It’s not your imagination: Groceries cost more now than they did before the pandemic.
Food prices overall have risen 4.6% since September 2020, according to data released Wednesday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change paid by consumers for goods and services, rose 5.4% from a year earlier, slightly above August’s 5.3% increase. This pushed annual inflation back to the highest rise in 13 years.
Meats, poultry, fish, and eggs had the largest increase with a combined increase of 10.5%.
According to a recent IMF survey, also known as the Food Industry AssociationEven with increases in grocery prices, average household spending has held steady at $143 a week, which is down from $161 at the height of the pandemic in March and April 2020.
►Save better, spend better: Money tips and advice delivered right to your inbox. sign up here
►Don’t wait until Black Friday to start your holiday shopping: Here’s why you need to buy now.
And buyers are feeling the price increases, particularly with myriad product shortages and widespread supply chain disruptions, Andy Harig, the IMF’s vice president for taxes, trade and sustainability, recently told USA TODAY.
“We tend to have very low food price inflation in the United States,” Harig said. “If you look at the last 20 or 30 years, it’s pretty consistent.”
And yet, even though everything from meat to milk to bread costs more, it’s still possible to save money.
“Consumers don’t have much control here, and there aren’t many easy ways to save on groceries when prices are going up pretty much across the board,” Kristin McGrath, shopping expert and editor of the deals website. RetailMeNottold USA TODAY.
Instead, there are buying strategies. Here are three ways to cut costs.
Buy store brands to save
Private labels have gained popularity in recent years and no longer carry the stigma they once did when they were considered more generic.
Target added its largest food brand, Good & Gather, in 2019 and has continued to add new products. Trader Joe’s and discount supermarket Aldi are well known for selling more products under their own private labels than store brands.
“You often see lower prices and a lot of quality there,” Harig said.
►Social Security 2022:Rising cost of living will boost benefits 5.9% in 2022, the most since 1982 amid rising COVID-19-related inflation
►Grocery prices 2021:Food prices are rising amid worker shortages, supply chain issues, extreme weather and more
Buy in bulk, stock
Buying in bulk at Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale can reduce the number of shopping trips and lower costs.
Sometimes, though, it means large packages of food, so buying food in bulk is often better for large families or those with an extra freezer and storage. It also means fewer toilet paper throws.
Wholesale clubs aren’t immune to inflation, though Costco hasn’t increased the price of its rotisserie chicken, which is holding steady at $4.99.
Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer, said on a Sept. 23 call with analysts that despite increases in transportation costs, the retailer “chose to hold, delay and/or mitigate some of the price increases in this increasingly inflationary environment in recent months.”
Not everyone will want to join a wholesale club to save money. McGrath suggests stocking up at budget stores like Aldi and looking at sale prices in weekly flyers for buy one get one free sales.
“Buying things that are BOGO priced and freezing them if possible can save you money on next week’s grocery shopping, if not this week’s,” he said.
►Buy at Costco?:These 3 tips will allow you to get the best deals and the biggest discounts.
►McDonald’s Teacher Gift:McDonald’s is giving teachers “Thank You” meals with free breakfast this week. How to get the gift.
Use cashback apps like Ibotta, rewards programs
Saving money can come in different forms. Some will clip paper coupons or printable coupons, but another option is to earn cash back on everyday purchases.
One of the most popular cash back apps is Ibotta, a free shopping app that makes it easy to save on most trips to the grocery store, online purchases, gift cards, and even alcoholic beverages in some states.
What sets Ibotta apart from rewards programs like CVS ExtraCare is that you can use it in person at multiple stores, including Target, Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and online at Amazon, Kohl’s, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Macy’s and more. .
The app also offers savings when shopping with on-demand grocery delivery programs like Instacart and Shipt, as well as online orders from Walmart, Target and Kroger.
Ibotta CEO and founder Bryan Leach said there are plans to make cash back more seamless with an expanded partnership with Walmart next year.
Fetch Rewards is another cashback app, but you can also save using retail apps like Target’s Target Circle loyalty program.
►Saving money is hard:How Ibotta makes it easier to get discounts and earn cash on groceries, travel and more
►Christmas 2021 shipping times:FedEx, UPS and USPS say these are the last days to send gifts
Contributing: Associated Press