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!
A Must Read If You Want To Be A Wise Consumer!
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