If you have been shopping lately, you have probably noticed an uptick in the prices. Grocery stores have been no exception to this. Even though it seems like prices have gone up more lately, I would argue that they have been gradually increasing over the last two years. The pandemic-created shortages have made things worse at all stores, but grocery stores in particular.
You might be asking what inflation means and why it is happening now. Inflation is simply the decline of purchasing power of a given currency over time (Investopedia). Basically, your money is less valuable and you need more of it to purchase things. What is this happening now? In the spring of 2020, the Feds decided to print more money to boost the economy to the tune of $5 trillion more dollars. Eesh! In addition to that, the pandemic shut down supplies, industries, and employment which meant less spending and fewer goods. Less spending with more money being printed means that the dollar has less purchasing power. Hence, inflation.
With that in mind, now is the time to figure out your game plan at the grocery store. You will have to do some creative shopping to stay within your budget, still be able to feed your family, and get the most bang for your buck. If you ever had to live within a strict and very tight budget, you will be dusting off those skills again. If you haven't already...
10 Ways to Combat Inflation at the Grocery Store
Unit pricing. Unit pricing is figuring the price divided by the item's weight or number of items to know what you are paying per unit. By determining the price per unit, you will know if you are getting the best bang for your buck.
The way this is used the most is when you are comparing the prices for items with different packaging. For example, a bag of one-pound rice is $1.99. A five-pound bag of rice is $6.99. (Not real prices, just using these as an example.) You can do the math like this:
1 pound of rice = $1.99
16 ounces of rice = 12.4 cents per ounce
5 pounds of rice = $6.99 or $1.40 per pound
80 ounces of rice = 8.7 cents per ounce
Usually, figuring this out is not as basic as this. Shoppers can get tripped up when items go on sale, thinking they are a better price when they are not. Using rice again, we will make a different comparison.
The sale price is $1.99 for a 12-ounce package of rice. A regular price for another brand of rice is $2.29 for 16 ounces.
Sale rice = $1.99
12 ounces of rice = 16.6 cents per ounce
Regular price rice = $2.29
16 ounces of rice = 14.3 cents per ounce
Even though the sale price of rice is lower overall, you are not getting as much for your money going with the sale price of rice. The regular price of rice is cheaper per unit and you will be getting more bang for your buck. When trying to combat inflation at the grocery store, you need to be getting the most food you can with your money. By spending an extra thirty cents, you will be getting more rice.
Budget. When you are facing inflation at the grocery store, having a realistic budget in place will help you not overspend and get the most food for your money. Setting a realistic budget means you will have to look over what you have spent the last 3-6 months and go from there.
I like to set my budget according to my paycheck schedule, which is every two weeks. For example, I can make my monthly grocery budget for $400. I divide that up between my two paychecks every month which would be $200 a paycheck. For me, it is easier to budget by paycheck because I know exactly how much of that paycheck will go to bills and whatnot.
Shop the loss leaders. Those sale flyers are very handy for meal planning and saving money. While the sale prices may not seem as good as they used to be, they are still sale prices. If you see a 10 for $10.00 sale, that is probably the best you will see. The same goes for ground beef, being at $2.99 a pound for 85% lean.
Again, practice unit pricing to make sure you are getting the best deal. In addition to shopping loss leaders, use in-store coupons, price matching, and clearance deals to make your grocery budget stretch farther.
Eat cheaper cuts of meat. If you really need to watch your budget and get through the high grocery prices, now is not the time to be indulging in a ribeye steak. Now is the time to eat more chicken, ground meats, and any meat you can stretch in a meal or multiple meals.
Ground beef is unnecessarily high right now and shouldn't be part of your meal plan unless you have a special occasion or an aversion to eating pork or other meats. In most recipes, ground pork, ground chicken, and ground turkey can be used in the place of ground beef.
A whole chicken is a great investment meat-wise. You can often get 1-3 meals from a whole chicken. After that, you can make chicken stock from the bones and vegetable scraps. If you have chickens or cats, the bones and meat can be given to them after making stock.
If you are really trying to cut down your budget, meat can be a budget killer. When money was really tight for us, we made spaghetti without meat, macaroni and cheese (from scratch), and vegetable soups to eat less meat. Now would be a good time to cut down on eating meat and making it more of a side dish than the main dish.
Fight food waste at home. Your efforts to save money will mean very little if you are throwing out food. Being conscious of your fresh food as well as leftovers will help you save money. I give many great ideas for fighting food waste in this article: 16 Ways To Not Waste Food (and Use Up The Leftovers).
