GILBERT, Ariz. -- You may have noticed your grocery bill going up, and that's not your imagination. Everything from potatoes to salad mix is costing more. But there are a few ways to save your hard-earned money.
The food groups seeing the biggest increase in price are meat and dairy. That's according to the latest survey by the Arizona Farm Bureau. According to that survey, Arizona's food prices have increased five percent compared to last year, and there's been a 3.5 percent increase across the U.S. since last year.
"For families on a fixed income that's a concern," said Julie Murphree with the Arizona Farm Bureau. "Federal forecasters are telling us they estimate it's going to average about 3.5 percent in terms of food inflation for this year."
Sirloin roast showed the largest price increase, up 81 cents from last quarter. "What happens is our cattle ranchers have to pull back on the size of their herds,” said Murphree.
She said the drought has tightened supply, but there is some good news. Of the 16 items surveyed in Arizona, eight decreased compared to last quarter including chicken breast down 40 cents, and apples, down 27 cents.
Murphree said although some of your favorite food groups, meat and dairy, have the largest price increases, there's a way to keep them on your grocery list. Shoppers like Lisa Hare had some tips to stay on budget. "You have to shop deals and pay attention to where your money is going," she said.
Hare said she has three kids and goes grocery shopping at least once a week. "You wait for things to go on sale and just look for the coupon ads and make sure you have your club card at whichever store you’re shopping at,” she said.
Arizona Farm Bureau’s 18 Money Saving Tips to Stretch Your Food Dollars:
1. Sort your pantry and organize to clearly know what’s available. This should be a regular effort in order to make sure you’re using everything you have, not buying unnecessary items and can determine what you really need.
2. Create a week-long menu. From the planned menu create your shopping list based on local grocery store circulars you receive in the mail or newspaper.
3. When planning your menu, think of ways to maximize the use of the “Stretch Your Food Dollar” menu as a springboard to create your own menu. Gather ideas for meals based on the items down in price from Arizona Farm Bureau’s “Stretch Your Dollar” menus on fillyourplate.org. Let the Farm Bureau’s menus inspire your creativity!
4. You’ve created the list; stick to it. If you can stick to your list, you’ll curb impulse spending on items you don’t really need.
5. Don’t shop on an empty stomach. Studies suggest you might spend 10 to 15 percent more on your food bill when you’re hungry.
6. Don’t take the kids grocery shopping. As with an empty stomach, kids can influence your impulse shopping.
7. Stick to the basics. While basic food items like dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables can sometimes seem expensive, you’re gaining more value per unit and certainly more health benefits. The fewer processed food items you purchase, the more you’ll save.
8. Regularly survey the weekly grocery store circulars. This will build your knowledge of prices for products you regularly use and give you a sense of which grocery stores tend to have the lowest prices. Take advantage of weekly advertised specials, especially for nonperishable staples.
9. Be wary of the coupon trap. Use coupons only for those items you normally buy. Don’t let coupons cost you money by buying items you don’t really need. A sale has no value to you if it means you’re spending beyond your budget. Do take advantage of “ad-matching” since lots of savings can be found here.
10. Assess the unit price. This shopping tool lets you compare prices between brands and between sizes. Located on a shelf tag in front of the product, it provides costs in like units for the item. Generally, information is given in cost per ounce, per pound or per count.
11. Shop the edges of the store, and if items at the ends of the aisles reflect a super deal buy. As aisle-end items are dramatically marked down, they might be a valuable substitute on your grocery list. But they’re budget busters if they become purchased food items you don’t use in your food preparation.
12. Use grocery store club cards; also compare prices to store brands. Store club cards can generate great savings. Plus, while you might love a certain brand, also compare a popular brand to the store brand for price comparisons and possible savings.
13. Peak season is prime time to buy fresh produce. The peak of the harvest for fresh fruits and vegetables offers you the best prices and the best quality. Take advantage of this and buy often. To always know what’s in season, go to fillyourplate.org and select the tab “Arizona Produce in Season.”
14. When not buying fresh, consider buying frozen. Most frozen vegetables are picked fresh, immediately flash frozen, are less expensive and will keep longer.
15. Buy in bulk, but don’t buy more than you will use. Bigger is not always better. Larger-sized packages usually cost less on a per-unit basis. But it’s not a better buy if it’s too large to use before it becomes stale or spoiled.
16. Move in on “family pack” savings. Meat departments often have a section that offers larger-sized packages at cents-off-per-pound savings. Repackage these larger sizes into smaller quantities at home and freeze.
17. Be flexible at the meat and produce counters. This is one area to be flexible with your list. This allows you to take advantage of unadvertised “in store” specials and switch from one item to another.
18. Use open dating codes,especially on perishables to maximize shelf life at home. Open dating is used on perishable and semi-perishable products to let you know at a glance if the product is fresh. Most stores use a “pull date” – the last day the item is offered for sale. This still allows a few days for using at home. For stores that use a “pack date,” especially with meats, inquire how long the product will remain fresh at home