High Food Prices Are Here To Stay! Some Buying Advice For Families On A Budget!

Food Prices Taking A Bigger Slice Of The Family Dollar!

The U.S. government released statistics estimating that food prices would rise during 2011. The amount of the increase was estimated to be between 2% and 3% and the government was correct about one thing. Prices have risen! Bloomberg, in an article just this month, speculates that food prices will continue to rise through 2012. Half way through this year, dairy, cereal, meats, almost all products have become the victims of inflation. The annual rate of the increase is really not the important factor, but most would wager that the rise in prices is much higher than 2% to 3%. I estimate the actual increase in the items that I buy is closer to 20%. Most significant is the stress that this increase has caused for the average family. When two or three hundred dollars per month often stands between bankruptcy or solvency, maintaining a budget becomes even more critical and much more difficult.

According to the Bloomberg article, food prices have risen dramatically throughout the world, not just in the United States. Not only are prices rising, there have been more food shortages noted throughout the world. These trends do not bode well for the average family.

Wages are stagnant, gas prices are up and unemployment is high. Add to that the increase in prices at the grocery store and things are looking a little hopeless right now. It is harder to make ends meet and a dollar can only stretch so far, but maybe a few tips can help.

The Merits of Coupons

I confess that I use very few coupons because I don't buy processed foods very often. I don't normally buy products that go hand in hand with coupons. I will always use coupons for yogurt, cheese, deli-meats, bacon or even barbecue sauce. The coupons that I do use are almost always redeemed at the one store in my town that doubles their value, but only if I determine that the price after redemption is less than any of the other stores. You have to be careful because some of the grocery stores that allow double couponing have much higher prices than other stores.

Some people swear by coupons and have definitely turned it into a fine art, but it requires time and patience.

Shopping The Sales Becomes Even More Important!

Just since December of 2010, the increase in food prices has made it much more difficult to maintain a reasonable food budget. If you are not going to use coupons, you have to be aware of the weekly sales and the way in which you create your shopping list has to change.

Instead of making a grocery list and deciding what we will eat for the following week, I now make a list of staples that I need to replace such as bread, milk, salt, spices, etc. Beyond those few items, my next step is reading every single circular for every single grocery store in my town. I have had to expand my horizons and shop for certain items at stores that I have never shopped at before. Prior to December, I shopped at three stores: one for produce, one for staples and meats and the third for bread. Now, I find myself shopping at as many as five or six different stores. It sounds crazy, and it sounds like the price of gas alone would be prohibitive, but I actually map out my course for my shopping trip. I try to go in a circle, thereby eliminating any unnecessary mileage.

I make a new kind of list. I use a full sheet of notebook paper and I write a short list for each store, writing down the items and the sale prices next to the items. I also use the circulars. I bring them with me, just in case there is an issue with the advertised price being different from the actual shelf price. I do not search each aisle. I go directly to each item, pick it up and get out of the store quickly and move on to the next. I stick to my list! If, while I am there, I happen to see an unadvertised special that is on my list to purchase at another store, but it is cheaper in the first, I buy it in the first and cross it off the list. But, I don't waste my time searching.

This week in particular, was difficult, but there are some things you can always count on. Every week, without exception, there is at least one store that has chicken breasts priced at 99 cents per pound. I no longer buy skinless, boneless breasts because that will consume too much of my food budget for the week. I found the store with the chicken breasts on sale and luckily, that same store also had a few other good buys. I purchased 5 packs of breasts, and each package had 5 breasts. The total for the chicken was $24.00. I was able to get eggs for a dollar a dozen, a watermelon for 19 cents a pound, strawberries for $1.25 per one pound basket, cantalope at $1.00 each, Barilla pasta for 99 cents per box and pork chops for $1.25 a pound. They had Kraft cream cheese(the best!) for 99 cents each if you bought six (the expiration date is 4 months from today). I used to buy extra virgin olive oil, but the price has almost doubled. I now buy a new product that this store sells. It is a 48 ounce bottle of Pompeian OlivExtra Original and costs $5.99 for the bottle. Granted, it is 85% canola oil and only 15% Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but I swear that it tastes really good and instead of paying close to $20.00 for the EVOO, I save $14.00. Prior to December, EVOO in the same size bottle was $10.00 and would never have used anything else. But times have changed.

Across the street, cucumbers were 5 for $1.00 and roma tomatoes were 2 pounds for $1.00. Block cheddar cheese was $3.00 a pound and canned green beans and beets (for salads) were 50 cents a can.

The store around the corner had romaine lettuce at 2 heads for $1.00 and bananas for 3 pounds for $1.00. They also had mangoes for 3 for $1.00.

