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Keeping up with the rising cost of living has become almost second nature for many Americans at this point. But that doesn't make it any easier, especially when it comes to putting food on the table.
Though inflation has widely cooled off, grocery prices remain high — with food giant Nestlé predicting that prices will keep rising this year.
It's never too late for financial advice that can help lessen the squeeze on your wallet. CNBC Select spoke with budget food blogger Toni Okamoto and other personal finance experts on moves you may want to consider making to find some relief from still-high prices.
Okamoto, who is also the author of the cookbook "Plant-Based on a Budget: Quick and Easy," says there are five "must-buy ingredients" that are both affordable to buy and versatile to cook: bouillon cubes, beans, potatoes, onions and canned chopped tomatoes or sauce.
Okamoto suggests using these five staples to make dishes such as black bean chili, stuffed sweet potatoes and vegetable and garbanzo bean foil packets.
But beyond what ingredients you buy, you can also take action at the grocery store to make shopping a little less pricey. Here are some tips for grocery shopping on a budget, including Okamoto's own advice:
- Look inside the aisles: Supermarkets will often display what's on sale at the ends of aisles, but there are usually even cheaper options when you look at the shelves of the corresponding aisle, Okamoto points out. "Also, they place more expensive options at eye level since many people don't take the time to look up or down to see what's cheaper," she says. "Look at the bottom of the shelf for the cheapest beans!"
- See what's sold in bulk: Some grocery stores will have items stored in bulk bins. "These bins allow you to purchase as much or as little as you need, and they're especially cost-saving when shopping for spices," Okamoto says. "You can also find dried beans in the bulk section."
- Check the price per ounce, not unit price: Though two cans of tomato sauce can have the same price, one may be larger than the other. "When doing a price comparison, make sure you're looking at the price per ounce instead of the unit price, which is often displayed on the price tag in the supermarket," suggests Okamoto.
- Stick to buying only what you need: It's easy to go overboard when grocery shopping (especially when shopping hungry), but you don't need to fill your fridge. "Instead, create a meal plan before you shop and buy only what you plan on using," Okamoto says.
Another way to take the sting out of your higher grocery bill is by paying with a credit card that rewards your spending. For example, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers cardholders 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%). Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can then be redeemed as a statement credit to pay off your credit card bill. Plus, new cardholders can earn a $250 statement credit after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first six months — that means spending at least $500 per month in the first six months of having your card, which can be easy to achieve while prices are still high. Cardholders don't have to pay an annual fee for the first year, after it's a modest $95; see rates and fees. Terms apply.
6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations, 3% cash back on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more) and 1% cash back on other purchases. Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 6 months.
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95.
0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening
19.24% - 29.99% variable. Variable APRs will not exceed 29.99%.
Balance transfer fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee
See rates and fees, terms apply.
But if you're really cutting down your monthly grocery bill and don't think you'll hit the spending requirement to earn the welcome bonus on the Blue Cash Preferred Card, consider the Chase Freedom Flex℠. New cardholders can earn $200 cash back after spending just $500 on purchases in their first three months from account opening — which breaks down to about $167 per month on groceries. The Freedom Flex is a card that earns 5% cash-back on combined gas station and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on drugstore purchases and on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services), 1% cash back on all other purchases
Earn a $200 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn 5% cash back on combined gas station and grocery store purchases (excluding Target and Walmart) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.
0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers
20.49% - 29.24% variable
Balance transfer fee
Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Foreign transaction fee
Member FDIC. Terms apply. Information about the Chase Freedom Flex℠ has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
Read our Chase Freedom Flex℠ review.
"The best way to beat inflation is to make sure your savings and investments outpace inflation or at least keep up," Shon Anderson, CFP and president at Anderson Financial Strategies, tells CNBC Select.
Despite how the market looks today, investing your money should protect it from inflation since the long-term returns will generally outpace rising prices. Historically, the S&P 500 has shown an average annualized return of roughly 10%, though past performance is no guarantee of future results. "Now is the time to stay invested," says Bola Sokunbi, certified financial education instructor, founder of Clever Girl Finance and author of "Choosing to Prosper."
