Is that the dullest title or what? Nevertheless I've been looking forward to writing this article for the better part of 6 months. And by 'looking forward,' let me clarify that I do not mean with eagerness, but rather with great interest.
I realized in the middle of the year last year that one of the advantages of obsessively tracking the costs of my food was that I noticed how much things were jumping. Some things, of course, have merely fluctuated, so I thought it would be the most fair to compare January to January (truth be told, it might even be fairer to compare March to March because I do feel there's the occasional leftover bit of something in January that hasn't cleared out from the year before whose price will jump as soon as it does).
Here are some staples we commonly eat with the 2011 price versus 2012 price as well as the store where I regularly purchase it. Most are pantry items or items that don't quickly perish, though I did include some seasonal produce (which has remained surprisingly stable, though perhaps that's just an Aldi thing) to keep it real. I do wish I could have done a graph for you, but my computer skills push my brain to the limit as is.
Here is how it will look:
Product: 2011 price/2012 price (store).
Eggs: 1.29/.79 (Aldi--much cheaper this year and has been for over a month now--not sure why)
Cocoa: 1.99/2.29 (Aldi)
Whole Wheat Flour: 2.76/3.38 (Walmart)
White flour: 1.19/1.19 (Aldi. It was actually 1.09 today, but that was a sale price. It should be noted that it went up more in the middle of the year as well.)
Milk: 1.99/1.99 (Aldi)
Peter Pan Peanut Butter, 80 oz.: 8.74/13.68 (Walmart and, yes, ouch)
GV applesauce: 1.50/1.64 (Walmart)
GV 1 lb pasta 1.00/1.08 (Walmart)
butter, 1 lb 1.99/1.99 (Aldi. Price is higher in middle of year.)
Tuna: .49/.59 (Aldi)
Tomato Sauce, the tiniest one: .25/.29 (Aldi)
Honey Nut Cereal: 1.59/1.59
Yogurt, 32 oz.: 1.59/1.99
Generic Saltine Crackers: .79/.89 (Aldi)
Sugar, 5 lb: 2.49/2.19 (Aldi. I expect the price to go up soon; it was about 2.69 before December, but hasn't gone back done yet--in fact this one might get thrown out of the lineup because I fear we're comparing a "seasonal" price to a non-seasonal one.)
GV tomato puree: 1.36/1.48 (Walmart)
Cream: 1.59/1.89 (Aldi)
Cabot Sharp cheddar, 2 lb: 7.86/9.38 Walmart
And some seasonal produce, just to give a sampling of some fresh stuff:
Oranges, 4 lb: 1.49/1.49
apples, 3 lb: 2.99/2.99 (Aldi. They are on sale this week, but I'm counting what's been normal for the last little while)
$44.43 for 2011 versus $52.69 for 2012 for a difference of $8.26, which is a difference of 18 %.
Wow. (To be accurate and thorough, I tried these costs without the peanut butter jump as it has jumped so very much that it was labeled by my accountant sister an "outlier." Without the PB, there was only a 6.6% increase. This is still a notable increase, though not as shocking. However, outlier or not, I feel it's somewhat fair to include it because I don't anticipate the cost going down soon and some of these outliers--am I even spelling this right--are what our kicking our food budget butts. In fact, it's these outliers that we need to watch out for so that we can make appropriate adjustments in our budgets (buy them at bulk stores or really stock up when there is a sale).
-All of our Walmart staples have gone up, while only some of our Aldi staples have.
-Peanut butter--good gracious. I plan to have a look at Sam's when I go with my January "visitor" coupon.
-Wheat--good gracious also, but not nearly so much good gracious
What to Do?
18% is not a number to laugh at. However, as noted above, part of the reason for that is that an outlier (a food item that has increased significantly more than the norm) is what has caused much of that jump. In our case, this is peanut butter. Maybe for you it's pine nuts. Whatever the culprit may be, it's our job as consumers to pinpoint some of those outliers (big jumpers) and try to find them for lower costs--perhaps at a different store or on sale or or in a decent generic version or on amazon.com or by hunting down some coupons and stocking up. It's frustrating to see our grocery bill steadily climb, but grabbing at chances to decrease those big ticket items is going to get us a lot further than stressing over the $.10 increase in tuna fish.
If you really can't find them cheaper, you'll have to eat the cost or adjust what you eat in general. In our case that might mean less peanut butter sandwiches, breakfast cookies and straight up scoops out of the jar (say it isn't so) and more of something else. We're just going to hope it doesn't have to come to that, but if it does, my new year's food goal is to get my oldest to eat oatmeal (is anyone else hearing the Mission Impossible theme music rolling right now).