My regular produce store had carrots for 49 cents a pound, fresh spinach for 99 cents a bunch, pineapples for 99 cents each, onions for 3 pounds for $1.00, organic honeydew melons for $1.50 each (they were huge, almost 5 pounds each), mushrooms at $2.49 a pound and green bell peppers for 50 cents each.

There were some good buys out there, but it involved trips to several stores. The savings were significant. Some stores were selling chicken breasts for $4.99 a pound. Still others had lettuce for $1.29 a head and tomatoes for $1.49 a pound, so for just those three items, shopping around saved substantial cash.

This method takes longer, but this week I saved over $50.00 by shopping multiple stores. To me, even if the process takes an hour longer, $50.00 for an hour is a good return. Important in this process is consideration for refrigerated items. Attempt to make your refrigerated purchases towards the end of your shopping trip. If they are purchased at different stops along the way, bring some ice packs with you or consider investing in temperature resistant bags. They work!

Plan Your Purchases Around The Seasons!

Springtime and summer are great for watermelon, strawberries, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini and corn. Always pay attention to what vegetables and fruits are being harvested each season. Skip the produce that is not in season or you will be paying a premium. Summer is perfect for fresh, homemade salsa. Salsa goes great with chips as a snack, baked chicken or even grilled pork. Try a cucumber, tomato, onion and basil salad with red wine vinegar and the oil I have suggested. Attempt to tailor your menus around the items that are plentiful at the time.

Farmer's Markets are a great place to buy fruits and vegetables. But watch out! The vendors know that they are selling a commodity. They check the prices at the local stores. They price their goods accordingly. A hint: Go to the farmer's market right before they close up shop. If the vendor has not sold their inventory, they have to bring it home with them and often, it will spoil. With that in mind, NEGOTIATE!

Think About Buying A Freezer!

If you have some extra cash(if you are on a budget, that may be next to impossible), now may be the time to purchase a freezer. I have a 10 cubic foot upright which I purchased new for a little over $200. It has paid itself off in savings many times over. I am able to capitalize on meat sales, vegetables in season and fruits, as well. I store enough meats to last 30 days or more. I bring them home from the store and repackage those cheaper family packs into meal size portions and then freeze them. If a new freezer is too expensive, try buying a gently used one. You can often get them for as little as $50.00.

Last week, I bought 3 whole chickens for 59 cents a pound (each cost less than $4.00). I cut them up when I got home. I packed up three packages. Each package contained 2 breasts, 2 legs, 2 thighs, with each package being more than enough for a meal.

The real savings came when I took the backs, the wings and all of the giblets, put them into a large pasta pot with 2 onions, 5 cut up carrots, 8 celery stalks with the leaves, some garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. I added water and boiled the chicken and veg for 3 hours, making sure that the temperature was not too high to evaporate the liquid. I then strained the liquid to separate it from everything else and ended up with 10 quarts of chicken stock, which I froze in one quart containers. The cheapest I can find (stock in a box) pre-made chicken broth in the grocery store is $2.00 per quart. I saved myself $20.00 on the stock and got 3 meals from the chicken, all for less than $12.00. Without my freezer, I would not have had the room to store the stock.

Strawberries are cheap right now. I can get 4 pounds for $4.00. I bring them home, clean them, dry them in my salad spinner and slice them up. I then put them into plastic bags and throw them into the freezer. I do the same thing with blueberries, boysenberries and raspberries.

With corn on the cob, I make a mixture that is one of my family's favorites. I buy 4 ears of corn for $1.00, 2 red bell peppers and a few bunches of broccoli. I clean the corn, then slice the kernels off the cob. I cut up the peppers and the broccoli and I add a little of each vegetable into baggies (enough for a side dish). I freeze the baggies and pop them into the freezer. When I need a great vegetable mix, I pull one out, take the frozen vegetables out of the plastic, put them in a bowl, cover with plastic and microwave on high for about 8 minutes. Voila! They taste just as fresh as they would if it were summertime!

When tomatoes are on sale for 2 pounds for $1.00, I buy several pounds. I clean them and put them into my food processor. I then put the well-chopped tomatoes into plastic bags and when I want to make marinara, I use them. I freeze countless vegetables this way.

If you are thinking that this takes too much time, you are partially right. It does take time, but then you are saving an enormous amount of money. For me, it has saved my food bill and allows us to eat high quality food for far less.

Watch The Cash Register!

I have stressed before the importance of watching as your purchases are being totalled. Nearly half of all grocery stores in my vicinity have been fined for overcharging customers at the cash register. In a recent article, I pointed out, "New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs, in 2010, reports that grocery stores throughout the country are overcharging consumers at least 1 Billion Dollars every year! The report states further that these overcharges by grocery stores may actually total up to 2.5 Billion Dollars yearly." $2.5 Billion dollars taken from you for products you did not purchase or for products that were calculated at higher prices than advertised.