A high-yield savings account is a perfect place to park the cash you may need at a moment's notice. The UFB Secure Savings currently offers one of the highest interest rates available at up to 5.25% APY.
Annual Percentage Yield (APY)
Earn up to 5.25% APY
No max number of transactions; max transfer amounts may apply
Excessive transactions fee
Overdraft fees may be charged, according to the terms, but a specific amount is not specified; overdraft protection service available
Offer checking account?
Offer ATM card?
Read our UFB Secure Savings review.
Yet, even with today's high rates, these accounts can't keep up with the rising cost of living. That's why short-term bonds have generated a great deal of interest. These savings vehicles are less affected if interest rates rise quickly and can be reinvested at higher rates as they reach maturity. Short-term Treasury bonds are a good idea as they're issued by the federal government and thus considered low risk.
Andrew Meadows, senior vice president at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings, especially likes I bonds as they're designed to fight inflation. I bonds pay both a fixed rate return, which is set by the U.S. Treasury Department, and an inflation-adjusted variable rate return, the latter of which changes every six months based on the Consumer Price Index. Currently, I bonds pay 6.89% annual interest through April.
Meadows also points out that signing up for the automatic escalation feature in your employer-sponsored 401(k) can help you fight inflation over time while you build wealth for your future. With automatic escalation, your contribution amount will automatically increase each year up to a certain limit — putting your retirement savings on autopilot.
"We've seen more and more people sign up for this feature," Meadows says. "Especially in a time of high inflation like we have today, the 'time value of money' becomes a reality." The idea here is that saving more today will, over time, help bolster your retirement balance so it keeps up with the cost of living when you quit working.
Cutting spending is a good idea any time you want to better your finances, but especially when money is tight. Start by reviewing your credit or debit card statements as they often break out your spending by category.
"I've had to do this in my own household, which meant doing a better job tracking what we're spending our money on," Meadows says. For Meadows, this exercise helped him and his partner fine-tune and separate their "must-haves" from their "nice-to-haves" and "things they can do without."
For those who want to track their spending in a more automated way, consider an app like Mint — rated "best overall free app" on CNBC Select's list of the best budgeting apps and best expense tracker apps. In addition to offering basic budgeting features, Mint also provides bill payment reminders, customized alerts when you're over budget and a credit monitoring service. Read our full review of the Mint app.
"It is difficult to determine where you might be able to save if you don't have a good sense of how you are currently managing your money," adds Diahann Lassus, CFP and senior managing director-managing principal at Peapack Private Wealth Management.
Plus, we get used to spending on things we may no longer need or enjoy. "Lots of times we spend money on things that don't improve the quality of our lives for so long that it becomes a habit," Ivory Johnson, CFP and founder of Delancey Wealth Management, tells CNBC Select. A good example of this is paying for a recurring expense that you never use, such as a gym membership, streaming service or other subscription.
Johnson identifies other "low-hanging fruit" steps you can take as not paying for cable, making lunch instead of going out, buying a cheaper brand of something or DIY-ing instead of paying someone to do work in your home. Lassus agrees with this advice, adding that you can consider doing tasks you'd normally outsource, like house cleaning or lawn maintenance.
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Fighting high prices can go hand-in-hand with having to make hard choices.
"Sometimes you have to scale back your lifestyle, whether that's where you vacation, how often you buy cars or where your children go to school," Johnson says. "Don't worry about how it looks; chances are you're not the only one on your block affected by higher prices."
Beyond those big-ticket purchases, smaller everyday decisions also matter. "One area I try to keep an eye on is eating out," Lassus says. Because food is more expensive, restaurants have passed on those higher charges to the customer. Cooking at home instead of dining out can make a difference in your spending each month, especially over time, she argues.
While consumers can't control prices, they can control how they spend in a grocery store, where they save their money, and how they budget for their everyday lives. Following the tips above can help your finances while prices remain high.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.