Beating Back the Rising Cost of Living

By Martin Brown

I don’t think there is anything more depressing than buying gasoline, and then going grocery shopping,” says Susan White, a single mom with a four year-old daughter and a seven year-old son.

Like so many other Americans, Susan is seeing the cost of a gallon of milk rise almost as fast as a gallon of gas.

Susan, who is a bookkeeper for a county school system in Wisconsin, says, “Money was pretty tight last year, now it’s getting really crazy. It’s really scary! As a government employee, I get pay adjustments every couple of years. But nothing that we’re seeing in our pay pay envelopes is coming anywhere near to keeping up with these kind of increases in the basic cost of living.”

It’s become clear that some of these price increases, particularly packaged goods at the grocery stores, are unlikely to return to their pre-2008 prices. As for gas, certainly we should see (and we are already seeing) some much needed price reductions.

But a turning back to the gas prices of 2006, at or near two dollars per gallon, seems to be nothing more than a rapidly fading hope.

So, where can Susan White, and millions like her, turn for some degree of relief?

The best answer appears to be, our own ability to economize. Think of it this way, when we come in from the rain, or turn a fan on in hot weather, we are taking steps to mitigate our situation. You have to take the same attitude toward tough economic times. And yes, there are a variety of things anyone of us can do to reduce the burden of the spiraling prices. Here are just a few:

1. Drive Smart.
Many people are starting to combine errands. Ask yourself, “What needs to get done today?” After you have made your list don’t make three or four separate trips, try to do a loop that allows you to take the best advantage of your time in the car.

Next, if you drive like a jackrabbit—in other words gas, brake, gas—stop doing that.

On the highway look ahead to see what the traffic is doing, if traffic is slowing, ease off the gas, don’t keep moving rapidly and then go to the brake. If the light a quarter of a mile down the road is red, start to slow early. Believe it or not, a change in your driving style could improve your mileage by as much 25 percent. That’s like a one dollar drop in the cost of gas at the pump: something we’d all like to see.

Also, check tire pressure the first Saturday of every month, or any monthly date that you can remember. Under-inflated tires gobble up needless amounts of gas.

2. Shop Smart.
Studies of consumer behavior has shown, time and time again, that the shopper who goes into the store without a list and without a set meal menu in mind spends substantially more money. That said, you can cut your grocery bill by 25% by simply planning your meals for the next few days, prior to going into the store. It makes sense when you think about it. Impulse purchases and buying pre-packaged meals because you’re uncertain about what to make for dinner takes a heavy toll at the checkout.

Next, buy the weekly sale item. There are enough competing brands—for example Wishbone, or Kraft salad dressings—that, when one is not on sale, the other one is. So shop with your eyes open, and that you don’t miss the bargains.

Finally, if you can at all avoid it don’t bring the kids with you to do your grocery shopping. That’s the surest way to add 25% or more to your shopping trip.

3. Play Smart.
Just about wherever you live, there are ways to spend less on entertainment and the pure joy of having a good time. Use the power of the Internet to direct you to bargain matinees, the free day at the zoo or the museum, free events at the library, and the restaurant that gives you a lot more for value for your hard earned money.

Tough economic times don’t have to be your undoing. You can do quite well with a few modest changes in lifestyle. Think of it as a stormy weekend. Yes, you’ll need to change some of your plans, but with a little creativity, you can still have most of what you want out of life.

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