Rising Grocery Bills

"American families, which spend 9.9% of their disposable income on food, are facing the fastest-rising food prices in 17 years. The consumer’s cost for everything from yogurt and popcorn to breakfast cereal and fast-food french fries is climbing. In U.S. cities last month, the average retail price of a pound loaf of whole-wheat bread was up 24% from a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Whole milk hit $3.807 a gallon, up 26%."

          Even at the commissary, a gallon of whole milk is over $3.25, versus just $2.50 this past Spring.  In other stores, I’m paying $4.49 for that same gallon of milk.  If the commissary weren’t 20 miles away, I would go there every time we needed milk – Skeeter drinks whole milk and the rest of the house gets 2%.  In a week, we go through at least 4 gallons of milk.  Even if I could squeeze 4 gallons in my fridge from the commissary, it’s $13.00 per week just for milk.  Not to mention, we only do the commissary twice per month – on paydays.  So the other 4 gallons are over $18.00 when you include tax.  We spend over $30.00 per month on milk.  I am not a big milk drinker and DH isn’t even here right now!

          When we were paying $2.25 for a gallon of milk, we were paying $2.15 for bread.  That same loaf, same brand now costs us $2.60.  Again, that is at the commissary.  Bread, like milk, doesn’t last 2 weeks in this house, so we are wind up paying over $3.00 at other stores after about 4-5 days.  If I had a pantry, deep freeze, or other places to store food, we could easily "stock up" from the commissary and save a lot of money.  Milk keeps for 2 weeks just fine, and bread freezes very well.  Dry products have a great shelf life, too.  However, when you rent a townhouse, there isn’t room for a deep freeze, or a pantry, or for that matter, ample cabinet space.  While our new 3 bedroom unit has made better use of the kitchen space, there still just isn’t room for that kind of food build-up.

          We belong to a warehouse club.  It’s great for things like diapers (when they go on sale and you’ve got coupons, they’re cheaper than the commissary!), paper products, and other things that won’t go bad in a hurry.  When the boys are older, I am sure the warehouse clubs will be making a small fortune off my family alone.  However, again, right now, we simply haven’t got the space to buy most food products in bulk.  While the boys have fairly large appetites compared to their peers, it still doesn’t quite justify the bulk quantities one typically finds at such establishments.  After all, it’s not a savings if you can’t use all of it before it expires.

        While the cost of gas, heating oil, energy for lights and air conditioning, and now the cost of feeding my family continues to rise, our income remains the same.  Where I budgeted $150.00 every two weeks for food will stay the same.  Every two weeks, $3.00 more is committed to milk.  Milk, people.  Do you know how much cereal my kids eat?  A lot.  Skeeter likes it for "gnawing," Mega likes the crunch, and I like it because it’s not sugary (not the kind I buy anyway), and it’s not sticky or otherwise messy.  We got through 2-3 boxes every two weeks if I don’t eat any.  Cereal, milk, eggs, and bread are rising the most, and they’re what we use the most of.  When was the last time you saw coupons for milk, eggs, or bread?  How are families like mine supposed to deal with these rising costs when we’re already strapped and doing every thing we can to keep our heads above water?  You can only cut the coupons that are available.  It doesn’t do any good to use a coupon on foods your family won’t eat just to try to save some money, either.  If people don’t eat the stuff, people don’t eat the stuff! 

          Oy…  I am already worried about my family’s future.  This past month, I was so excited when we had a cool spell.  I had the house open for a whole week.  I figured that nice break from the AC would put a nice $15.00 – $20.00 in our pockets from the energy savings…  Silly me!  What I anticipated to be about $85.00 turned into $127.00!!!  Why? From June to September, when energy use is typically higher because of things like air conditioning, the cost per kilowatt hour is higher than it is from October to May.  I saved us a whopping $3.00 compared to our typical Summer average in energy costs.  Wow… 

          This is the first year our complex isn’t covering any utilities.  Last winter, they were still paying for gas (water heater, stove, and heat).  I am gagging just thinking about what we’re going to be spending to stay warm this winter.  Without using the heat at all, so we’re looking at hot water and cooking only, we currently spend an average of $35.00.  What’s that going to jump to when the heat kicks on every hour or so?  I don’t plan on keeping the house like an oven, but it would be nice not to have to wear snowsuits, you know?  While our energy bill may drop a bit due to lower costs per kWh, it won’t drop $100.00 or more to make up the difference.  Nothing else gets cheaper just because it gets colder outside, you know?

