Friday, January 13, 2012

How Much Have My Grocery Costs Risen In a Year?

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
Spinach: 1.69/1.69
Grapefruit: .29/.39
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).

Further Conclusions:

-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 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).


  1. Your price list is reassuring to me. While I am not (nor do I aspire to be) *quite* as thrify as you, I do keep track of food prices and cook almost exclusively from scratch and would love to cut our grocery bill more. I live in a small town in rural Colorado so have fewer choices about where to shop. Our food, even the cheapest options, is *significantly* more expensive. (ex milk is $2.99 a gallon, butter is $3.19, although there have been some super good sales lately for butter.) So it's not only my poor shopping skills that are to blame for our larger food bill!! I also blame my kids' voracious appetites. I am sometimes amazed when you note that you halve a recipe and have leftovers. I make the whole thing and don't have enough for everyone.

  2. I had heard peanut prices would rise (see articles like this: but it is really interesting to see it for real side by side like that!

    1. Laura--Oooh, look what I just noticed--I now have a reply box. How awesome. It was shocking to see the side by side. I'd heard PB would go up too, but didn't expect such a leap.

  3. Gina--It's true. We lived in Ft. Collins for a while and food is cheaper here. I'd say it's mainly cheaper because we have an Aldi, which to my mind is the best store ever. But it's a midwest thing. If I had to shop other places, I'd have to pay more. It's also true that my kids don't eat as much as most kids, or even as much as they should. They'll often take, maybe one bite of dinner and be stubborn enough not to eat more (it's actually a high price to pay for cheap food--really stubborn kids--especially the first born; and it's a constant source of stress and worry for me, if that brings you any comfort about your food bill. When they don't eat what's for dinner, I allow them to eat plain whole wheat bread thrift store bread. Yummy. (And for the record, we have tried letting them go to bed hungry. They are stubborn enough to do this as well. Seriously, it's so painful.) Also, I try to have a lot of fruit with our dinner as well, so they often end up having a bite (maybe) of dinner, bread, and fruit. It makes me crazy. But it is cheap.

  4. Thanks for an excellent post. I don't track prices quite so much as we are empty nesters now. When our 6 children were home I always compared prices, it was necessary! I wish we had Aldi, I love to go to Aldi's when I visit my daughter in Chicago. I actually bring an empty bag and stock up on chocolate! Their imported chocolate bars are yummy and cheap.

    1. I like their Christmas chocolate quite a bit--in case you're ever there at christmas. And we eat their chocolate chips most of the time. They're not as good as Ghiradelli or other high end brands, but they can totally compete with Nestle and Hershey for sooo much less money.

  5. Eggs were $1.79 at west side Aldi yesterday. They were $.99 at Aldi earlier this week, but later in the week when I had to make a foolhardy second trip for milk & butter, they were up to $1.19. It's like they just can't get in a groove with those chickens.

  6. Oh - and 18%! Good golly. We don't eat pb but sun butters have gone up too - about 20% in the past year. And our home insurance went up a bundle thanks to all the spring storms, and thus our mortgage payments, and health insurance copays, and gas... everything but salaries! :)

    1. It's so weird to me. They were on sale all December, which I know is not a good laying time. So i feel like it just must be that they reduce them with the idea that they'll be making a booty load with Christmas bakers. Or something. And now a jump to $1.79. Bah. It's true--everything but the salaries. Very daunting.



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