If you're an avid grocery shopper, you will have noticed that many of the foods that we commonly consume have increased in price. I notice it all the time. But I sometimes wonder if the average shopper does--other then the fact that they have to wonder why the total at checkout is higher than usual.
I saw an article today on Yahoo's Financially Fit that explained one of the reasons for this broad banded increase. We've had a really bizarre year with weather. For example, Summer didn't get into it's groove until the second week of July, here in Spokane. Then it wasn't even consistent,that's for sure. It's now September and we are experiencing a brief heatwave after a week of cooler temperatures. So what I'm getting at: did you know that the Midwest had a drought while we were still wearing our jackets in June? Fluke and freak weather everywhere can really be a damper in the price of basic commodities that are produced in other parts of the country. Take corn, for example. It's primarily produced for manufacturer's in the bread belt of the country--the Midwest. Tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, drought...all that ring a bell? Yep--the land of corn, wheat, and barley. So when you see the price of your Corn Flakes stay at $3 a box ON SALE, there's a very good reason for that.
Corn goes into a LOT of things that we take for granted. Did you know that the sweetness in a granola bar is from corn? [I have a Corn-addition. No...I'm mean Coke-addiction. That's right. Coca-Cola is sweetened with corn syrup. The rising cost of corn equals the rising cost of Coke.] It's always good to put things in perspective because sometimes a picture of the real deal washes away the true significance of the scope of the problem. This article was a "scope" into what corn droughts can do to the prices of so many things.
I was just telling my husband yesterday, while we were at Fred Meyer, that the prices on food were entirely neurotic and I was amazed that people had carts brimming with food. It got me wondering though. I don't see very many people with fists full of coupons at the registers either. Food stamp programs have updated their look and now everyone qualifying for government assistance use EBT cards (formerly given out in the form of a coupon booklet--as an obvious sign that payment was "food stamps"). Now users just swipe a card that looks like any old debit card. But still. Where are the manufacturer's coupons and store coupons being used in this savings game? I think EBT users should have to qualify in more ways then just income. How about money management? Budgeting? Meal planning? Couponing? $400 in food funds a month would be more productive in a trained coupon shopper than in the average user.
Here's a little story about how I'm living up to my name.... No. Not that name. The other name...Saving Spokane. I saw this very old woman at the checkout ahead me yesterday buying a 2lb block of Tillamook cheese for $6.99, some hearing aid batteries, and small container of some bland "yum yums". Alright. Her total was $16+. She handed the cashier a $20 bill and I just couldn't let her do it! I yelled for him to STOP before he cashed out her change. [My husband went beet red and probably wanted to crawl under the conveyor belt...shamed that he can't have a totally quiet moment at a check-out stand with me. The old woman didn't even hear me--thus the batteries, right? And the post-child/pre-adult cashier looked at me like I was a raving loony. But what's new? I've seen that look before, and it doesn't bother me anymore.] I opened the store ad, the one with all the "store coupons" printed down the sides...and there was a coupon that made the Tillamook cheese $4.99. All the man-child had to do was shoot the scanner gun over the bar code and Grandma was $2 richer.
Now I know that I'm in the first generation that won't live as high of a standard of living as my parents--but I don't think I have to be stingy with my money manners. Grandma looked like she could afford the extra $2. Obviously all of her money isn't going to the nursing home yet...and my efforts did earn me a smile and nod of appreciation. Why didn't the cashier voluntarily scan the coupon without her knowing? I don't know. You just don't see very many people that are trying to make it easier for others out there. Maybe it's true and we have an entitlement state of mind. But when times are lean and the costs are rising--it doesn't hurt to pass the word of savings along. It didn't cost me anything to be nice--and she surely didn't give me the $2 she would have handed over to the store a moment before. What is she going do with the $2? It probably seemed like a little thing at the moment. But what if that $2 was saved as daily occurrence? Weekly? Monthly? The little amounts don't look like much at first, but the savings would add up very quickly if it were acknowledged in every purchase.
So what does this have to do with corn and droughts? And why the price of food is increasing. Manufacturer's still have over $3 BILLION in coupons that are available for consumers to use on their grocery and household purchases every year. Just yesterday my husband told me he didn't know why I was so concerned about the prices of food, since I'd coupon them to death. Ah. A light bulb moment. He gets it, after all. Using coupons equal a certain peace of mind--especially in the hard times. It means that I can stock up on cereal during drought seasons. It means that the cost of beef, pork, and chicken (corn-fed animals that I think are pretty tasty...) may go up, but I can off-set the cost of consumption through couponing my necessities so low that I don't gag on the inflated price of meat. It's a win-win relationship--with these coupons.
Research corn. Find out all the different things that it goes into and watch those items increase in price. And when you are finished with corn, move onto wheat, cotton, rice, sugar...and the list goes on. We are more globally connected then we realize. When the crops fail in California or get blown away from the vines in Florida--we are all going to pay for those losses. Sometimes we are so "local-centric" in our view of consumption that we don't realize that the grocery store is just the middleman to the rest of the country's agricultural reserves. Capitalistic marketing and quick transportation have brought Georgia's peaches, Florida's oranges and Iowa's corn to our tables within hours of harvest. Devastation anywhere in our country will eventually be felt at home.
So prepare. Buy smart. Buy ahead of the drought. And who can really predict disaster and drought? No one. So that means study out the ways to save money even with the rising costs of basic goods and services. And, by golly--if you are one of the many that are receiving assistance to fill your cupboards every week--do not pay more for food than I would. Spend some time learning about how to save money on the second-highest expense in your life. It's a skill that will last a lifetime--and will continue to benefit you once the entitlement programs are over. Because you can't fund bankrupt programs from a bankrupt economy. [Remember all those theories and analogies about old dogs/new tricks, not riding a dead horse, money not growing on trees...and it still doesn't.] At the end of the day--you will still have to eat--so learn some mad shopping skills, in the mean time. We could be just a drought away from unafforadable!!