Been to the grocery store lately? Infuriating, isn’t it? And we don’t mean the shortages, which have largely eased across the country since the coronavirus outbreak began this spring. We mean the outrageous prices.
Even if you’re not one of the estimated 15 million currently unemployed as a result of the pandemic, BILLSHARK suspects you’re not super thrilled with the coronavirus-caused surge in grocery prices.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April saw the biggest monthly increase in grocery prices in nearly 50 years. The single-month increase for cereal and bakery products was the highest since 1919.
And the increases haven’t stopped since then. According to data released last month by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, beef and veal prices have soared 20.2 percent since the spring, along with eggs (10.4 percent), poultry (8.6 percent), and pork (8.5).
It’s not just meat, either. The prices of many staples have increased, as well, from instant mashed potatoes to pet food to sodas. One popular toilet paper multipack which sold for $8.99 just a month ago is $12.99 today—a 40 percent increase.
Of course the supply chain has been severely impacted by the pandemic, but we suspect some manufacturers and stores are taking advantage of the shortages to pad their bottom lines. Not to malign those who are doing their best to adjust to this new world of supplier deficiencies and shoppers’ demands, but the phrase “price gouging” does leap to mind.
So what can you do to save on groceries?
1. Plan, plan, plan
Check the weekly circulars for the stores in your area, and plan your week’s menus around sale items and those you have coupons for. Use grocery store apps to compare prices among stores in your area and to find coupons.
2. Shop your kitchen
How many times have you had to toss food because it had lingered too long in the fridge or freezer? As you plan your weekly menu, try to include items you already have on hand. If you look around, you may find several items that can comprise a tasty meal with a little creative cookery.
3. Stick to your list
Make a shopping list based on what you need and resist splurges.
Shop the perimeter of the store, and shop high and low on shelves. The priciest items are always placed just below eye level and between chest- and waist-level. Big-name brands pay supermarkets a premium to have their products placed there. The cheaper products go on the higher or lower shelves.
As Business Insider cautions, “Every part of the supermarket from the parking lot to the checkout counter is designed to make you spend more money and buy more food than you need.”
The one exception is if you’re in the store and find unadvertised specials on items you know you’ll use. This is especially true for things that won’t go bad: paper products, canned goods, day-old bread you can freeze, or “ugly” fruits and vegetables that look funny but taste fine.
4. Buy store brands
Store brands are always cheaper than name brands because they don’t have to spend money on advertising. Frequently they’re manufactured by the same company, just with different labels.
5. Swap meat cuts
And while you’re at it, opt for cheaper cuts of meat: chuck eye for rib eye, petit tender or faux filet for tenderloin, flat iron for flank steak. Whole chicken is less expensive than buying parts. Chicken legs are not only tastier than breast meat, but they cost less, too.
The secret to cheaper meat is to cook it low and slow. Use an oven, a slow cooker or a grill.
6. Don’t pay for convenience
You’ll pay extra to let the manufacturer shred your cheese, cut up a fresh pineapple, and wash your lettuce. Unless you’re working 80-hour weeks, you’ll do better in the long run if you buy the whole product and perform these tasks yourself.
7. Shop at unusual places
You may find milk cheaper at the drugstore or the dollar store than at your regular grocery store. You can also sometimes find paper goods or cleaning supplies at office supply stores or hardware stores for less.
If you do shop dollar stores, however, compare unit prices (the price per pound/gallon/ounce) not only with grocery store prices but with other dollar stores.
8. Join the club
Grocery stores offer store loyalty cards for free, so be sure to sign up. And if you have warehouse clubs nearby (Costco, Sam’s Club), join those, too.
9. Your phone is your friend
In addition to coupons that save money on the spot, look for many of the free apps that offer rebates on grocery purchases. Check out Ibotta, Checkout 51, Rakuten, Fetch Rewards, and Receipt Hog, among others.
10. One last tip
Never shop when you’re hungry. Hunger distorts your judgment. It triggers you to buy things you don’t need. And you may find you don’t really want them once you get home.
Need extra cash for groceries or other essentials? Let BILLSHARK’s professional negotiators find it for you. If we can’t save you money on your bills, you pay nothing.