As costs rise, consumers try to stretch their dollars
By Angie Newsome
May 2, 2004 10:26 p.m.
LEICESTER - Elizabeth Walker pushed her grocery cart down the refrigerated
aisle at GO Grocery Outlet on Leicester Highway on Thursday morning,
sweeping past Greg Brookshire, who was bent over slicing open boxes of new
Dressed in a bright blue GO Grocery shirt, Brookshire, a five-year
employee of the discount grocery store, slapped $1.69 stickers on packages
of turkey breast with the rapid- fire peck of his price gun.
Prices are going up, Brookshire said. Having worked for five years at the
grocery store, he should know.
"Milk's going to shoot up the roof next week," he said, stacking the clear
packages on the shelf. "The milk guy said this morning it's going to go up
50 cents next week. It'll have to go on to us."
And it'll most likely end up on shoppers like Walker, who nudged around
Brookshire as she inspected the bologna and cheese.
With the increase in gas prices, rumblings of inflation - often measured
by the change in what customers pay for average goods and services
compared with times past - have spread in recent months.
Local shoppers said prices on everything from groceries to clothes are
going up, too.
To cope, they said they are depending more and more on outlets and sales
to stretch their dollars that, depending on where you are in the
mountains, may or may not be keeping up with inflation.
Feeling the pinch all over
As Walker moved up the refrigerated aisle, her friend LaVonne McBroom
pushed her cart to a stand of greeting cards selling at two for 88 cents.
Walker said she and McBroom shop at GO Grocery about once a week because
prices for milk and meat make them shop around.
In March, the American Farm Bureau Federation found that an average
16-item basket of groceries cost $3.78 more than at the end of last year.
At GO Grocery, Walker found a small tub of sour cream for 39 cents.
"We used to go to this place way across town," Walker said of the outlet,
which just opened a new meat counter. "But now we don't have to."
While shoppers plan money-saving strategies, costs for common grocery
items keep going up.
"I'm surprised we haven't seen a lot more inflation already," said Bob
Mulligan, associate professor of economics at Western Carolina University.
Mulligan said the bulk of cost increases are still on producers'
doorsteps, and it could take up to a year for consumers to notice. While
he said there has been a relatively fast growth rate in the past several
months, inflation rates (frequently measured by the changes in prices for
average goods and services bought by the consumer) have stayed around 3
percent for the past 15 years.
But take vegetable oil. The Farm Bureau found that by March, 32 ounces of
oil went up 48 cents since last year.
"It's not just here, it's everywhere," said Delia Robinson, who shopped at
T.J. Maxx `n more on Wednesday.
Are WNC wages keeping up with inflation?
It depends on where you live.
Information from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the 2002
average wage per job figures in the Asheville metro area fell behind both
the statewide and national growth rate.
In the Asheville metro area, average annual wages were $28,206 in 2003,
falling behind statewide averages by more than $3,000 and behind national
averages by more than $7,000.
Most recently, BEA found North Carolina is falling behind in growing its
per capita income figures. At 1.6 percent growth rate between 2002 and
2003, only Texas and Utah had less growth, though the actual income figure
of $28,235 put the state at 37th. Connecticut's personal income level
ranked first at more than $43,000.
Does this match inflation?
In some locations, yes. In the Asheville metro area, 2002 wages adjusted
for inflation grew by more than $300 since 1998.
In Boone, they rose by more than $1,600. But Brevard's average wage fell
the lowest, at nearly $2,000 below inflation.
`That's some smart shopping'
That means that saving dollars isn't an option for many.
While shopping for clothes at T.J. Maxx, Robinson said she eats less meat
and waits for sales. She also hits the flea market early.
Clothes shopper Eleanor Cartin watches newspaper inserts for good prices
"I rarely buy anything not on sale, as long as it's good quality. That's
the way you make your retirement dollars stretch," Cartin said.
Sun Kyung Kim tries not to eat out as much.
And McBroom said she tries not to use her credit card.
"That's why they have stores like this," McBroom said as she read the
greeting cards at GO Grocery. "As long as you come here, it's not too
Walker rolled her cart to the checkout line, and said she thinks she'll
spend $50 on her food. As the two women unloaded their purchases on the
conveyer belt, Yalonda Mason rang them up.
Into plastic shopping bags go packages of bacon and chicken, bottles of
lemon juice, boxes of pasta, the tub of sour cream for 39 cents.
When Mason totaled up her purchases, Walker smiled triumphantly.
"See," she said, "I told you it was under $50. That's a lot of food."
"That's some smart shopping," Mason replied, loading Walker's 11 bags into
Contact Newsome at 232-5856 or ANewsome@CITIZEN-TIMES.com.
Making your grocery money last
Emergency trips to the store can blow your grocery budget. Besides
remembering not to shop when you're hungry, these tips can help your food
Plan menus. Knowing what you're going to cook can help you make smart
choices down the aisles. Consider foods from which leftovers can be
prepared. Also consider planning meals around food products being sold
at a discount.
Know what you need. Make a list of items you use frequently, and buy
them on sale.
Know what you buy. Luxury and non-food items may not be the wisest buys.
Do you need them, or just want them?
Empty out the freezer and cupboards. Are your shelves full? Instead of
buying more items, use what you've got. For example, use those cans of
beans for taco salad.
Buy in bulk. If you can pay more up-front, consider buying larger
quantities of food items. Dividing larger packages of meat can save
money in the long run, for example. It may take more time at first, but
you can save money in the end.
Make double portions. For example, you can make extra portions of
pancakes and waffles and freeze the rest for later.
Make your own convenience items. For example, many spice and vegetable
mixes are combinations of common ingredients. With a little time and
smart shopping, you can make your own.
For more help, visit your local library or the Consumer Credit Counseling
Service of Western North Carolina.
Sources: http://wv.essortment.com/grocerybudget_rqcg.htm and Celeste
Collins of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Western North Carolina
Inflation: What is it?
Inflation is the overall general increase in the price of average goods
and services. The Consumer Price Index - or the measure of what consumers
pay for day-to-day goods and services today versus years past - is most
frequently used to determine inflation rates. For the past 15 years, the
CPI has increased about 3 percent every year. In the first part of 2004,
the rate rose.
To find out more, visit www.bls.gov/bls/inflation.htm.
Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bob Mulligan, associate
professor or economics at Western Carolina University.
Feeling a pinch at the gas pump? Consider your grocery bill, too.
A recent American Farm Bureau Federation Marketbasket Survey found overall
higher food prices in the first part of 2004, compared to the end of 2003.
Here are some examples:
Grocery item Cost increase Average price
Apples 24 cents $1.22 per pound
Whole fryers 22 cents $1.24 per pound
Eggs 19 cents $1.57 per dozen
Cheddar cheese 9 cents $3.46 per pound
Source: American Farm Bureau Federation, www.fb.com.
© 2004 Asheville Citizen-Times • 14 O. Henry Ave., Asheville, NC 28801 •