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Today, the US Department of Agriculture brought more bad news to consumers with its annual analysis of food cost increases. According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the USDA sees prices going up on, well, everything: beef's up 1.1 percent; eggs are up 1.9 percent; and fish/seafood and dairy products are up 0.9 percent.
About the only thing catching a break is fresh fruit, which saw a 0.3 percent drop. (Sadly, veggies are up one percent.) Your Money tapped Teri Gault, founder of the excellent deals site The Grocery Game, to find out four things shoppers can do to offset rising costs. Hint: it's all in the planning.
1. Ditch the typical grocery list. Gault says too many consumers make the mistake of treating food like a cheap commodity rather than an investment. "We're not doomed to pay full price for everything we consume," she says. And she's right: running to the store to replenish whatever you've run out of almost always means you'll pay full price for it as everything's not on sale all the time.
"Instead of letting running out of food trigger the purchase, let the sales trigger when you shop," says Gault. "Every single thing goes on sale once every 12 weeks," so everything short of dairy and produce can be bought as an investment — if you're sure that you'll eat it.
Find sales by checking weekly circulars online and in-store — you can find them near the entrance — and on GroceryGame.com, where Gault says most of the deals are unadvertised.
2. Bigger doesn't mean better. Items typically come in three sizes — small, medium, and large, says Gault. But bigger doesn't always mean better value. Choose the item with the lowest cost per unit; chances are it will be medium-sized.
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3. Go for store brands. We're not talking generics — the supermarket's private label actually competes with no-name products since they offer great value at a reasonable price, says Gault. When they go on sale, it's practically a steal. Can't bear to part with your name brand? The only way you'll beat the store brand on price is with a coupon.
4. Shop "high-low" stores' sales. Grocers fall into two categories: "high-low" chains like Ralphs and Albertsons and Every Day Low Price (EDLP) stores like Dollar Tree and Dollar General. Gault, who lives in California, has "parallel shopped" at a Ralphs and Food For Less and found that despite their fancy digs, Ralphs still beats Food For Less on price — when she shops the sales.
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