If you were not serious about watching the register before, inflation at the grocery store now makes vigilance imperative. Catch the overcharge at the register and in most cases, the item is free! How budget friendly is 'free'? Do NOT be embarrassed to request that the cashier wait to begin until all of your groceries are on the conveyor belt. Protect your money! Remember, it is yours!

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Comments 22 comments

Ddraigcoch profile image

Ddraigcoch 5 years ago from UK

Brilliant and scary hub. I am in the UK and we have heard that food prices are planning on rising by 5%, along side Gas by 19% and electricity by 0% by August. As a mother of four who struggles already this is scary for me. I just hope that my own vegetable garden does well this year.

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Hello, Ddraigcoch,

Here in the U.S., the prices have gone up way more than they are saying. Sorry to hear that the same is happening in the U.K. I hope your garden flourishes this year!

So hard when we have families! My best thoughts are with you!

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Fay Paxton 5 years ago

Hey Jillian:

Of course this is an excellent article, but I think you forget that you're in Cali. I was in the grocery store just yesterday. Lettuce $2.19 a head, Bananas $.69 a pound. I wanted a Honeydew melon...$4.99, the size of a softball. I think I bought a loaf of bread. I'm on bread and water. :)

I agree with you about watching the cashier. They always get pissed because I won't let them start ringing my groceries until I can watch. Can you imagine how much money they would make if they just cheated each customer out of 10 cents? How many people would notice or make a big deal of it if they did?


dearabbysmom profile image

dearabbysmom 5 years ago from Indiana

Wonderful information. It's true that to realize these savings one must invest some time and effort. But as you point out, you must be willing to do this if you want your bottom line to reflect savings.

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Dear Fay,

Bread? My favorite bread is up to $4.79 a loaf, Francisco Sourdough-Can't buy it anymore.

I guess I forget that California has lower prices on vegetables and fruit than the rest of the country. Everytime I visit NY, I cannot believe the produce markets and their outrageous prices! So the rest of the country is envious, but even here the prices are going up. Meats are awful! Hamburger is $4.00 a pound, Steak is between $7.00 and $9.00, unless you get lucky and manage to find something on sale.

As for watching the items being rung up- I have to because it happens at least once a week to me. When I catch them, they give me the item or items for free. My biggest save was a roast that I saved $12.00 on.


It takes time, but I can't waste the money. It adds up fast. Thank you!

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THAT Mary Ann 5 years ago

Good advice on all fronts..and watching the cash register is a VERY good idea! Up and useful.

chefsref profile image

chefsref 5 years ago from Citra Florida

Hey Jillian

It looks like we should be writing together, you on rising prices and me on shrinking packages. In both cases we are screwed as consumers and the politicians are worried about cutting spending rather than fixing the economy or adding well paying jobs

Up and Useful

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Dear That Mary Ann,

Thank you for reading. Needed a short break from the political. Actually, had a case of writer's block, and when you get right down to it, food prices ARE political, worldwide!

Dear Chef Lee,

Just read your most recent article! It is a must read for anyone interested in saving money! Link to it here: http://hubpages.com/food/Shrinking-Food-Packages Will also put a link in the body of this article!

They say that the Egyptians rose up and revolted because of food prices and lack of jobs! The US should take note.

d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south

Excellent article from you as usual. And a lot of good advice for those with a fixed income, etc.

And the best advice is to always check your cash register receipts to make sure the prices were correct. In the past 3 weeks, i have gone back to the store for overcharges of $9.00, $10.00, and last week a whopping $15.00. The first two weeks were register 'overcharges' (not charging the advertised 'sale' prices); the third week was the cashier somehow double charging. Whether it was an error by the cashier, or the register, is yet to be determined.

It always galls me when i hear the news speculators saying the prices are 'expected to rise". It is like a self fulfilling prophecy, or giving the stores "permission" to raise their prices, just to have something to talk about on their news programs.

Anyway, i do believe their "predictions" are the main influence that is causing these price hikes. (Besides just plain greed of course).

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Dear d.william,

Does your store have a policy that will give you the items for free if you discover the overcharge while you are in the store? Most stores do. Also, send an email to corporate. When I have done that and complained about the overcharges, they have sent me store gift cards, the least being for $25.00.

Predictions are self-fulfilling, however the Bloomberg article I referred to pointed out that there is an actual worldwide food shortage. Of course, greed plays into it in America, and possibly everywhere else. For more on greed, read Chefrefs article on packaging ploys!

