Nearly everything at the store, from beef and cereal to fruit and veggies, costs more than it did only a few months ago. Inflation is the culprit eating away at your budget— now at the fastest pace in 40 years in December increasing 7 percent over the same period a year ago.
Food prices are through the roof—continuing to skyrocket. The prices of the raw materials used to make almost everything are going up—oil, steel, copper, corn, lumber. Even car parts are becoming more expensive than we’ve ever known.
As I write, Costco executives are reporting that they are paying higher prices for inventory—as much as 20% more for beef, for example, and up to 10% more on clothing. Though the warehouse chain has so far shouldered most of those increases, along with rising costs for freight, transportation, and labor, Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said we should expect the price to increase on such staples as its $4.99 rotisserie chicken or Kirkland brand bottled water, now $2.99, to maintain profit margins. Inflation pressures are real and getting “realer” every day
We are paying more for a growing range of household staples in ways that don’t show up on receipts—thinner rolls, lighter bags, smaller cans—as companies look to offset rising labor and materials costs without scaring off customers.
You may not have noticed yet because it takes a while for these changes to trickle down. It’s imperative for us to become keenly aware of what’s going on to stay ahead of this. We need to know what to do right now.
Beat the shrink
Inflation doesn’t always show up in the price of an item. It may appear that nothing has changed there. But check the product size. It’s sneaky and a very common way that retailers hide inflation. They shrink the size of the product but leave the price the same.
Take Walmart’s Great Value paper towels, for example. The price of those towels hasn’t changed. But a closer look reveals something quite sneaky! They went from 168 2-ply sheets per roll to 120. The price, at $14.97, remained the same for a dozen rolls despite the nearly 30% drop in product size. Both versions remained listed on the retailer’s site until last week.
A 48-towel shrink. No big deal? You might think so at first, but not really. That difference in size with the price remaining is really a 30% price increase! See how they did that?
Sugar used to come in a 5 lb. bag. Now that same sugar comes in a 4 lb (or smaller?) bag with no change in price.
There was a time that coffee came in 1 lb and 3 lb sizes. Have you looked lately? Most brands’ pound of coffee is now 12 oz. A 3 lb container is closer to 30 oz.
A “half-gallon” container of ice cream has shrunk from its historical 64 oz. package to just 56 oz.
Your defense to beat the shrink is to start noticing. Look for hidden inflation every time you shop. Know your prices. Check the labels. Compare brands. Wait for a sale. Determine to reduce waste. Get back to basics!
Buy in bulk
Basic pantry staples are much cheaper when purchased in large or “bulk” quantities. These items can store well in a cool, dark pantry for a very long time.
- Cooking Oil
For example, a 25-lb bag of bread flour at Costco rivals five 5-lb bags King Arthur bread flour in the supermarket by 70%. Check here for guidance on long-term food storage from our friends at Peak Prosperity.
Roast and grind
With the price of coffee up more than 25% over the past year, perhaps it’s time to get serious about roasting and grinding your own coffee beans.
You’ll cut the cost by half or more, and enjoy drinking some delicious coffee. I’ve been home roasting coffee for more than a decade. While I started out using an old air popcorn popper in the backyard (roasting coffee creates a lot of smoke), my husband and I now buy La Minita Tarrazu green coffee beans direct from a plantation in Costa Rica.
If you’re not ready to invest in 150-200 lbs at a time (please no—start small, then as you perfect your craft, you’ll be ready to move up), The Coffee Bean Corral is an online bulk supplier that has good prices on green coffee beans in bags of 5 to 132 lbs starting as low as $5.75 per lb.
Use a tea ball
If you’re a serious tea drinker and you buy those little boxes of 20 (soon 18) tea bags, you’re spending way too much per pound for your tea. Do the math and try not to choke when you discover how much you are spending per pound.
Here’s a novel idea! Get a tea ball, also referred to as a loose tea infuser. Or if you prefer disposable tea bags, you can buy empty tea bags to fill yourself. Now you can purchase fine, fresh loose tea in bulk and slash your per “tea bag” cost in ways that will have you singing Hallelujah!
Grow a garden
Wish you could grow an edible garden, but you just don’t have any place to do that? I’ve got good news. Even if you rent and your landlord won’t allow you to dig up part of the property—no problem. Even if you don’t have time to tend a full-size garden; even if you don’t have time to build square-foot boxes.
You don’t need acreage, a big yard, or “perfect” conditions. In fact, you really don’t need any yard at all. There are myriad ways you can get started today growing your own food. It’s easy, too! I share all I know, including a couple of quirky methods in Secrets for How to Grow An Edible Garden Just About Anywhere!
Members of CSAs pay dues, which buy shares of a local farm. These dues go directly to pay for seeds, fertilizer, water, equipment, and labor. Then, the harvest is divided between shareholders. Cost to produce can vary widely from one CSA to another, depending on regional location and other factors.
To get started, go to LocalHarvest.org. Search their network by typing in your zip code. An Internet search may turn up more results, but don’t give up if the Internet doesn’t yield anything promising.
And now for this distressing fact: Almost a third of food grown in the U.S. never gets harvested because it doesn’t meet the superficial standards of a traditional grocery store. And yet, there are millions of food-insecure households in the U.S.
Both Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods, online suppliers, are committed to fighting food waste by unlocking a new way to make healthy, quality food more affordable for more people. If you are not offended by misshapen, perhaps even ugly produce that is fresh, healthy, organic, and perfectly delicious arriving at your front door, you can save at least 40% (usually more) over supermarket prices by ordering direct.
At the very least, check out both sites. You will be so encouraged and motivated to stop seeing only perfect produce as worthy of your family’s consumption.
Cut energy use
Want to make sure you don’t see a big spike in your household utility bills? Wishing for that to happen isn’t going to work. Prices are sure to skyrocket soon if they haven’t already, so your best bet is to reduce usage. You’ll win when your monthly bills stay about the same. That means you will have beat inflation, at least for now.
- Simple 15-Minute Projects to Slash Your Utility Bills
- 11 Money Savers That Will Pay for Themselves Over and Again
Make it, do it Yourself
I’m the first to admit that the prosperity we enjoy in America has allowed us to become lazy—willing to pay others for goods and services we really could do ourselves. I’m talking about all of the small things we pay dollars to others when we could do the same thing, possibly even better, for just pennies—cheaper, better, faster.
- Make your own laundry detergent
- Bake your own bread
- Make cleaning supplies
- Preserve summer’s bounty
- Homemade gifts
Sticking together just might be our saving grace as we head into the uncharted territory of high prices and scarcity. Expect to see a deluge of DIY and MIY in coming days right here at Everyday Cheapskate.
Stick close, hang on tight!
Revised & Updated 8-27-21