T SHOP HUNGRY
You will be compelled to buy everything in sight regardless of what’s on your list if you arrive at the store hungry. Tip: If you can’t avoid it, head to the bakery and pick up a cookie, or grab a protein bar on your way in. That will be enough to silence your hunger and clear your mind.
LEAVE THE KIDS AT HOME
You will stick to your shopping list and complete your mission with less frustration and stress if you fly solo.
COOK FROM SCRATCH
Cooking and baking using raw ingredients rather than those that are highly processed or prepared is one of the most effective ways to slash food costs.
PINCH OF SALT
Sounds weird, I know but this really works: Add a pinch of table salt to a new container of milk when you first open it. Shake well to mix. Because salt retards the growth of bacteria that makes milk turn sour, just a pinch of salt will increase the useful life of milk by days, even weeks. Don’t worry, such a small amount will not alter the taste or be detectable in any way.
STRETCH CONCENTRATED FRUIT JUICE
Always add one can of water more than the instructions state. You will be pleasantly surprised when you detect little difference, if any.
Your doctor will love you, and so will your food bill, as you replace carbonated sugary beverages with inexpensive water. Keep a pitcher of chilled water in the fridge. Rave about its wonderful qualities to your young children. They’ll think it’s a treat if you are convincing enough.
ELIMINATE CHOICES AT MEALS
Find yourself making a variety of menus to please everyone at the table? It might be time to move to a single menu. Let the family know from now on, there will be only two choices: take it or leave it.
CONSIDER GENERIC AND STORE BRANDS
Some generic items are awful, and others are exactly the same product as the name brand. Do some experimenting, especially if your store offers “satisfaction guaranteed.” If you don’t like it, get a refund or an exchange.
SHOP THE PERIMETER OF THE STORE
This is where you typically will find the produce, meat and dairy. The center aisles are the prepackaged and preprocessed high-priced items, aka the danger zone.
KEEP A PRICE BOOK
Start keeping a notebook that lists the prices of regularly purchased items at various stores. Keep it with you so as you see specials or ads, you’ll be able to determine whether it is really a bargain or not.
On Wednesdays, most supermarkets reduce prices on food that is about to expire, according to several studies. This is also the day the majority of stores start their new sales.
Even if you think you must get to the supermarket because there’s nothing to eat in the house, wait. Hold up. Pretend you’re stranded on an island with truly nothing to eat but what you have in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Chances are pretty good you’ll come up with something, using up what you have already, thereby putting more time between shopping trips.
Even if it is priced per item, weigh it. You won’t believe the difference in weight of the pre-bagged carrots, for instance. Even with a weight printed on the bag, the real weight could be quite different (and it can be, provided it is not less than printed). Heads of lettuce priced individually can differ in weight by as much as half a pound.
Have I missed your favorite method to cut the cost of food? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will compile all of your great ideas for a future column. Thanks.