Daily Money - Issue #154: You’re making me hungry

plus cats on vacation + Sydney Sweeney
͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ ͏‌ 
Money
August 3, 2022 • Issue #154
Dollar Scholar
Hi y’all —

When you’re the eldest daughter in a three-kid family being raised by a single mom, you get a crash course in how to stretch a food budget.

You keep a mental Rolodex of which restaurants in your suburban Florida town have kids-eat-free nights — Tuesdays at Gator’s Dockside, anyone? You learn hacks to get the best bang for your buck, like swapping your Chick-fil-A kids’ meal toy for a small ice cream. You gain a weird appreciation for Hamburger Helper and how, if you add a cup of sour cream and an extra bag of egg noodles to the kit, you can magically make enough stroganoff to last days.

Then you grow up. Everything is fine for a while… until a pandemic hits, inflation surges to 40-year highs, and you find yourself once again worrying about how much money you’re spending on food.

The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, in addition to gas and shelter, food is one of the biggest contributors to inflation. The cost of food has increased 10.4% overall in the past 12 months. Items like flour, eggs, chicken, milk and butter have seen particularly big price spikes.

My childhood taught me the basics. But what are some creative ways can I save money on groceries now?

I called Sara Lundberg, author of the Budget Savvy Diva's Guide to Slashing Your Grocery Bill by 50% or More, to hear her tried-and-true strategies. A mother of five, Lundberg first recommended I try growing my own vegetables.

She says it’s “super simple — and you can even get free seeds” from a local library. Peas in particular are “stupid easy” to grow, even if I don’t have a ton of space. (Lundberg has been tracking it, and she’s personally saved something like $100 on peas alone this way.) Other veggies that are straightforward to grow include lettuce, green beans and radishes.

On a similar note, Lundberg also likes urban foraging, which is when you look for unclaimed food growing wild in public spaces. She relies on an app that uses her phone camera to scan and identify plants she finds outdoors. A recent success? Discovering blueberry bushes around the Home Depot parking lot.

“I always have a Ziploc ready to go urban foraging,” Lundberg adds.

As far as shopping goes, planning ahead is crucial, says Jessica Fisher, a blogger at Good Cheap Eats and mom of six. She told me to look around my kitchen and see what ingredients I have before heading to the grocery store, using those foods as the inspiration for my meals for the week — that way, I don’t have to feel like I “have to go out and buy all the things.”
Waiting for a Half Foods to open so I can afford to go grocery shopping.
 
When choosing recipes, I should consider what I like (because if I don’t like something, chances are I won’t eat it, no matter how cheap it is). I’ll also want to pay attention to what’s on sale at the store.

“Meal planning around grocery store sales is a really good way to branch out,” says Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews. “Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into a rut of eating the same budget friendly things from week to week.”

One way to find discounts is by scouting the store’s weekly flier and looking for what’s called the loss leader — a product, usually advertised on the first page or in the upper-right-hand corner, for which the retailer has slashed prices so drastically it’s taking a loss. Loss leaders offer huge sales: Lundberg recalls one time she scored a pizza for 8 cents.

Fisher says to make a list before I go to the store — and to heed the age-old advice to "never shop hungry," because that can cause me to deviate from the list. Lundberg also says to avoid buying coffee at the in-store Starbucks because I’ll be more tempted to wander the aisles until I finish my drink, therefore driving up the chances I throw unneeded stuff in my cart.

Keep in mind that grocery stores are designed to "manipulate what you're purchasing," she says.

This includes everything from the way the store is laid out — milk and eggs are often located in the back, while clearance stuff may be hidden in a corner — to how the shelves are stocked. The most expensive products tend to be at eye level, Lundberg says, so “that’s where you don’t want to look.” Closer to the ground, where the cheaper stuff is tucked, is much better.

Once I’m back at the house, I’ll want to freeze what I can for later (if I buy two pounds of ground beef because it was on sale, say, I should put half in the freezer).

After I’ve cooked, Fisher recommends keeping track of leftovers, reassembling bits of meat, veggies, rice and such into salads, wraps and burrito bowls as the days wear on.
THE BOTTOM LINE
(but please don't tell me you scrolled past all of my hard work)
Food is hella pricey right now — but it doesn’t have to be for me. If I plan my meals, make the most of sales and shop smarter at the store, I can save a lot of money.

"You don't have to subsist on ramen noodles and hotdogs," Fisher says. "Unless that's what you really like."
yum
VIA GIPHY

RECEIPT OF THE WEEK
check out this wild celebrity purchase
Sydney Sweeney
 
VIA INSTAGRAM
Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney recently got real about how tough it is for her to make it as an actress — and how hard she’s working to achieve financial stability with brand deals. “If I wanted to take a six-month break, I don’t have income to cover that,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t have someone supporting me, I don’t have anyone I can turn to, to pay my bills or call for help.” We stan an honest (and frugal) queen.

INTERNET GOLD
five things I'm loving online right now
1 I’m obsessed with the tale of Bonnie, the 5-year-old beagle who recently ran away from her southern England home and returned with a big ribbon on her collar because she’d won a dog show. Like, while her family was looking for her. “Bonnie was absolutely fine when she got back,” her owner told WalesOnline. “She just thought she was having a great day out.”
2 Julia Louis-Dreyfus accidentally cursing in front of Elmo (and getting called out for it) in full ‘90s regalia is peak cinema.
3 Recipe recommendation! I made this one-skillet Greek chicken with feta, orzo and tzatziki a few weeks ago and loved it. (I skipped the olives, roasted the tomatoes and doubled down on the paprika. Yum.)
4 Cats on vacation.
5 Did you know there’s an opaque web of credit agencies tracking the financial and nonfinancial behavior of more than 200 million Americans? My colleague Adam pulled back the curtain in Money’s August digital cover story. Grab your FBI agent and read it here.
 

401(K)ITTY CONTRIBUTION
send me cute pictures of your pets, please
Choloe
VIA Paul Basker
This is Chloe. Chloe can be seen here hiding from inflation… and the temptation to buy 20 tins of tuna at the grocery store.

See you next week.
 
Julia
 
P.S. Have you noticed your food bills rising? What’s your best tip for saving money on groceries? Who’s your favorite Muppet? Send recipes and life hacks to julia@money.com or @SuperJulia on Twitter.
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