New strategies to keep food costs down this summer

Don’t despair when your frugal habits don’t seem to keep costs down

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CALGARY, AB Jul 31, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Has your grocery bill increased at an exponential rate this summer? You’re not alone.

According to Statistics Canada’s June 2015 Consumer Price Index, Canadian consumers paid 3.4 per cent more for food in June 2015 than they did in June 2014.

Over the past couple of years, Cutting Corners has offered money saving tips for food shoppers. If you have been caught in the food buying squeeze, perhaps you’ve already pulled out your cutting corners tool kit. Maybe you’ve tried everything in it: making a list and sticking to it, shopping around the perimeter of the store, scanning flyers for deals, making meals from scratch, heating and re-heating leftovers, eating at home, using coupons. Savvy shopper that you are, you’ve managed to whittle down the bill. Still, your frugal habits haven’t been enough to protect you fully from rising food costs.

Don’t despair. A closer look at the marketplace may yield new strategies to keep food costs down this summer.

  • According to Statistics Canada, meat, dairy, fresh fruit, and bakery products are all more expensive than they were a year ago, but meat prices have risen the most. Meat prices were 7.9 per cent higher in May 2015 than in May 2014 and 6.6 per cent higher in June 2015 than they were a year earlier.
  • Price increases for other food categories were moderate: 2.5 per cent for dairy products, 3.3 per cent for fresh fruit, and 2.6 per cent for bakery products.
  • Again according to Statistics Canada, restaurants meals were also more expensive, rising 2.7 per cent between June 2014 and June 2015, but the cost of buying groceries to cook at home rose even quicker, 3.6 per cent, over the same period.
  • Some products in your local marketplace may not follow the national trend. For example, fresh vegetable prices in Quebec rose 1 per cent between May 2014 and May 2015. But they were 3.6 per cent lower in June 2015, than in the previous years.
  • The Canadian dollar is dropping in value compared to the American dollar. This trend is expected to continue throughout 2015, making imported food more expensive. According to researchers at the University of Guelph, Canada will import over $40 billion worth of food products this year. In light of this, the University of Guelph’s Food Institute revised its 2015 “Food Price Report.” The original report predicted an increase in food prices from 0.3 per cent to 2.4 per cent in 2015; the revised estimate puts the increase costs between 0.7 per cent to 3 per cent.
  • Expert predictions don’t always match real world experience however. For example, The Food Institute predicts a steep rise in the price of vegetables, between 5.5 per cent to 7.5 per cent in 2015. It also predicts the cost of fruit and nuts will be between 3 per cent to 5 per cent. Yet, it does not predict the increased price of meat, dairy products, or grains Canadian shoppers are experiencing.

Conflicting predictions and a falling dollar make it difficult to predict what deals you will find at the grocery store this week. Still, there are a few things we can count on.

  1. Eating fresh local meat, dairy and produce make us less dependent on other countries for fruits and vegetables. Grow a small container garden on your patio. Choose a farmer’s market or a grocery store that stocks local meat and produce for items you can’t grow at home.
  2. Replacing individual T-Bone steaks with servings of beef stroganoff, tuna casserole, or chicken stew is a good way to stretch your protein budget.
  3. Many groceries stores put expensive cuts of meat, dairy and bakery items on clearance a few days before their expiry date. You’ll save as much as 50 per cent if you fill your freezer with clearance-priced groceries instead of buying them at full price.

It’s easy to become frustrated when our frugal habits don’t seem to keep food costs down. But don’t throw in the towel. Learn what drives food prices up, and create a strategy to insulate your family from skyrocketing grocery bills.

Jane Harris-Zsovan offers her readers practical money advice for the real world. 

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