I went to the dollar store last week for some party supplies, and guess how much each item rang up at the register? One dollar… and twenty-five cents. That 25% hike is just the tip of our current economic iceberg. Consumers are getting hammered by soaring inflation rates to the tune of 8.6% as of June 2022, the highest in 40 years. Our money simply doesn’t go as far as it used to, and we don’t just mean since we were kids. We’re comparing prices to last summer. Everything has gotten more expensive, even since 2021.
Why are prices so high?
“Prices have jumped in the past year due to a number of factors,” according to finance writers Octavio Blanco and Penelope Wang for Consumer Reports. “[This includes] billions of dollars in government stimulus spending, sharply higher consumer demand, Covid-related bottlenecks in the supply chain, and more recently, the impact of war in Ukraine on energy supplies.” We’re in the perfect financial storm.
That’s why we’ve assembled 19 ways your family can still squeeze the most out of your money right now, with tips beyond the usual advice to just cut back, especially when necessities like food and energy have both surged.
How to save on your grocery budget
Thanks to employee shortages and supply issues around the world, the grocery store is wild right now. According to Nick Holeman, director of financial planning at robo-adviser Betterment, apples, bananas and bacon are up 6.6%, 4.2% and 16.3% (respectively) from last year, and citrus fruit surged to 18.6%.
Go big on frozen fruit and veggies
Jennifer Anderson MSPH RDN, who heads up the popular Kids Eat In Color Instagram account, says produce is frozen at the peak of freshness, locking in nutrients and keeping all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, colors and more. In fact, frozen produce may be healthier since it’s more convenient and therefore more likely to add to foods. Try these recipes that start with frozen veggies and fruit:
Have a loose idea of a grocery list with the flexibility to create a menu around what’s on sale
Rather than going to the store with a set list, take note of discounts on everything from chicken thighs to fresh cabbage and cook accordingly. Think “protein” rather than, say, “turkey,” and be prepared to mix and match. Have a couple of recipes in mind, and don’t forget that many are flexible enough to make it work with different ingredients.
Substitute mushrooms, beans and legumes for meat, or use meat as a garnish
When bacon costs 16.3% more than it did a year ago, according to Holeman, it makes sense to use less. For example, got a favorite pasta sauce that calls for a pound of ground beef? Try swapping out half the meat for a veggie alternative like mushrooms or black beans minced in a food processor. You’ll save money, and create a healthy meal your family will love. Try these:
Always use the loyalty card
Never skip this step. And while we’re at it, store brand products are almost always at least as good as those national brands. The only difference is the price.
Take whatever you have from last night’s dinner and give it a new spin: A little BBQ chicken becomes tomorrow’s quesadillas. That cup of salmon makes a good frittata later in the week. Roasted veggies can be popped into fluffy pre-made biscuit dough for super easy pizza pockets.
Shop at alternative stores like Aldi, dollar stores and drugstores
They often have great deals on staples like condiments, crackers, nuts and produce at Aldi especially.
We all need a break from cooking sometimes, but restaurants don’t have to crush your budget. Here are three ways to save money while eating out:
Stick with water
At anywhere from two to 20 dollars a pop, drinks and cocktails can add up quickly, while water is not only free but something most of us should drink more of anyway.
Look for “kids eat free” deals
These are often on slower days of the week and an early hour, both perfect for serving families with young kids.
Scan the menu ahead of time
Don’t get caught off guard with sticker shock. Take a peek at the choices to see if there’s something in your price range before you get to the restaurant.
How to save money on family shopping purchases
Even in times of high inflation, family life goes on, and it usually costs money! Here’s how to save:
Kids’ Clothes & Gear
- Make second hand your first choice. Since kids grow out of clothes, toys, and especially baby gear so quickly, it’s easy to find great deals on gently-used times at places like Goodwill or Facebook Marketplace (where I recently bought four pairs of kids’ hiking boots for less than $80 total).
- Utilize hand-me-downs from friends and family. It’s possible to literally inherit a whole season’s wardrobe from the trunk of a minivan. That’s where my son gets most of his clothes, from my friend with a son who is three years older. He LOVES combing through every box and my friend’s son is tickled every time he sees my little guy wearing one of his pieces.
- Shop for quality. Kids’ clothes may be fairly inexpensive these days, but no one wants cheap pants that rip the first time their knees graze the dirt. Pants with reinforced knees last longer. Shoes need to last in order to be good value, so read reviews and don’t be afraid to splurge, particularly if you have another sibling who can wear them too.
- Try “Buy Nothing” Facebook groups in your area. Ours is always hopping with tons of items that people simply want out of their homes. Someone’s decluttering project can be your opportunity to score anything from mini chairs to shoes, brand new diapers, and more. Just act fast because things are scooped up in a snap.
How to keep your family finances strong
Inflation means your money doesn’t go as far as it did but experts say there are a few steps that could still help solidify your financial standing.
Contribute your company’s 401K match
It sounds counterintuitive because you might want (or need) more cash in hand, but in the long run, saving money is still important for your life goals, including retirement. If your company offers a 6% match, for example, contribute at least 6% to your 401K, so you’ll get 12. That’s free money!
Pay attention to fuel efficiency
Time to stop speeding and slamming on the brakes. The U.S. Department of Energy says that every 5 miles drivers travel above 50 mph on the highway costs about an extra 22 cents per gallon in gas. Your car also runs more efficiently when you drive smoothly (without quick acceleration or breaking at the last second). Lastly, plan your route to save money. With gas prices hovering near an average of five dollars a gallon, according to Vox, it pays to cluster your errands right now.
How to save on big summer expenses
Substitute out-of-town trips for local experiences
Airfare is wildly expensive right now (up 25% from 2021, per CNBC), but that’s not true for sporting events and movies. Swapping travel plans for nearby adventures will save you big, while still providing memories.
Have realistic expectations about buying a car
Experts say the best you can hope for while negotiating a new (or used) car right now is a fair deal. Do shop around, but don’t hold out for a great deal, which might not be feasible in this market.
Consider buying other big ticket items, though
Appliances have kept a steep sticker price for the past couple of years, but right now there’s an oversupply. Manufacturers and big stores like Walmart misjudged consumers’ interest in buying up new dishwashers, washing machines and dryers, say Blanco and Wong. You might be able to find good deals if you act fast.
Don’t wait for a housing bubble to burst
That’s what John Reed says for Next Advisor, in partnership with Time Magazine. Today’s high home prices aren’t about banks overextending themselves (and their customers) through risky loans. Millennials are in a peak life stage for buying homes and with the Covid-related losses in everything from lumber to construction workers, builders simply can’t keep up with the demand. This isn’t expected to change any time soon. So, if you have your eye on a home and the budget to not only cover the mortgage, but also the extra maintenance expenses, now is as good a time as any.