Nothing tests the sanity of the ordinary American more than seeing gas prices steadily climb at the pump, or food prices inexorably rising at the cash register.
I’ve been at both, and the experience is teeth grinding. (At bottom I’ve got some tips for you on how to save money at the gas pump and in the grocery store.)
Here’s why you might want this advice: Consumer prices jumped 0.6% in August from July, largely due to rising gas prices. That was a touch more than the estimate of 0.5%, but it was the largest monthly gain since June 2009, raising some concerns about inflation, notes FOX Business senior editor Charles Brady.
The national average for the cost of gas is up about a nickel versus a week ago, nearly 17 cents versus a month ago, and 23 cents compared to a year ago. However, oil just broke through $100 a barrel this morning, it’s been in a trading band between $80 and $110, so inflation is here.
And the markets are pricing in inflation. The spread between the 10-year Treasury yield and TIPS, or inflation protected securities, is widening. Buyers of these inflation-protected securities are betting on inflation of at least 2.54%.That’s significantly above the 1.7% year-over-year gain in the August CPI, and the spread is way up versus a year ago.
So just about everything is rising in price except your biggest asset -- your house.
But I know how you feel. So, I’ve been test-driving my own tips on how to cut costs. Here are five tips that have worked so far for me:
1. Bring your lunch to work: $10 a day times five is $50 bucks a week. Knock out two weeks’ vacation, and you could save $2,400 a year—enough for your next vacation. I would also say stop eating red meat because it’s pricey, but I don’t want to sound like a food cop. (Though I do think healthy food is cheaper food, junk food has lots of empty calories and they don’t fill you up.)
I’m not saying to eat like a humming bird, but protein food like tofu, legumes, eggs and beans are cheaper than meat. And didn’t Einstein say that was the future for human gastronomy?
2. Take advantage of your grocery store: And I’m not just talking coupons from the Sunday paper inserts. I love coupons—you can knock well more than a quarter off of your grocery bill. But more so, big supermarket chains like Publix and Kroger have the equivalent of frequent flyer miles for repeat shoppers. They’re called ‘customer loyalty’ programs, and you can get lower, cheaper ‘member pricing,’ like double coupons or cheaper costs for gas.
3. Use store brand alternatives—and bring a calculator: I get good deals on aspirin (take one before shopping), cottage cheese and yogurt, mayonnaise or peanut butter. Read the ingredients label and you’ll be surprised at how much they are the same. That’s because supermarkets often purchase food products from national brand companies and slap their own label on them. And watch the end space on each end of a grocery aisle, that’s where the store manager puts the store’s deals on junk food, cookies and soda pop, even soup or pasta sauce.
Bring a calculator and do the math on the price of the item and the number of units in it, like yards for paper towels or ounces for milk. I do this all the time, it saves me lots of money. Oh and while you’re bringing the calculator, leave the children at home. While I adore children (I’ve been changing diapers since age 6), they’ll guilt you into buying all sorts of pricey things.
4. Use your smartphone and credit cards to buy gas: There are lots of new apps pointing you towards the nearest gas station with the cheapest gas prices. And buy a global positioning satellite system to help you find the shortest distance to your location, saving you gas money from getting lost (and saving you from divorce due to the fighting). Also, there are lots of credit cards offering gasoline reward money back for filling up your tank. Be sure to get a cheap card though, don’t get one with a high annual fee or interest rate. And don’t buy high octane, only buy regular. High octane is lame, it offers no more benefit than regular.
5. Maintain your car—or use public transportation: Checking the oil, changing the air filter, spark plugs, rotating the tires and keeping them inflated can save you as much as 10-15% on your gas bill. And stop being a tail-gatin’, road ragin’ speed demon. All of that speeding, braking, stopping and going wrecks your savings on your gas. Gas savings decline precipitously at speeds over 60 to 65 miles per hour, and through constant braking and revving up the engine. Oh, and I like trains, buses and subways -- I like it when someone else takes the wheel, so I can read.
Elizabeth MacDonald joined FOX Business Network (FBN) as stocks editor in September 2007.
Follow Elizabeth MacDonald on Twitter @LizMacDonaldFOX.