Quite simply, they are killing us! These mega food giants; always out to make more and more money.

d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south


I do not know if this store has such a policy (Winn-Dixie). But i can assure you, i will find out. One day when i went in the store to shop, there were 3 managers standing together off to the side. When one of them saw me he said. "Oh, God, here he comes again.". I nonchalantly walked up to the 3 of them and said quietly: "I may be old, but there is nothing wrong with mt hearing." His face turned beet red and he apologized while the other 2 laughed at him. I just laughed and walked away to do my shopping. He once told me i was the only one who ever complains. I told him i would have to do something about that and start informing other shoppers too. He was not impressed.

Also, i never thought about complaining to corporate. I think i will try that as well. Hell, i could use a few more coupons, and gift cards. It is not pretty being on a fixed income when you spent your whole life buying what ever you wanted at any time without concern of the price. LOL.

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Dear d.william,

How dare they! Here is a link to their contact page. Even though they have spaces for things like UPC code, they don't require that on the form. I checked- http://www.winndixie.com/Contact_Us/Contact_Us.asp

amillar profile image

amillar 5 years ago from Scotland, UK

It looks like that's exactly the kind of advice we're all going to need Jillian - up and useful, to say the least.

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Thanks, Amillar!

I agree! We have to outsmart these weasels!

Credence2 profile image

Credence2 5 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Thanks, Jillian, my spouse is a compulsive shopper and living here in the islands, I have had to "sit on her" to get these costs under control. The freezer is a good idea. We have to shop at several stores now and we do it consistent with the cost of fuel and time spent verses savings to be realized.

Retirement income while adequate, does not leave a great deal of room for error. I am on a highwire balancing between being a stingy skinflint and on the other side being careless and finding oneself broke. It is not my desire, believe me, but I reluctantly take on the first role. Thanks for the advice and timely reminders, Cred2

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Thank you, Credence!

I used to shop and buy what I wanted, without looking at prices, but then I was earning quite a bit of money and it did not affect me. Can't do that anymore! Granted, we don't have rib roasts anymore, or fine cuts of steak, but it is okay. You can still eat good meals without those items.

Really, look for a cheap used freezer. I almost sold mine a few years ago for $30.00, but changed my mind. I am so glad that I still have it! It has made a huge difference!

d.william profile image

d.william 5 years ago from Somewhere in the south

Thanks for the link to Winn Dixie.

I know this is the the view of a pessimist, but every time i consider buying a freezer my electric goes out, whether for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours. Here, in the area i live in, the electricity goes off if someone breaks wind in the direction of the electric company, and with all the hurricanes (and other tropical storms) directly, or indirectly, passing over us, i just picture a whole freezer full of food (and the money spent to fill it) being flushed down the toilet.

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

We used to have electrical issues in the neighborhood. I have an old freezer that has to be defrosted, so when the power would go out, my food stayed frozen. The only time I have had a problem was when someone did not close the door completely and I did not discover it for 2 days. Nothing was completely defrosted, but I was afraid to re-freeze everything. It was a mad dash to cook everything fast! Actually, it was horrible!

I did end up losing alot of food. Mostly frozen vegetables and fruits. The meats were able to be saved and cooked. But that is a big consideration! Not pessimistic, but realistic, if you have power outages.

chefsref profile image

chefsref 5 years ago from Citra Florida

We have the same power issues here in Florida with hurricane season. Now in June we are eating up the contents of the freezer not to be replaced until fall when the threat goes away. Still we save money for 8 or 9 months. We did get caught once when we lost power for two weeks but overall we still save

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Dear Chef Lee,

When we had fires (I think it was 2003 and 2007), we had to be evacuated for a week, each time). I made my son pack up the meats and dropped them at a friend's, in addition to everything else we had time to get out. Ridiculous, right? We didn't know if we would even come home to a house, but we were going to have meat!-good thing, the power was out for a week, but then we lost the refrigerator food, too. It was horrible! But we came home to a house, while just a mile away, people were not so lucky. One fire was the fault of the power company and no reimbursements for any losses. Sucks! But for the most part, I think it helps.

Casandra Tayse profile image

Casandra Tayse 5 years ago

Your not kidding.. Food prices & just prices in general are getting ridiculous. I remember going to the grocery store and bought a small amount of items that was $50.00 And for what I had in my cart didn't seem like it was really that much.

I'm seriously contemplating on shopping with the cue ponds, I've seen that show where the family's cut cue ponds & get a super deal with them. It sure would save alot of money, but I wouldn't go apeshit in the grocery store and buy like 80 bottles of ketchup or anything lol.

Jillian Barclay profile image

Jillian Barclay 5 years ago from California, USA Author

Dear Casandra,

If you have the time, go the coupon route and try to use them at the stores that double or triple them. Some will even accept expired coupons. Don't be afraid to ask!

It is getting worse and worse out there!

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