          We don’t live extravagant lives.  My vices are Blockbuster at home ($15.74 per month) and X-Box live ($10.00 per month, prepaid a year at a time).  I could always cut Blockbuster.  "Is that belt tightening more?"  "You got it; Blockbuster is gone!"  After that, there’s nothing left to cut.  We can’t cut either the land line nor the cell phones.  We don’t get reliable service in the house, so the land line must stay.  I work on call, so I can’t be out of touch every time I leave the house, so the cell phones must stay.  With DH’s job, he’s gone more often than he is home, and it seems silly for him to have to spend money to call home, you know?  So both phones must stay.  We could also back down to dial-up internet.  Again, because of my line of work, my visibility would drop dramatically without the internet, at least dial-up would have to be an option.  At $10.00+ per month, it makes sense to stay with our current plan because of that whole "bundle savings" with the phone, internet, and cable.  If we got rid of cable and went back to just phone and internet, do you know we’d only be shaving off about $12.00 because of the huge discount we get for receiving all 3 services?  Would it really be worth it then?  Yes, every penny helps, but…  Blah.

          We’re not fancy.  We don’t eat out a lot.  We don’t even buy steaks and over such "fancy-shmancy" things when we grocery shop.  Skeeter isn’t wearing Pampers or Huggies.  We don’t have brand new cars.  We’re not keeping up with the Jones next door – DH doesn’t have an iPod, neither of us owns a laptop, we aren’t buying a 360 or PlayStation, my cooking and bake ware aren’t all from a set, our towels don’t all match, and our sheets aren’t all 800+ thread count.  We really don’t have extravagant lives.  Truly, there is very little to skim off. 

          With some things, we do go for quality.  It’s silly to buy a $15.00 pair of jeans every winter when I could buy one $30.00 pair that will last me 3-4 years.  It took me a while to convince DH of that (he would buy all his clothes at Wal-Mart forever and ever amen, which is fine, but only if they are replaced every so often, which DH never did), but now he is catching on.  It’s one thing when you only have the $15.00 to spend, but if you have the $30.00 and are trying to get the most out of it, why not go for quality?  When the boys slow down in their growth (you know, when they’re….  30?) I will be more than happy to buy them [insert brand name here] clothing.  For now, Carter’s, Children’s Place, Target, and Wal-Mart are fine.  They worked for me when I was between sizes and they hold up just fine for the brief time the boys are able to fit into them.  The Carter’s and Children’s Place stuff holds up well enough to pass down to Skeeter, and sometimes, if he grows fast enough, so do the others.  We’re not too high and mighty for hand-me-downs!

         And yet, my family is taking a serious financial beating.  With a single [military!] income, we’re taking a very hard hit lately.  Once I start taking in paying clients, I know it will ease up a bit.  As it stands, most months we don’t need to use our credit cards.  But the last month, we did.  We left the house half as often as normal, and still, there just wasn’t money for mid-week milk and bread and other little snippets that were required.  So it went on credit.  Do you know how much that stung?  I almost felt a literal punch in the gut.  It still makes me shudder.  We strive to keep less than $1,000.00 in credit debt at all times.  We’ve been good on that since April.  But it’s not easy and it’s not fun.  Doula work is not something to rely on to pay the bills, for sure.  While it will help, it will still be nice if and when things start go back down in price, and when I get my CNM degree… 

Whew…

Worry-fest officially concluded.  🙂

What bill do you hate paying the most? 

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