Budget Foods Are Having America’s Wallet For Lunch

Ground Beef

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As if grocery stores’ man aisles weren’t reason enough to dine out, now consumers have another excuse to make it a Chipotle night.Prices of staples like eggs, ground beef, chicken and potatoes shot up over 10 per cent in 2011.

Pork is up 7 per cent; ground beef is up 10 per cent; and even eggs are up 10 per cent, according to the USDA’s projection for food costs in 2011. 

The list also includes pantry essentials such as olive oil, milk, turkey and ice cream—not a staple per se, but comfort in tough times. (See the hottest grocery scam to hit your pantry this season.)

As Americans tried to cut costs by cooking at home, grocery prices ticked upward. Richard Volpe, an economist with the USDA’s Economic Research Service, told WNYC’s Nancy Shute that “in 2011, one of the major stories was that the prices for food at home rose a lot faster than the prices for food away from home.”

Other factors, like weather and animal shortages shifted prices, much in the way diner coffee became a luxury beverage almost overnight due to conditions in South America.

But for all the posturing over whether eating out has become the “better buy,” we’d still contend that it pays to dine in.

The cost of dining out is projected to soar in 2012, as mid-tier chains like Chipotle and Buffalo Wild Wings look to take advantage of consumers’ cabin fever by scaling back deals and inching up tabs.

And as we’ve written before, consistently eating out is a mindless way to trip up your budget.

“It’s so easy to go out to eat,” says Dr. Taffy Wagner, a certified personal finance teacher and author of Bride and Groom Money Talk FAQ. “When you’re feeling lazy, you just go out and pick up some food. But planning breakfast, lunch and dinner is where you’ll really save. You won’t be buying food you end up tossing out, especially if you’re buying the things you like.”

And that’s the key: Buy things you like and learn how to cook them. You shouldn’t have to wonder at the end of the month how your $5 caffeine addiction turned into a $25 a week, $100 month budget-buster.

So don’t let rising grocery prices deter you. There are plenty of foods to try, some which might help you reach your other new year’s goals. (See 10 grocery foods to skip if you’re trying to slim down.)

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