9 Ways to Prepare for Food Inflation

If you’ve been to the grocery store lately, you’ve no doubt discovered that the price of most foods has increased significantly. There’s plenty of blame to go around: increased commodity prices due to increased demand, increased oil prices, devaluation of our dollar, and on and on.

Whatever the reason, increased food prices are putting a major dent in our household budget. Since we can’t do much about the prices, we have to look for other ways to reduce (or at least keep even) our overall food expense.

Food is a unique budget category in that normally when you are struggling with less income and/or increased costs, the natural inclination is to turn to cheaper alternatives. Unfortunately, as many people are discovering, when it comes to food this means an unhealthy diet.

Think of the cheapest foods at your local grocer – they are likely cheap pastas and boxed processed foods (Ramen noodles, mac and cheese, packages of potato flakes sold as “instant mashed potatoes,” etc). While these foods will do in a pinch, they aren’t exactly healthy staples to build the basis of a clean diet.

Nine Ways to Reduce Your Grocery Budget

1. Plan to shop every two weeks. Make room in your pantry (and your budget) to shop for enough food to last two weeks. The more often you see the inside of a store, the more likely you will give into temptation and deviate from your list.

2. Buy in-season produce. The simple laws of supply and demand tell us that things that are plentiful should be a little cheaper. Of course, the opposite is true if a particular produce item is not plentiful in your area, because it has to be shipped in from another part of the country (or world), and those increased costs to transport are passed along to you, the consumer.

3. Eat less. This one seems obvious, but to someone like me raised on three squares (big squares) a day, the idea of skipping a meal or two seems foreign. However, here lately I’ve been trying to eat only when hungry, not when the clock says 8:00, 12:00 and 6:00.

4. Grow your own vegetables. The last couple years we’ve experimented with square foot gardening. This year, we plan to expand on the idea and grow a variety of vegetables in garden boxes in our backyard. We also planted fruit trees last fall that will hopefully yield fresh fruits in the years to come.

5. Compare unit costs, not product packaging and creative pricing. Remember bigger isn’t always cheaper, and neither are the 10/$10 deals. I recently stocked up on a few items included in a 10/$10 sale and the next week the store returned the item to their normal price…$0.88.

6. Consider swapping beans or eggs for meats when looking for a protein source. Like any good carnivore, I like to build a meal around a good meat. Unfortunately, this can get expensive. Here lately, we’ve been enjoying eating “breakfast” for dinner – with scrambled eggs as the main course.  Beans also provide a nice source of protein and can augment a smaller amount of meat in dishes like tacos and chili to bulk up the recipe with out increasing the cost per meal.

7. Avoid the “junk food” aisle. Nothing good comes from this aisle. Soft drinks, chips, snack cakes, and cookies are simply empty calories. And they are expensive when you consider you can’t plan a meal around them. Your waistline won’t miss this aisle, either. Now, this is an area where I need to take my own advice!

8. Eat leftovers. One of the most effective ways to lower your cost per meal is to simply stretch your prepared foods across more meals. In fact, I have found that meals like spaghetti, soups, and meatloaf actually taste better the next night.

9. Freeze the extras. If you are short on freezer space, consider a second freezer to stock up on meats and vegetables when on sale, or to freeze leftovers of your favorite meals. My wife makes a huge batch of soup and freezes the portions we don’t eat the first two days for later consumption. Weeks later, on a particularly hectic day, we’ll toss the frozen soup in  a crock pot to thoroughly reheat and enjoy an easy meal.

These tips probably make sense in any environment, but are particularly important in the face of rising food costs, high unemployment and a time of high economic uncertainty. I highly recommend taking the time now to streamline your food budget and use some of the savings to build a pantry of stockpiled food.

Best case scenario, your pantry will provide cheaper food than is currently available in the store. Worst case scenario, your pantry will provide food if there isn’t any in the store. It’s my hope that we never face the latter scenario, but I’d rather be prepared just in case.

