Food prices and inflation keep going up but here are 3 tips to save on your groceries

·4 min read

It's not your imagination: Groceries do cost more now than before the pandemic.

Food prices overall rose 4.6% since September 2020, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change paid by consumers for goods and services, rose 5.4% from a year ago, up slightly from August's 5.3% gain. This pushed annual inflation back to the highest increase in 13 years.

Meats, poultry, fish, and eggs had the highest increased with a combined 10.5% increase.

According to a recent survey by the FMI, also known as the Food Industry Association, even with the increases in the price of groceries, the average household spending has held steady at $143 per week, which is down from the $161 at the height of the pandemic in March and April of 2020.

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And shoppers are feeling the price hikes, particularly with countless product shortages and widespread supply chain disruptions, Andy Harig, FMI vice president, tax, trade and sustainability, recently told USA TODAY.

"We tend to have a very low food price inflation in the United States,” Harig said. “If you look over the last 20 or 30 years, it is pretty consistent.”

And yet, while everything from meat, milk and bread costs more, it's still possible to save money.

“Consumers don't have a ton of control here, and there aren't many easy ways to save on groceries when prices are going up practically across the board,” Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert and editor at deal website RetailMeNot, told USA TODAY.

Instead, there are shopping strategies. Here are three ways to cut costs.

Shop store brands to save

Store brands have grown in popularity in recent years and no longer carry the stigma they once did when they were considered more generic.

Target added its largest food brand, Good & Gather, in 2019, and has continued to add new products. Trader Joe's and discount grocer Aldi are well-known for carrying more products under their own private labels than store brands.

“You often see lower prices and a lot of great quality there,” Harig said.

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Buy in bulk, stock up

Buying in bulk at Costco, Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale can cut your number of shopping trips down and lower costs.

Sometimes, though, it means huge packages of food so buying food in bulk is often best for large families, or for those who have an extra freezer and storage. It also means fewer toilet paper runs

Wholesale clubs aren't immune from inflation, though Costco has not increased the price of its rotisserie chicken, which is holding steady at $4.99.

Richard Galanti, Costco’s chief financial officer, said Sept. 23 during a call with analysts that despite increases in transportation costs the retailer has “elected to hold, delay and/or mitigate some of the price increases in this increasingly inflationary environment over the last few months.”

Not everyone will want to join a wholesale club to save money. McGrath suggests stocking up at budget stores like Aldi and by watching sale prices in weekly flyers for buy-one-get-one-free sales.

“Buying things that are on BOGO pricing and freezing them if possible can save you money on next week's grocery run, if not this week’s,” she said.

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Use cashback apps like Ibotta, rewards programs

Saving money can come in different forms. Some will clip paper coupons or printable coupons, but another option is to earn cash back on everyday purchases.

One of the most popular cashback apps is Ibotta, a free shopping app, that makes it easy to save on most grocery store trips, online shopping, gift cards and even booze in some states.

What sets Ibotta apart from rewards programs like CVS ExtraCare is that you can use it in person at multiple stores, including Target, Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Aldi and online at Amazon, Kohl’s, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Macy’s and more.

The app also offers savings when shopping with on-demand grocery delivery programs like Instacart and Shipt as well as Walmart, Target and Kroger online orders.

Ibotta CEO and founder Bryan Leach said there are plans to make earning cash back more seamless with an expanded partnership with Walmart next year.

Fetch Rewards is another cashback app, but you can also save using retailer apps like Target's Target Circle loyalty program.

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Contributing: Associated Press

Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko. For shopping news, tips and deals, join us on our Shopping Ninjas Facebook group.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Grocery store costs up as inflation drives up food prices