My sister in Canada announces happily, “I discovered a great new method to save on groceries!”
“What is it?” I ask eagerly.
“You have to look at the price before buying!”
“And nothing. That’s the method.”
We are the kind of people who even when we were poor never looked at food prices. Food is sacred. We get what we need and forget about it. But grocery prices are so wacky these days that even we learned to become observant.
7 thoughts on “Inflation Lessons”
We worked out our current grocery costs for this month. Two-thirds more than we were paying for groceries two years ago. Even though I knew, in my head, that grocery prices had gone up, and we were paying more for them, we were still completely stumped about why our budget wasn’t working out, even though our income has gone up, and our utility and gasoline expenses have gone down slightly. Now we know! It was still a bit of a shock.
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TL:DR: My husband got a substantial raise, we’re buying 1/4 of the gasoline we used to, now that we live in town, and all of those gains have been eaten by the rise in food prices. We are running just to stand still.
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“We are running just to stand still.”
Welcome to neoliberalism…. those who benefit from it hate you. Guaranteed.
I’m the same way, but I also automatically buy the store brand of any given item, so it balances out.
When my husband was working himself half to death to support six people on one income, I was extremely price-conscious, always shopping with a calculator in hand so I could compare the price-per-ounce of various things, and keeping a running total of the value of everything in my cart so I wouldn’t get to the checkout and discover there wasn’t enough money in my checking account to cover everything. Now that we’re empty nesters, I no longer need to look at prices or worry about whether I’ll be able to afford the stuff in my cart (I mostly worry about whether I’ll be able to get everything on my list, or whether something on it has become the latest victim of supply-chain disruptions). But old habits die hard, and I still find myself reflexively comparing different brands to see which is the better deal, and — like everyone else — being horrified at the prices of things. As a child I rolled my eyes at old geezers kvetching about how much cheaper things were in the old days. Now I have become one of them.
This is essentially the Metropolitan London shopping experience brought here to the US.
Whether you go to Lidl, Aldi, Iceland, Tesco, Sainsbury, or Waitrose doesn’t matter for the quality of certain kinds of goods, but it matters hugely in terms of what you’ll pay for them.
Because there’s a certain social class associated with those brand names (from lowest to highest, in case you didn’t clue in yet), many people won’t shop outside their social comfort zone.
And so when you are not a class snob and shop on price and quality, what you do may surprise some people.
Such as the part-time housekeeper at the last place I had in the UK, who I gave £100 in gift cards to Waitrose, mostly because I felt like I needed to give her something in addition to the entire contents of what was left of my pantry, plus that was my last stop for the day.
The initial reaction was absolute shock: But Waitrose Is Expensive, how could I shop there, it’s only for posh snobs, they won’t have anything I’ll want, and so on.
“No, you don’t understand, those little steaks I make for breakfast? Three for £8 at Waitrose.”
“That’s cheaper than Tesco.”
“Yeah, and also aircon there works, plus the Overground drops you off a short walk from it.”
So it may now not be so much of a surprise that one of the places where we pick up eggplant dips (ajvar, lutenica, or ikra) for flatbreads is Big Lots.
It’s exactly the same stuff, exactly the same brand in fact, as what we pick up in Orlando or Jacksonville, but it costs a lot less at Big Lots in part because they’re not making any unusual effort to sell it quickly (or at all, actually).
Even something as simple as jugs of cane sugar crystals can come with a huge price variance between shops: at Winn-Dixie, that’s nearly $7, but it’s under $4 at Walmart.
If we’re not picky about the container, there’s an East Indies shop we’ll hit where we can get over twice that weight of cane sugar crystals in a thick plastic pouch for $5.
Consistent and competitive pricing is right out the window here in the US.
If you’re not price shopping, you’re getting gamed according to your social status comfort level.
Our problem is that we’re already doing all these things. Sigh. Here, Aldi’s the cheapest place for yogurt and fresh produce. Walmart’s where we go for meat and all staple items like peanut butter, flour, tomato paste, pasta, and eggs. We’ve found cheaper places to buy milk but for some reason the milk from Walmart doesn’t expire as quickly, so anywhere else we buy one gallon, and at WM we buy two or three. Publix is too expensive to contemplate, and I’m not an aggressive enough shopper to take proper advantage of Winn Dixie’s BOGO sales (because anything that’s not on sale there… is cheaper at Walmart). Now that we’re all moved and settled in, I need to find out if there’s a local bulk-purchasing co-op like the one I used to belong to, so I can go back to purchasing flour, oats, raisins, and beans in 5-50 lb bags.
The local Pakistani and Viet groceries are the only places to buy spices and seasonings, excepting stuff like chili powder which we use in such large quantities that we simply order online by the pound.
It looks like we are going to have to go back to the way we cooked and shopped some years back, when we were scary broke and had to treat things like plain yogurt and sour cream as luxury items– only purchase once a month, no matter when we ran out. Cook more eggs, lentils and rice. This week I improvised fritters out of the cold leftover oatmeal. Weirdly, the kids actually liked them. So I guess we’ll do that more often.