Eat less processed foods and drink less soda. Processed food is a budget killer. It might save you from having to go through the drive-thru, but you are eating a lot of preservatives and chemicals that you do not need. With a little forethought, you can have a list of quick meals (tacos, anyone?) that will help you avoid using many processed foods. Processed foods in the freezer section especially will kill your budget.
You can avoid processed foods by:
- making a list of quick meals (spaghetti, tacos, soups, skillet meals, sheet pan meals)
- having ingredients prepped and ready to go in the fridge
- cooking large batches of beans, rice, and potatoes to go with meals
- having some meals in the freezer
- using your slow cooker in the morning
- cooking meals ahead of time (like on Sunday) to reheat during the week
To be clear, I am not talking about ingredients like pasta, broths, canned vegetables, and whatnot. Those can be time savers to purchase and have available. I am talking about ready-made soups, frozen meals, boxed meals, rice/potato packets, etc., that give you very little return on your money and most likely could be made cheaper.
Cook from scratch. In most cases, cooking from scratch saves you more money and gives you a more nutritious product. Buying processed foods or premade foods from the grocery store are budget killers. You might not think you have time to cook from scratch, but you might not have a choice money-wise.
Ideally, you will have a plan for cooking from scratch. You may need to set aside a night or weekend day to make food ahead. You can start simply and keep your expectations low. No one expects you to make bread, granola, granola bars, cookies, oatmeal packets, breakfast sandwiches, and yogurt all at the same time. If you think you can handle it, go for it.
Otherwise, make a list of items your family eats that you can make from scratch. You could pick 2-3 of those items to make in one sitting. I would make bread and granola or granola bars at the same time. While the bread was rising, I would put together the granola bars and bake them. The oven was then warm for the bread to bake. The increased warmth in the kitchen also helped the bread rise faster in the winter. However you decide to do this, just know you are helping to save money and making a better product than they do in the store.
Grow your own food. Growing your own food has so many benefits, but saving money must be at the top of the list. Planting a garden or even just growing lettuce, herbs, and greens in your window will help you save money. I have written extensively on gardening and growing your own food. I would encourage you to check out these articles:
As well as those articles, I have written an ebook on gardening and homesteading called The Dirty Truth About How To Start Homesteading that I would encourage you to check out.
In addition to gardening, do not forget about foraging and gleaning. Nature offers a lot of free goodness if you know where to look for it and ask about it.
Eat cheap meals at home. Meals can become very expensive quickly which is why you need a list of cheap meals to keep your food costs down. Whether you are eating refrigerator clean-out soup or the standard rice and beans, you need to have a list of meals you can depend on that are cheap and liked by those eating them. The cheaper the meal, the better. Need ideas?
- Rice and beans
- Burrito bowls using what you have
- Ramen noodles (throw away the packets, cook in chicken broth, and add in your own seasonings and vegetables if you want)
- Spaghetti without the meat (bonus: add vegetables that need to be used up. Just cook them or saute them and add to the sauce)
- Refrigerator clean-out: soup, casserole, stir-fry, skillet meal, frittata, etc. You are looking to use up leftovers and produce that will go to waste.
- Cheese pizza (you can make the dough cheaply and add any topping you have in your fridge)
- Buttered pasta with garlic powder/salt (seriously, this was one of my kids' favorite meals)
- Pasta casserole (a 12-16 oz. box of pasta cooked, spaghetti sauce mixed in, topped with cheese, cooked for 25 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. You can add in anything you want to bulk it up.)
- Eggs and toast
- Pancakes (from scratch are super easy)
Now, the second part is "at home." The key here is cheap. Eating out is not cheap. When the budget gets tight, that should be the first thing to cut back to save money. Even if you don't eat as cheap at home as you can, you are still saving money by eating at home. You can often make a meal for $10 for four which is approximately the cost of one person eating out.
Meal Plan. We have talked a little bit about this already. However, it still bears repeating. You should make a list of meals and write down the approximate cost of those meals. You are then ready to make a grocery list and stay within your budget. The benefit to a weekly meal plan (my preference) is that you can look through the produce, freezer, and refrigerator to see what needs to be used up. That way, you can plan your meals accordingly to avoid food waste.
I am not a super rigid meal planner. I make a list of meals on Sunday/Monday of what I would like to make that week depending on what we have and what I know is on sale. I usually grocery shop on Tuesdays or Fridays so I plan according to that. The first two meals of the week are things I already have on hand. The rest is what I needed to get from the grocery store. I don't plan meals by the day because I need some flexibility. Otherwise, we also have a list of meals that we always have on hand no matter what.
Hopefully, you find many tips to help you save money in the next 1-2 years while inflation runs rampant. You still have time to get stocked up now on food and supplies and I highly encourage you to do so. Having a well-stocked pantry will help see you through the worst of what is coming.
Thanks for reading,