While on my bimonthly Sam’s Club shopping trip today, I felt inflation’s bite. After a two-month absence, the price increases are not only visual but visceral.
My inflation shock corresponds to today’s announcement by the Commerce Department that core inflation continues to grow and is at its highest level since 1982. The CPI is back over 8 percent to 8.2 percent. Both numbers exceeded expectations.
Keep in mind that this data reflects September and doesn’t include the recent increase in gas prices. Once it is, I think the only question is whether the official CPI will break 10 percent by year’s end. The unofficial one did months ago.
If you haven’t heard these latest inflation numbers, it is because the mainstream media is downplaying them to avoid hurting the Democrat’s chances in the midterm elections next month. By burying the inflation news, they hope what Rush Limbaugh used to call “low information voters” won’t hear about it. Whether they hear about it on the news, food inflation is 11.2 in the past 12 months. That’s hard to miss.
Sam’s Club and Food Shortages
The stacked food shelves in the Sam’s Club I visited in a nearby state impressed me. It had the largest stacks of rice and flour that I have seen for some time. Jasmine rice was back in stock and piled high. (It is available online, too.) Both the 25-pound bags of general purpose flour and bread flour were well stocked, and there were 10-pound bags of Gold Medal four as well.
There were also more varieties of crackers in stock than I had seen in at least a year. In the past, there would be Ritz or Club crackers, if you were lucky. This time they had both, plus three other varieties of crackers, not counting graham crackers. The nuts section was also well stocked.
Olive oil supplies remain tight. This store used to have multiple varieties, packages and sizes. The now have less than a third of that. We were able to find Extra Virgin Olive Oil this time. On my last visit, it was out of stock. They had only one variety of green olives in stock, and no black olives.
There were at least three kinds of pasta on the shelf at Sam’s club. Six packs of Member’s Mark elbow macaroni and Member’s Mark spaghetti plus and a Barilla Pasta Variety Pack. While this is down from the variety we’d see a year ago, when they would have had Member’s Mark penne and angel hair pasta, it’s an improvement of what we saw in late spring through the summer. It appears short-term outages attributed to a shortage of grains because of the Ukraine war have been resolved.
Price Versus Supply
I don’t know if the increased supply reflects a resolution of supply chain problems or if the higher prices are reducing demand, resulting in lower sales. Higher prices caused me to avoid buying many of the canned meat items I would have purchased a year ago. I also cut back on cheese and other discretionary food purchases because of the expense. Nonetheless, my bill was significantly higher than I am used to.
That’s because more than half of what I bought was meat, including pork chops, chicken, lamb chops, hamburger, steak, a roast, and bacon. Because my bill was climbing, I did not buy stew meat, salmon, or beef brisket. Beef supplies have also recovered.
Based on this trip and my recent shopping trips to Walmart and the local grocery store, I think we can lay many of our food shortage fears to rest for now. There may be some occasional outages, and we may see eggs and other items go out of stock from time-to-time, but I am predicting it will be at least six months before there are any large-scale shortages in our local grocery and other food stores.
I think there is a greater danger people will run out of money before the stores run out of food.
Social Security will have an 8.2 percent cost-of-living increase in 2023. That is the most in 40 years, but it’s still not going to keep up with true inflation. My guess, however, is that it is a larger “pay raise” than many employees will get. The sad truth is people’s finances are falling behind as their pay fails to keep up with rising prices, and I expect that’s going to get worse as gas prices go back up and winter heating bills hit.
A couple people in this Boots on the Ground video (below) from SouthernPrepper1 complain about the cost of filling their heating oil tank, and the heating season is just starting. They’ve filled their tank once. Most will have to fill it another two times. One person was told by their dealer that the cost of oil might rise to be between $7 and $10 per gallon by late winter. The most common heating oil tank is 275 gallons, so a complete fill at $7 per gallon is $1,925, not counting tax and any fees. At $10 per gallon, one tank is $2,750, which is more than people paid for home heating oil for the entire 2021/2022 season. Where’s that money going to come from?
I think the big question in 2023 is not going to be “Will there be food on the shelves,” but “Can people afford the food on the shelves?” We know it’s going to be a tough winter in Europe, but I think the public is oblivious to how bad it’s going to be here in the U.S.
The politicians are ignoring this as well. Biden just said he didn’t think we’re heading into a recession, but the market expects the Fed to raise rates another 75 basis points. Those data points contradict each other. Then again, I can’t think of a single thing Biden’s done something good for the economy since being elected.
We are Spoiled
When I was shopping today, I bought things I didn’t need. For example:
- I bought dog treats, a discretionary purchase. (Some would argue that having a pet is an unnecessary expense.)
- I bought one package of $10-per-pound steaks. I could have just bought more of $1.98-per-pound chicken or $2.98-per-pound pork and gotten many times more meat for the same price.
- The lamb chops were $5.98 per pound. My wife makes a great dish with lamb chops, but I lived for years without having them. I can do that again.
- I also bought bacon at $5.50 per pound. Now I like bacon, and I’d miss it, but if push came to shove, I’d skip it. My doctor would approve.
When you come right down to it, I could have reduced by bill by 75 percent if I bought things I needed to survive rather than things that I wanted because I liked them. Like most Americans, I am spoiled. I buy what I want and the sacrifices I make are relatively minor. If inflation keeps going up, those sacrifices are going to have to cut deeper.
People who may not be able to pay their $7,000 heating bill need to start sacrificing right now. Eat pasta with the cheapest sauce, and you can have a filling meal for about 50 cents per person. Forget the deli meats, the sliced turkey and ham, and have peanut butter sandwiches. Five pounds of the member’s mark peanut butter is $7.56, less than one pound of the sliced, oven-roasted turkey breast. That much peanut butter has more than 70 servings. Want to spice it up? Toast the bread.
You may consider rice and beans prepper food, but if you are low on money, it’s time to eat prepper food.
My advice is to practice making a basic, inexpensive meal a few times per week. Oatmeal for breakfast. A peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Rice and beans for dinner. You don’t have to have them all the same day, at least, not yet. Get your family used to the idea that a meal doesn’t have to come from a restaurant or in a box, and it doesn’t have to include desert. That way, when you have to cut back, it will be a smoother transition.
Stop buying organic foods, brand names and convenient single-serve or heat-and-eat packages. Start buying the store brand in bulk instead. I bet no one will know the difference except you. Likewise, stop buying special foods to feed a fad rather than your belly.
Starting making more from scratch and baking it at home. If you are too busy to make dinner from scratch every night, it may be time to reexamine both your priorities and your calendar. You can also make a week’s worth of meals on a Saturday and freeze them.
Again, most Americans are spoiled. That’s one reason we are fat and lazy. The fat and lazy are going to be the hungry and cold if they don’t do something about it before it’s too late.
As tough times approach, either financially or otherwise, it’s time to shake it off. We have the same genes as the “Greatest Generation” that lived through the hardship of the Great Depression and then helped save Europe from the Nazi’s and fought off the Japanese in WWII. Good thing, too, because we may face similar challenges in the near future. Let’s hope we can rise to the occasion.