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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, AFC® 
Martie Gillen, Ph.D., MBA, AFC®, CFLE

One cause of food insecurity among military families is inflation. As food costs rise, the ability to make nutritionally sound food purchases and maintain consistent access to food decreases. In February 2023, food prices were 9.5% higher than a year earlier according to the USDA Economic Research Service. 

Another cause of concern for cash-strapped military families is “shrinkflation,” i.e., where food and household product (e.g., toilet paper) manufacturers keep prices the same but reduce package sizing or the amount of product placed in packages. As a result, consumers pay more for less. 

Shrinkflation is typically “quiet” with the thinking that consumers are less likely to notice product size changes versus price changes. Once made, changes are likely to remain as a “new normal.” What can military families do to cope with shrinkflation? Make changes in shopping and/or dietary practices. Personal Financial Managers can present 10 strategies as options to consider:

  1. Pay Attention to Packaging– Compare newly purchased food with food purchased earlier to see if package size or contents have shrunk. Review package weights for each item and the number of servings and serving size. 
  2. Buy Store Brands– Heed this advice from food shopping experts. Not only are store brands generally cheaper, price-wise, but they are also the last products to have their packaging downsized.
  3. Consider Warehouse Stores– Buy in bulk if unit price comparisons for food or household goods result in lower prices than grocery stores without any waste. Some families share the membership cost with others.
  4. Consider Discount Stores– Cast a wider net and look for deals on food and household supplies at big box discount stores, “dollar” stores, and even drugstores with cash-back rewards programs.
  5. Stock Up During Sales– Take advantage of supermarket deals such as “can sales” and “buy one, get one free” promotions. Another way to save is a “double play”; i.e., combining a supermarket sale with a discount coupon.
  6. Shop Clearance Displays– Search clearance item displays for deals on food (to eat quickly), seasonal merchandise, and other items.
  7. Use Online Resources– Consider using online food shopping websites, apps, e-mail lists, and social media posts to save money with downloadable digital coupons and cashback rewards.
  8. Eat Less Pre-Packaged Food– Prioritize food purchases by price and nutritional value. Good candidates for elimination are foods with low nutrient density, such as chips, pastries, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  9. Rethink Brand Loyalty- Experiment with different products, brands, and retailers to save money. Purchasing the least expensive alternative can help mitigate the effects of shrinkflation.
  10. Reduce Food Waste- Plan meals in advance, store food properly, and use leftovers promptly or freeze them to eat at a later date.

For additional food insecurity information, review the OneOp Food Security in Focus webpage.

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock 19174468