How are you dealing with increased food costs?

Comments

  1. This article couldn’t have come at a better time. With January comes people’s resolutions (including mine) to lose some lbs. What better way to save your health, your food budget, and your wallet than to reduce what you consume. Thanks for the square foot garden link, too!

  2. Use what you buy. When trying to eat healthy on a budget, it is easy to forget to use the fresh produce that you purchase at the store. This can cost you big. One way to avoid this pitfall is to cook large batches of food, and freeze the leftovers for later. Letting food go bad is like throwing your money away.
    Pat
    http://compoundingreturns.blogspot.com

  3. The issue of skipping meals, particularly breakfast, is not the healthiest way to address the issue of cutting food costs. Yes, you should only eat when you’re hungry, but the body needs regularly scheduled “meals” (some folks don’t eat three times a day with lots of calories, but rather five mini-meals a day.) I’m surprised that you would include that recommendation.

    In this country, where most people are unaware of portion sizes and eat way too much, one of the best ways to cut costs is to monitor portion sizes and reduce them.

    And for many people, perhaps not your readers, it’s eliminating junk food, prepared food, sodas and deserts from the shopping list. That alone can save a lot of money each week for many families. Will it require adjustment? Yes. But it can be done.

    A few years ago, we decided to purchase organic produce (selectively) and other products. We were concerned about costs. However, we really looked at what we were buying. We were able to eliminate a lot of things (we never drink soda, but we switched from bottled water to a water filtering device) and “found” the money to cover the cost of organics. Plus, we improved our eating habits.

    Depending on where you live, and what’s available, it’s hard to cut food costs. Sometimes, it’s easier (in the case of your own garden of veggies, etc.)

    • Fair point regarding breakfast, as that is the most important meal of the day. However, lunch/supper/dinner times are really more of a cultural phenomenon than a physiological response to real hunger.

      Consider that people around the world eat their evening meals on an extremely varied schedule, and our ancestors ate whenever food was available, often eating a large meal then going hours (even days) hunting/gathering more food.

    • Don’t know if this would help/be feasible however, we have our fridge set to really cold & then when we buy our monthly groceries the milk stays good longer (among other things). We just have to be careful on what goes in the very back of the fridge because it will freeze.
      We save a good bit of not only money but time by doing monthly shopping.
      & then every 6-10 months we buy cleaning & dry goods in massive sizes (like 20lb bags of rice) & that saves a good bit there.

  4. Everything for me has to do double duty. If we have chicken it shows up in some variety later in the week (over pasta, stir fry, enchiladas, salads). I also stocked up on winter vegetables from the amish market before they closed. Winter Squash can keep all winter if kept cool and separated. We have butternut, acorn, and others. I use these as side dishes as well as main courses (butternut squash mac n’cheese, butternut risotto, stuffed acorn squash). Right now we are keeping our food budget at $75/week and I buy organic. Treats are on ocassion and eating out is factored into the food budget. This week I spent $50 at the market and reserved $25 for Chinese Take Out. My freezer was pretty well stocked with meats and the pantry was filled with many things to help make a meal. Mostly I am buying dairy, eggs, etc. We also do Breakfast for dinner one night, leftover night, and have some sort of soup/chili night. All these play into the double duty role.

  5. Sadly, I really haven’t been doing anything to reduce our spending on food, which I could do pretty easy just by eating out less. One tip for grocery store trips though — if you stop in because you forgot something, DON’T use a cart or basket. Just the act of having to carry everything in your own two hands can save you money.

  6. Food inflation can be quite insidious and hard to detect. I did a post on my blog about this recently (excerpt here):

    Not only are prices going up in a noticeable fashion, but you may have also noticed packaging shenanigans that the food companies are pulling to hide the inflation that’s occurring.

    In a nutshell, they’re changing the packaging to contain less product with the same size package, often for even higher prices. The price per unit for so many things is going through the roof and most people out there have no clue this is happening.

