The info couldn’t come at a better time. Due to the summer drought in the Midwest, the USDA says inflation on food prices, especially for beef, pork, veal, poultry and eggs, will increase to 3 to 4 percent this first half of this year and that inflation on dairy prices will be 3.5 to 4.5 percent higher. (Normal food inflation is 2.8 percent.) During the second half of the year, the cost of most processed foods is expected to rise as well. The upshot? You’ll be paying more at the grocery store this year unless you hone your shopping skills.
Here are tools Hacker uses to stay on budget consistently despite the rise in food prices.
Make plan-ahead menus. Hacker knows what her family will be eating a whole month ahead of time. “What I’m couponing for now is what we’ll be eating in March,” she says. She plans her monthly menus around what she already has in stock in her freezer and cupboards, then fills in with sale items so she never pays full price. On her stock-up list now: Canned goods. “In February, you’re going to see good deals on canned food items because it’s National Canned Good Month,” she says. To make menu planning easier, Hacker depends on core meals her family doesn’t mind repeating. “My kids would eat tacos every day if I let them, so every week we have tacos of some sort, whether it’s beef tacos or chicken enchiladas or fajitas,” Hacker says.
Get the data. Like keeping a food diary when you’re trying to lose weight, tracking what you spend on groceries makes the numbers real. By writing down how much you spend or keeping a spreadsheet with information from your supermarket receipts, you’ll be able to tell when you’re on budget and whether your couponing efforts are paying off. Hacker developed her own Excel spreadsheet, dubbing it, “the Ultimate Budget Tracker,” which is what she uses to track her spending, her savings and her budget. It’s available for download on her money-saving Website, www.livingonacoupon.com. Another trick: Hacker doesn’t use credit or debit cards. “Using cash at the grocery store makes me a very disciplined shopper because I can’t go over budget,” she says.
Freeze your savings. Hacker goes through six gallons of milk a week at her house and as we know, dairy product prices are on the rise. Uh oh! No worries. “When I find milk on sale, I buy as many I can and freeze it,” Hacker says. You can freeze milk? Yes. “It works well,” Hacker says. She has multiple stand-alone freezers at her house for milk and other sale items.
Use apps to get cash back on groceries. Hacker uses the ibotta app (free, iOS, Android; www.ibotta.com) to earn refunds on the groceries she buys. Here’s how you can do it too: Before shopping, choose the products you think you’re going to buy from the ibotta app and complete the required tasks. (To get 75 cents back on 12-pk of .5 liter Dasani water bottles, for example, I had to read a fact, take a quick quiz and watch a short video.) Then, buy your chosen products at over 35 retailers nationwide, such as CVS, RiteAid, Target and Walgreens. After that, snap a photo of your receipt to verify your purchases. Rebates accumulate in your ibotta account that you can send to a PayPal account or donate to any school in America. “Just in the last week, I made $45 off this program,” Hacker says. She plans to use the money for her March her grocery budget.
Have you ever tried an app such as ibotta that issues rebates on purchases?