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How to Save Money at the Grocery Store When Food Costs a Fortune

Lifehacker logo Lifehacker 4/6/2022 Sarah Showfety
Photo: Stokkete (Shutterstock) © Photo: Stokkete (Shutterstock) Photo: Stokkete (Shutterstock)

In case you haven’t choked on your own gasps after seeing the price of bacon recently: Groceries are expensive right now. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that “food prices increased 7.9% for the year ended February 2022, the largest 12-month advance since July 1981.” That’s the highest rate of consumer inflation in more than 40 years, and—lucky us—we get to buy our food during this historic event.

It doesn’t look like it’s getting better anytime soon. According to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast, food-at-home prices are expected to increase by 3 and 4% by the end of the year. Add surging gas prices, worker shortages, weather-related events, and a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and you’ve got the recipe for many more months (years?) of sticker shock and wallet heartache.

So what’s an average consumer to do? We all know the virtues of buying generic, using coupons and rewards programs, and purchasing items in bulk. While we can’t change the price of milk or chicken, we can pass along a few tips to ease the burden on your wallet.

Grate your own cheese

Many of you may already be doing this. But for the convenience-minded folks who love being able to grab a bag of already-grated cheddar for taco night, this is for you. According to Taste of Home, “an 8 oz block of cheese yields more grated shreds than an 8 oz bag of pre-grated cheese, making it a much better choice for anyone on a budget.”

Bags of shredded cheese also contain additives to prevent clumping in the package—additives that affect how the cheese melts and tastes. (It doesn’t melt together as smoothly as preservative-free cheese.) Bonus? Cheese-grating is a mini-version of arm day at the gym.

Replace paper towels with flour sack towels


Video: Less Stuff, Same Price: How Shrinkflation Is Impacting Your Grocery Trips (Inside Edition)

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Similar to tea towels but thicker and more absorbent, flour sack towels are fantastic for hand-drying, counter-wiping, spill-cleanup, and many other kitchen needs. And unlike paper towels, which need to be replenished regularly, these sturdy 100% cotton substitutions are washable and reusable. This 12-pack of 28x28 towels that can last years is $15.99 on Amazon. (Compare to 12 rolls of paper towels that will be gone in a couple of months for $18.74.)

Cut your own fruit and veggies

It’s time to walk right on past those pre-sliced carrots and perfect portions of fruit salad. First, you’ll get more bang for your buck buying a full-sized melon. For example, on Amazon Prime’s Whole Foods Market, a whole 3-pound organic pineapple is listed at $3.99, while conventional pineapple chunks are $4.99 a pound. Additionally, health and science journalist Max Lugavere outlines the benefits of fresher taste, less risk of contamination from food-borne pathogens, and a lower chance of nutrient loss due to oxidation.

Shop in season

Resist the urge to buy fresh kale and Brussels sprouts in the middle of summer, and blueberries in the dead of winter, as they’ll cost you a pretty penny. Produce bought in season will be in plentiful supply, lowering its cost. When food is out-of-season, you’re paying for it to be stored and transported from wherever it’s grown. (In-season fruits and vegetables will also taste better and be more nutritious.)

Start a small at-home garden

We recently wrote about the cost savings of growing your own produce at home. While there are initial setup investments (soil, fertilizer, tools) and ongoing costs (like water) to consider, growing your own tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, beans, herbs, berries, and squash can yield significant savings over time.

Rethink dinner

If you favor hot, home-cooked, nutritionally-balanced meals every night, that’s great. But it might be time to loosen some of those standards. Every meal need not have every food group represented. Designate a few nights a week for “mini-dinners” that require less effort and cash to prepare. Instead of fajitas with all the fixins, how about omelets, soup, salad, or frozen pierogis with sour cream? If you happen to be shuttling children around to various sports and music lessons, a PB&J with an apple on the side will do just fine. And it’s a lot cheaper than chicken broccoli casserole, which, let’s face it, they don’t want, anyway.

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