    (source: http://preparingyourfamily.com/are-you-ready-for-massive-food-inflation/)

  7. I know some of you don’t like the idea of hunting wild games. As a matter of fact, they do store the food in freezer for a period of time and not have to shop for more meat. Even more cheaper, some hunters will process themselves. I don’t like when hunters kill and leave carcasses behind. Ethical hunters will eat regardless except in circumstances when necessary for protection from predators.

    • Wild game is an excellent way to save money! My husband is a hunter and he usually kills 4-5 deer each season. He keeps one for us and gives away the others to needy families or people who aren’t hunters but like venison. He usually cuts our deer meat into steaks but this year he had his deer processed by a professional for only $45 and we have a freezer full of hamburger and roasts. We always eat what my son and husband kill, that includes turkey and wild hog and, unfortunately for me, squirrel. :-)

  8. We shop between 3 different stores. We have compared prices on our regular items and shop for those specific items at the 3 stores (one is walmart) and any other additional stuff we will get at walmart. We have cut out a lot of junk food (health reasons) but we do have 2 older teens that we have to feed.
    Research i there are food banks or ministries in your area. I haven’t done this in a while, but since I am not working anymore, I may go back. Ours is not necessarily income based, and you pay $8 for a *bundle*. What is available will vary, but you do get some choices.
    Not exactly the same question, but we have found the cheapest restaurants we can eat a decently healthy meal out, either for a treat or if we are out and need to eat. Hubby and I ate at Wendy’s last night for just over $7, complete with chili and fries. We can eat at our local mexican rest for abt 10 or 12 bucks. If we want to go to a little bit nicer rest, we try to go for lunch and get smaller dishes and cheaper prices.
    With gas costs creeping up, food can’t help but follow.
    Bernice
    Are you too busy to be yourself?

  9. As you mentioned, the per ounce cost for larger items is often more than for smaller items. I think grocers are doing this more and more as people often just default to buying the larger items because they assume it is cheaper. I love buying the smaller, cheaper version when it is on sale and I have a coupon. Deal!

    I cannot emphasize enough how people need to focus on places on CVS for health/beauty and vitamins. If you combine coupons with the sales, you pay so much less for toothpaste and many other items. Not to mention all the buy one/get one free on certain vitamins and such.

    You have to educate yourself so you know a good deal when you see it.

  10. long time lurker… first time poster

    another reason not to eat packaged foods… package inflation.. this is when the price on your item stays the same, but the producer just puts less in it… like your box of baking soda is no 3.75 pounds rather than 4 pounds for example.

    * make your own stock… when you cook anything with bones make bone stock rather than buying chicken stock in the store

    * never shop hungry

    * always use a list

    * buy dried beans and lentils in addition to canned. I like canned beans, but dried beans are the best bang for your buck

    * can and dehydrate food from the garden

    I covered a bunch more stuff here: http://www.saveourskills.com/episode-12-random-collection-money-saving-tips

  11. how do you feel about buying in bulk? some things are worth it, some not so much. We need to consider the gas spent and traveling to and from the store, too.
    We have 5 kids and follow the Paleo diet. In a nutshell, we eat meat, fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds. Our bodies respond well to this diet, but not our wallets! Any advice on saving money with this diet?

  12. @amy – how to you combat inflation? Do you hold cash? No you invest it in interest bearing accounts or other investments.

    It is the same with food. If you establish long term food storage your eating todays meal at yesterdays prices…

    Incorporating food storage isn’t just for wackjobs with bunkers… it is a great cost saving measure and gives your family the prepardness level it needs to deal with every day emergencies whether they be a job loss or a winter storm.

    Just remember the mantra “eat what you store and store what you eat”

    Here are great resources to get your started:
    http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/storing-food-why-how-what

    http://foodstoragemadeeasy.net/ – sign up for the baby steps email which is a great way to get started storing food.

