Americans are exhausted, and they have every right to be.
Between the war in Ukraine and our divisive political climate, Americans are feeling the effects of consecutive years of distress. As the pandemic enters a new year, the latest problem plaguing regular people is simple: they can’t afford groceries.
Grocery shopping, which used to be an errand, is now the main event where shoppers must fuse frugality and guile to make their finances last. While the cost of staples like produce, meat, and eggs remains high, many Americans are wondering how long this will last and if smart shopping is the future.
How Did We Get Here?
In the early days of the pandemic, it was normal to arrive at the grocery store only to find it had been cleaned out. Now shoppers are arriving and finding they can’t afford to buy anything.
While it is normal for a grocery store to have 7 to 10 percent of items out of stock, several factors have led to an increase in that number, including the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and extreme weather.
Food prices are on the rise. In fact, they were 9.4% higher in April 2022 than last year, which amounts to the largest increase in 41 years. Unfortunately, gas prices are just as bad. For the first time in history, gas prices have surpassed $4 a gallon in all 50 states.
With inflation resting at 8.3%, Americans fear what comes next. The former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke – who led the financial crisis in 2008 – was openly critical of how the government is handling this crisis. He forecasts “a period in the next year or two where growth is low, unemployment is at least up a little bit, and inflation is still high.”
The Gas Factor: Improving Efficiency and Mileage
Wealth of Geeks spoke with several consumers to learn their tips and tricks for staying fiscally sane in these uncertain times.
“One habit we’re changing to save fuel is to compound our car trips,” says Jeff Neal. He recommends completing all your errands for the week in one trip, including grocery shopping. “Minimizing the number of times we have to leave our driveway has helped minimize the number of miles we add onto our cars, which has reduced our gas consumption,” he says.
John Li – the co-founder and CTO of Fig Loans – recommends walking or biking instead of driving whenever possible, a change that saves money on gas and improves your overall health. And when you do have to drive, there are still ways to save and maximize your money. “By sticking within the speed limit and accelerating and braking gradually, you can improve your fuel economy by up to 30% at highway speeds and 40% in the dreaded stop-and-go traffic,” John explains.
Groceries: Coupons, Sales, and In-Person Shopping
“What’s more effective than using coupons?” asks Gigi Lehman, the editor of Living on the Cheap. Gigi has been helping people live frugally since 2012. Her answer: strategic shopping. She recommends buying sale items in bulk to stretch you until the next time these items are on sale. “If done correctly,” says Gigi, “smart shopping should save you more than buying at full price with coupons.”
She also recommends buying items when they’re in season, including nonperishables. “Even nonperishable products are seasonal,” she says. For example, summer products could include condiments, barbecue sauce, hot dog and hamburger buns, sunscreen, bandaids, and antibiotic spray.
For Justin Gasparovic, the answer to combatting inflation is simple: buy generic. The founder of The Enemy of Average knows just what it takes to be a savvy shopper. “Brand names might be your go-to when shopping, but if you’re willing to stomach not getting your favorite brand name goods to save some money, you should take full advantage,” says Justin.
He also recommends shopping around for the best price before making any purchases, which could mean you spread your grocery shopping across multiple stores.
While the pandemic changed many shopping habits, some financial experts are cautioning consumers against the ease and comfort of online shopping. “If you often buy online, now is the time for a total shopping habit overhaul,” says Scott Lieberman, the owner and founder of Touchdown Money, a financial coaching platform.
“eCommerce is a fantastic convenience for us, but it’s almost too convenient for some,” says Scott. “With one-click checkouts, it’s far easier to make an impulse purchase from the comfort of home without any cash physically leaving your hands.”
To combat the frivolous spending that eCommerce can allow, Scott recommends unsubscribing from mailing lists and limiting time on social media. “Lowering your social media use gives you back more time in your day to readjust your values and prioritize experiences that focus on connection and relaxation rather than consumption,” says Scott. It can also save a lot of money.
The high prices of gasoline and groceries have permeated daily life. Still, resilient Americans everywhere are doing what they need to do to stretch their dollar, and everyone has become a savvy shopper in order to survive.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock.
Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.