Have you noticed? The cost of everything is climbing, and not just a little bit. Lumber prices are up 250% in just the past three months. The cost of gasoline is soaring, with the U.S. average hitting $2.87 per gallon — nearing $6 a gallon in California. The cost of food is soaring in ways that are downright shocking.
What we're experiencing is inflation — the cost of goods and services rising far ahead and faster than wages. The cost of the things you need to live is going up while your paycheck stays the same.
SUPERMARKET STICKER SHOCK
If you haven't been to a supermarket in the past few weeks, get ready for sticker shock. Nothing ruins an appetite quite like rising food prices.
IT'S A GAME
As consumers, we are stepping onto a playing field where retailers are our opponents. They have their playbooks, and they use every opportunity to get us to do their bidding. What we need is to take a peek into those playbooks.
ONE THING: EAT THE SALES
There are myriad ways to reduce the cost of groceries, from clipping coupons to using apps that compare prices — some even giving cash back. I encourage you to participate in all of those opportunities, if that's your thing. For some, that process is too tedious to be sustainable. But not to worry: There is one way to make your food dollars stretch so far you kick the snot out of inflation.
Determine only to buy food items that are on sale. And when you find a super sale, buy enough at the sale price to last until the next time it will be on sale.
KNOW YOUR PRICES
It's important to acquire a good sense of the regular prices of the food items you buy. Or wish you could buy. For example, do you have a handle on what 80/20 ground beef is per pound in your area? Without that knowledge, how will you know if $3.99 a pound is a sale price or the current price? That sign screaming "SPECIAL!!!" could be a trick.
THE WEEKLY AD
Every grocery store out there produces a weekly ad. Look in your mailbox, at the store's entrance or online at The Weekly Ad, where you will find the weekly ad (and coming week's ads) for every store imaginable. That weekly ad allows you to sit in the privacy of your home without all of the marketing triggers that go on inside a retail store.
Some of the sales will be loss leaders, which means an item with a sale price below the store's cost for that item. Why would they do that? Why would King Soopers price hot dogs at 90% off the regular price? To get us into the store! To make us so happy that we're willing to pay full, inflated prices for the hot dog buns, potatoes salad and ice cream to go with them.
SET YOUR BUDGET
You know how much you can afford for groceries for a week. Write it down. Commit to not going over. Bring cash.
SHOP MULTIPLE STORES
If you have the time, make the rounds to several stores. Get the loss leaders from a number of stores. Just don't get drawn into spending more than you planned. Grab the loss leaders, and run (well, make sure you pay for them first).
HOW TO GET STARTED
I know what you're thinking: How do I wait for sales for the things we need this week, items that are not on sale? You won't be able to be 100% compliant right out of the gate. Determine to do the very best possible. That might mean waiting to buy beef and substituting chicken (that is on sale) this week. Remember: Eat the sales! Plan your meals around what's on sale.
If you have to pay full price for a few items this week, get the best price you can. If you can fulfill 75% of your food needs for the week with items that are on sale, that's fantastic. Go for 80% next week, and continue until you're in a routine that allows you to eat the sales and eat well at the same time.
Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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