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Patty Craig: A Slice of Time

Our recent drought continues to cause problems. Locally and in the mid-west, pastures and crops are not producing normally. This situation has caused farmers to feed hay earlier than normal or to sell livestock. Many farmers hope to produce half the normal crop, offsetting basic planting costs.

Will the drought affect grocery prices? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food prices are predicted to increase between 2.5% to 3.4% this year due to rising wheat, corn and milk prices. Unfortunately, prices may rise more than projected, increasing by 6% to10% later this year (http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/06/25/food-prices-are-o...).

Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com, offered shopping advice to consumers:
1. Know the prices of the items you buy frequently, and beat the rising costs by shopping strategically.

2. Don’t get attached to names; be flexible on brands. If you notice that your favorite brand has increased its prices, don't be afraid to test out the competition.

3. Understand and take advantage of promotions. If you stand to save more money, don't be afraid to shop on certain days of the week (http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/06/25/food-prices-are-o...).

REALSIMPLE magazine has also published a grocery savings guide to help individuals combat rising food prices. Some of their strategies include the following:

• Pick products on the top and bottom shelves. Smaller sizes, with a higher price per unit, are often placed at eye level; bigger sizes, with a lower price per unit, are placed on the top or bottom shelves.

• Purchase produce such as oranges, onions and potatoes in bags rather than individually. The bagged items are often half the price.

• Buy store brands rather than name brands. They’re usually close in quality but cost less.

• Buy ground beef and chicken in bulk or family-size packages. This can save about 20% on ground beef and up to 50% on chicken. Choose frozen seafood instead of fresh, saving 20 to 40%.

• Avoid buying prepared and packaged goods. These convenience goods come at a premium price.

• Buy non-grocery items at mass-market retailers, not at a supermarket.

• If the local supermarket offers a savings club, join it. These free programs entitle members to savings on selected products.

• Use coupons.

• Join a warehouse club. Bulk retailers may be 20 to 50% cheaper than regular grocery stores.

Though the recent drought most definitely will affect grocery expenses, perhaps wise shopping strategies will help offset the increasing costs. And, I hope our farmers don’t take too hard a hit this year.

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