You're spending more on groceries than you did a year ago — and they're only going to get more expensive.
If you eat a lot of beef, the news is not good. In February, beef prices were up 10.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the Department of Agriculture. And the bite will get worse — beef prices are expected to increase by another 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent this year.
The USDA forecasts overall food inflation to accelerate, with prices possibly increasing between 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent this year.
Overall grocery prices increased by about 0.3 percent in 2010, but the growth was higher in some categories.
Similarly, commissary officials say the costs of most categories of food, especially perishables, are showing inflation in 2011.
"The commissary can, and will, work very hard to negotiate the best pricing possible, but when industry costs increase, manufacturers and suppliers will necessarily attempt to pass on the increases," said Gary Frankovich, a spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency.
With all that said, it's time to pay even more attention to your shopping habits: ĺ Shop at the commissary, but comparison shop at local grocery stores, too. While commissaries are not shielded from food price increases, their prices are generally about 30 percent lower than in stores outside the gate. That means you could pay $68.50 at the commissary for food that would cost you $100 at a civilian store.
ĺ Consider changing your eating habits. For example, eat more chicken — it's not only healthier, it's cheaper. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average price per pound of whole fresh chicken was $1.27 in February, compared with $3.06 for a pound of ground beef. Poultry prices are expected to increase by 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent this year, a smaller increase than is forecast for beef.
• Keep an eye out for special sales, and check circulars from local grocery stores.
Commissary case lot sales are coming up in May, offering special deals in addition to the average 30 percent savings on a variety of items, so take advantage and stock up. For information about when a sale will be held near you, visit www.commissaries.com, and click on "Shopping," then "Case Lot Sales."
Don't forget about the National Guard and Reserve sales, in which commissary items come to communities where there is no commissary. For locations and dates, go to the "Guard/Reserve On-Site Sales" under the shopping section of the commissary website.
• Compare prices based on units — number of pounds, number of items, etc.
• Factor in the entire cost of your shopping trip. Try to squeeze in commissary trips on the way home to save gas. If you don't work or live on an installation, combine all your errands into one trip.
• Use coupons — from circulars in your newspapers, magazines and online. For starters on finding links to Internet coupon sites, visit www.commissaries.com, click on "Shopping," then "Coupon Links."
• If you pay by credit card, use a rewards card that offers cash back. The military exchanges' Military Star Rewards MasterCard offers 2 percent rewards for every dollar spent on installations, including commissaries. You can get those rewards in the form of cash back, among other things. Put that money in the bank, and you save 2 percent off your purchases.
Just remember to pay off that credit card each month — because any benefit from a reward is lost if you have to pay interest on the outstanding balance.