MIAMI (CBS4) – Suzanne Wheeler is the mother of three hungry boys and it shows on her grocery bill.
“I typically spend $300 a week,” explained Wheeler.
Recently, she’s noticed that some of her favorite foods are eating away at her budget.
“Cookies, in the cookie aisle, crackers, those can be pricey. Cereal is also very expensive,” said Wheeler.
Those creeping prices are thanks to inflation.
Ricky Volpe, a research economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said you can expect your grocery basket to cost 2.5% to 3.5% more over the course of this year. And while that inflation rate is considered normal…
“The reason why consumers are experiencing sticker shock is mostly because food prices are already high. We know that they rose a lot in 2011, and we’re not expecting them to come down,” said Volpe.
Inflation is especially hard to swallow for meat and fish. Volpe says prices are up across the board, particularly for beef and veal.
“The inventory of cattle and hogs in the U.S. was reduced quite a bit, and now we have strong and growing demand for these foods, and that’s a recipe for high prices. And there’s no end in sight,” was Volpe’s assessment.
But there are ways to fight back. Jessica Patel with Bankrate.com suggests trying a less expensive cut of beef, or substitution poultry. Also, said Volpe, “You can get canned chicken now and canned fish and things like that, and even frozen fish and frozen meats, that can wind up saving you more.”
Other categories hit hard by inflation include fats and oils, cereal, bakery products and packaged foods.
To save dough, skip pre-portioned goodies and bag your own snacks. Also, look beyond what’s at eye level.
“A lot of times if you’re in a rush you’ll just grab it and go. You can look above or below that eye level and a lot of times find bargains and deals,” said Volpe.
The silver lining is dairy, eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables, where Volpe expects to see smaller increases over 2012, as well as compared to this time last year.
“Vegetables across the board are down.” Volpe pointed out. “Lettuce is down about 21%. Tomatoes are down about 29%.”
Boost your bottom line even more by grabbing what’s in season. Finally, don’t knock tried and true savings strategies.
“Buying in bulk, buying when things are on sale, looking at the local circulars, clipping coupons; they all really help to add up,” reminded Wheeler.
Buying meat in bulk and eating leftovers has paid off for Suzanne.
“I just try to make sure that we finish off what is in the refrigerator.”
Another tip: swing by the bakery on your way to the checkout line. You could find “day-old” rolls, muffins and breads at a discount.