  13. Great tips – I agree with all of them but one and that is skipping meals. Your comment that our ancestors ate when food was available is neglecting the small detail that many of our ancestors had lifespans half the current average. It was circumstantial that they didn’t eat regularly not because of perceived benefits.

    The body produces the appropriate amount of insulin and more efficiently uses glucose when we eat on a regular basis, ideally every two and a half to three hours. Saving money is of little value if your health goes to pot in the process.

  14. Carol, there are only certain things I will buy at CVS on a deal, and it has to be a really good deal. I get Crest there for 75 cents quite often, If you have coupons along with the ezbucks or whatever they are called, you can do quite well.

  15. It seems so easy to just buy all the bogo items–which are usually some form of processed food–instead of buying real food like fresh fruits and vegetables. My favorite tactic currently is to not buy any “junk” food if there is anything in my pantry that will serve as a snack. That way when I shop I’m only buying what we need to make meals and avoiding the snack isle altogether.

  16. 1) drink lots of water. it keeps the body healthy, has no calories, and studies show that people who are properly hydrated tend to have fewer episodes of over-eating than those who are dehydrated.

    which brings up #2.

    2) avoid bottled water. it’s expensive compared to tap (with or without a filter).

  17. More about CVS extra bucks from Money Game Blog:

    The CVS extra bucks program is so much fun. Here’s how you can use it to get a great deal on cereal this week.

    First, print the coupon for 70 Cents off Kellogg’s cereal, Click here: http://couponcodeworld.com/moneygame/archives/46

    After you print that coupon, go over to your local CVS store and put the following items in your cart:

    (1) Charmin Big Rolls (16pk) – $9.99 (sale price)

    (1) Bounty Basic Paper towels (12pk) – $9.99 (sale price)

    (6) Puffs (Single) – 99 Cents (sale price)

    AND (6) Kellogg’s Cereal – $1.79 (sale price)
    (Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Corn Pops, Apple Jacks, Froot Loops, or Rice Krispies)

    After you put the above items in your cart take it to register and have everything scanned except the six boxes of cereal. The register will print out a $10 extra bucks certificate after you pay for the charmin, bounty, and puffs.

    You can then use the $10 extra bucks and 70 cents off coupon on the 6 boxes of cereal. The grand total for your 6 boxes of cereal will be about 4 cents thanks to the extra bucks and coupon. Not Bad!

  18. Great tips! except skipping meals. The only time I skip a meal would be lunch or dinner if I had a HUGE breakfast or lunch.

    I decided to set a grocery budget at $50 a week. I do this once in awhile to reset my expectations. And, I have a stocked freezer and pantry, and CSA.

    That $50 is really going a long way right now, in part because I’m trying to lose 5 lbs. I am measuring out my food, so EVERYTHING lasts longer, even though my spouse and son are eating the same.

  19. My wife recently discovered “doubling up” on coupons. For example, she used a buy-one-get-one free coupon and bought two gallons of juice. She also used a 50% off coupon for the same juice. So she got juice for a fraction of its original price

    Thanks,
    Tim
    http://www.christianfamilyblog.com

  20. My wife and I had talked about this and we agreed that the first thing we should do is to discipline ourselves on what to eat. Whatever that we can afford on the grocery must be eaten and deprive ourselves of our own cravings for the whole week except for a meal per week.

  21. The grocery store within walking distance of my apartment has been reasonable for years, but now their prices on some items are obscene! So, I’ve started driving a little further to a store with a wider selection of good quality store brands. I also have a general idea of which grocery items are cheaper at places like Target, and I will stock up on those things whenever I happen to go there for something else.

  22. Those are some great tips :)

    I also recommend learning to cook from scratch, and cooking every meal! It really cuts on costs and you learn valuable skills in the meantime. I’d also suggest getting large plastic/glass containers and filling them with essentials like flour, rice, pasta, lentils, etc….but only if you’re going to cook with them for real. I say this because some people like to stock up, and yet they NEVER cook with these ingredients, so be realistic :)

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