Picking A Fight With Food Inflation

For many families, food is one of their largest expense categories.  And you’ve no doubt noticed that food prices have been on the rise.

It’s obvious to me that there are fewer discounted items at the grocery store these days.  And, when I reached for a can of one of my favorite brands of coffee recently, which was promoted with what looked like a nice discount, it didn’t take long to realize that the can had shrunk (Consumer Reports has chronicled the incredible shrinking container in everything from dish soap to hot dogs and from orange juice to ice cream).

So, getting a good deal today means being especially vigilant about cost per ounce or cost per count comparisons, along with all of the other typical tactics for maximizing your grocery dollars like following the advice of super couponers, buying store brands, and using a list.

But there is one money-saving move that’s especially worth putting into practice in these inflationary times: cherry picking.  That’s where you buy the marked-down milk at one store, the bargain bologna at another, and the super saver sugar at a third.

It’s Not Worth My Time – Or Is It?

The common complaint about cherry picking is that it takes too much time to visit all those stores.  But a well-designed research study conducted at the Wharton School of Business a number of years ago concluded that it is, in fact, worth our time to cherry pick, especially if we follow two key guidelines.

First, the item must be something we need anyway.

Second, we stock up on the item.  So, while it may be worth our time to cherry-pick perishables like milk, it works best for non-perishables.

Advanced Cherry-Picking Tactics

Here are two other guidelines that I recommend.  First, be disciplined about buying what you set out to buy.  Of course, the reason retailers mark items down is to draw shoppers into their stores with the assumption that they’ll pick up plenty of non-bargains as well.

And second, make sure you don’t let marketers get the last laugh.  While we often think we’re getting a great deal when we buy the huge “value” size, marketers know that when we buy the jumbo crate of cookies or anything else, we tend to consume more of the item per usage occasion than when we buy the smaller package size.  The same principle can easily apply to stocking up.

So, use a list to cherry-pick the items you’d buy anyway and stock up.  Then keep all the extras out of sight until you need them.

What other tactics are you using to deal with food inflation?

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5 Responses to Picking A Fight With Food Inflation

  1. Martha June 21, 2011 at 12:17 AM #

    Today I purchased a package of chicken thighs which were originally $6.24, for 50% off! I shop the “clearance” section’s, as well as look for items with last day expiration dates. Because I’m only buying for one, I can do this every 3 days. I only buy what I can consume in those 3 days. I’m careful in choosing though! Works for me.

  2. Matt Bell June 20, 2011 at 8:49 PM #

    Thanks for the comments, Steve, Scott, and Daniel. Great points.

    Scott, the cow idea isn’t actually too far fetched. I don’t know about keeping one in the backyard, but I’ve heard of people who buy a share of a cow and how that can save a lot on the cost of meat.

    Daniel, I hear ya on the organic issue. We have gotten in the habit of buying certain organics based on Consumer Report’s advice — see their recommendations here under Food. Our kids go through a lot of milk and we buy organic, which costs about $6 a gallon. So, we need to be vigilant about saving in other areas.

  3. Daniel R. Carlson June 20, 2011 at 6:44 PM #

    Another good article for saving money. I believe at the same time you need to be aware of the huge amounts of GM (genetically modified)products in processed foods. We have been advised as well to only buy USDA organic cetified products. One pays a higher price for those products, but the quality of those products should also be better and the flavor on much of it is certainly superior.

    Thanks for your articles. They are a blessing to many.

  4. Scott June 20, 2011 at 4:45 PM #

    Good Article Matt,
    I personally don’t “cherry-pick”. I find that the cost of gas in my vehicle out weighs any savings.
    As we do not have a huge pantry, we can only handle two -three weeks of groceries. My number one rule is that I do not by most items unless they are on sale. Most things run in cycles and though we may have to do without for awhile , when things are on sale I am not afraid to stock up.
    We also started making our own bread (in a bread maker) over a year ago. We make buns and treats as well ! No one in our family would go back to store bought bread . Cereal is a treat , and only when it is 2.25 or less per 15 oz. or bigger box.
    As for coffee, we go with organic (whatever is on sale) as the price is not that far from the regular stuff and it is so much better (maybe a luxury item here !).
    If we could find a place for a dairy cow , I am ready to milk one ! Dairy is our biggest expense by far.
    Keep up the exciting articles . Your writing draws my attention on every update .

  5. Steve Roblee June 20, 2011 at 11:24 AM #

    One thing to watch is the price per ounce. We often think that larger packages are less expensive. However, when calculating the price per ounce, if it’s not shown on the shelves, larger packages are often more expensive on a unit cost than smaller sizes. This is especially true for cereals, laundry detergent, salsa, ketchup, and other items where the same product is offered in a variety of sizes. It’s almost impossible to compare the value of one brand or package of toilet and facial tissues, paper towels, etc, since the number of sheets is pretty meaningless. You need to use three towels rather than one, the less expensive towels are actually more expensive. So experience from use is an important factor in our purchasing decision.

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