As American households face rising costs to cover basic needs, consumers are looking to save on their grocery bills any way they can.
According to the latest inflation data, the price of groceries rose 12.2% nationally in June from a year ago, the fastest pace since April 1979.
Soaring food prices played a major role in pushing headline inflation to 9.1% for the month, a four-decade high.
Meanwhile, a recent study found that 61% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and the burden of rising food and gas prices is pushing many family budgets to the limit. .
Discount chains, including dollar stores, have seen a huge surge in grocery sales as shoppers try to stretch their paychecks throughout the month and keep food on the table.
Here, DailyMail.com offers suggestions on how to find healthy but cheaper substitutes for common groceries, based on an analysis of national average retail prices from the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce.
DailyMail.com offers ideas for cheaper substitutes for common groceries, based on an analysis of national average retail prices
Shoppers can also often save money by selecting fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season in the area where they live, reducing shipping costs and taking advantage of the most abundant produce.
Tips for savvy buyers
- Buy seasonal products
- Compare prices per ounce
- Check Private Label Alternatives
- Sign up for free loyalty programs
- Avoid pre-sliced or prepared items
- Stick to a shopping list or order ahead online to stay on budget
The USDA maintains a handy seasonal produce list to help consumers choose fruits and vegetables for each season.
Another key tip is to compare unit prices of packaged products, listing the price per ounce.
With “shrinkflation” on the rise, many manufacturers are stealthily reducing their portion sizes without cutting prices.
Comparing unit prices – the cost per ounce or per gram – can reveal which choice is actually the better deal.
Most cost-conscious shoppers also know to check store-brand alternatives for packaged items like cereal and crackers.
Although stores put branded items at eye level to attract shoppers’ attention, most grocery chains have their own store brands that are of similar quality, but at a lower price, on store shelves. down.
Many stores also have a section with discounted bakery items that will soon expire, although they are sometimes tucked away in an inconspicuous corner at the back of the main bakery section.
Another money-saving tip is to go for the least pre-processed item. You pay more for each cutting and packaging step.
For example, a block of cheese will cost less than a pack of pre-cut slices, and whole broccoli heads are cheaper than a bag of pre-cut florets.
Additionally, most grocery store chains offer loyalty programs that are free to join and automatically offer discounts at checkout without the need to cut coupons.
And when it comes to cutting coupons, be judicious. Discounts on items you normally buy can save you money, but avoid the temptation to expand your shopping list just to take advantage of a discount.
US inflation hit 9.1% in June, highest since 1981
Consumer advocates say one of the best ways to shop on a budget is to make a shopping list and stick to it.
Many stores also offer the ability to order groceries online for in-store pickup at no additional cost, as long as the order is of a certain size.
Shoppers who order ahead can carefully plan their grocery list to ensure it stays within their budget and won’t be tempted to splurge on other items once they hit the store.
Inflation is the main problem for 24% of Americans, according to a YouGov poll released last week. Rising prices were far ahead of the second priority, jobs and the economy, at 12%.
Experts blame inflation on everything from supply chain problems to the impact of war in Ukraine on food and energy markets. Still, high prices have undoubtedly hurt President Joe Biden’s approval rating, which has plummeted to around 37%.
Meanwhile, more and more Americans are turning to discount chains to find groceries on a budget, including dollar stores that often don’t carry fresh produce.
Grocery sales at discount stores soared 71% between October 2021 and June 2022, analytics firm InMarket found, while sales of the same items at grocery stores fell 5%.
San Antonio resident Lily Penelope recently told the Wall Street Journal how her family began to depend on a local Dollar General for groceries, eating mostly canned chicken, peanut butter and vegetables from the store.
Penelope, 26, is unable to drive due to a disability and can no longer afford both the cost of food from the local grocery store and the cost of an Uber to get there. Previously, the total for such a trip was around $120, they said, but since January that cost has nearly doubled.
Customers shop at a Dollar Tree in Chicago. According to a spokesperson for the chain, 16,162 of their stores carry frozen food, as well as sugar-free groceries, whole-wheat options, milk and eggs.
DailyMail.com has researched the prices of everyday items and calculated how much they would cost if inflation remained at the Federal Reserve’s 2% target rate – not the meteoric rises we saw last year – to find out how much additional consumers are currently paying
“My health and the quality of my life have declined,” Penelope said, “I’m in a position where I have to choose between cooking meals I can afford and putting my health on the line.”
The nearest Dollar General to Penelope does not sell fresh produce, a problem many people across the country face when they turn to dollar stores for help.
Of the more than 18,000 Dollar General stores nationwide, only about 2,300 sell fresh produce, which the store said it is working to improve but does not expect to see realized for “several years”.
“While Dollar General is not a full-service grocer, we see ourselves as today’s general store by providing convenient, affordable access to everyday household essentials, including the components of a nutritious meal” , said a spokesperson. She added that the company plans to stock fresh produce in 10,000 locations over the next few years.
Until then, consumers will have to depend on their options of canned, canned and, if they have them, frozen goods. Although these products are less healthy, customers are willing to put up with these inconveniences for the price.
“Everything there is super-duper sweet,” Phoenix Kamlo, 41, told the Wall Street Journal, “But it’s close, and it’s cheap.”
Dollar Tree echoed Dollar General’s sentiment that they never intended to be grocery stores for their customers and instead were meant to complement more robust grocery options.
According to a spokesperson for the chain, 16,162 of their stores carry frozen food, as well as sugar-free groceries, whole-wheat options, milk and eggs.