Inflation chews up family grocery budgets

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

One of the first things families cut out of their budgets during hard economic times is dining out. In theory, that practice should lead to a considerable savings in monthly expenses for the average family. However, the rapid increase in the price of foodstuffs has led to a nationwide increase in grocery bills. That increase,

around $80 per month, is roughly equivalent to the cost of two meals “out” – without alcoholic beverages – for a family of four at most of the county’s restaurants.
According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), provided by the Department of Labor as the nation’s leading inflation gauge, prices on staple products have increased up to 50 percent in the Southern United States, which includes Texas. Leading the charge in ever-increasing prices is flour, which averaged 35 cents per pound last year, but which now costs around 53 cents per pound (a 52 percent increase).
Eggs and bananas also showed marked increases since May 2007, 28.3 percent and 25.2 percent respectively. During May 2008, shoppers could expect to pay $1.93 for a dozen eggs, over last year’s $1.50, and around 63 cents per pound for bananas.
Meat products, such as bacon and ground chuck have fallen in price, and ground beef has held mostly level, increasing less than half a cent per pound. However ground coffee, at $3.30 per pound, is rapidly approaching “luxury” status.
In an effort to combat rising grocery prices, Lockhart resident Cheryl Hill-Burrier and her husband, Larry, took an innovative approach to gardening this year, which gained them national attention on the website of Food Network chef Rachael Ray.
The Burriers decided to take note of their favorite herbs, spices and vegetables and plant a container garden in their backyard.
“Most any vegetable or herb that can be grown in a typical backyard garden will do as well in a container-grown plant,” Hill-Burrier wrote in an article submitted to Ray’s website. “You don’t have to till the ground, prepare the soil and constantly weed. And you don’t have to spend loads of money on special gardening containers.”
Hill-Burrier’s container garden was comprised of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, parsley, cilantro and basil, among other vegetables and plants. She noted a cost of around 8 cents per tomato, whereas her store-bought tomatoes had run nearly 42 cents each.
Others, overwhelmed by the rapidly increasing costs of food and fuel, have turned to the Caldwell County Christian Ministries food bank for support.
According to Rose Dunn-Turner, the food bank has, in recent months, provided food to parents that are left in the unenviable position of needing to choose between buying gas to commute to their jobs in Austin and San Marcos, or buying food to feed their families. Instead of risking losing their jobs, Dunn-Turner said, the parents approached the food bank for help.
Some nutrition programs, such as the Angel Food Ministry sponsored by St. Mary’s of the Visitation Catholic Church, have had less participation than organizers expected.
“We just didn’t see the response I thought we’d see,” said Crayton Hickey, the site director of St. Mary’s now-defunct food ministry. “It surprised me, and we decided to end our participation in the program because of the low response.”
The St. Mary’s Angel Food program was one of two in Lockhart alone, and the program sponsored by the First Lockhart Baptist Church is still active.
Under the Angel Food program, families can order groceries, once a month, that are sufficient to feed several meals to a family of four. The food is not free, but is offered at a significantly reduced price, as little as $30 per order.
Products other than food, though,will cause families to feel register-shock this summer.
Dallas-based paper giant Kimberly Clark, whose flagship products include Huggies diapers, Pull-Ups training pants, Cottonelle toilet tissue and Kleenex products, announced recently that it will implement a 6- to 8-percent price increase in most of its products over the months of July and August. If competitors have not followed suit yet, it is likely their prices will increase, as well.
What this means, overall, is that an average family, with a moderate grocery shopping budget, has increased spending from around $800 per month to nearly $900.
Check next week’s Post-Register to see how the skyrocketing cost of gas is contributing to this summer’s financial doldrums.

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