I was going to title this essay, “Inflation 101,” but the number keeps going up. We haven’t had double-digit inflation since 1980, the year that gave us President Ronald Reagan, the Far Side comic strip and the answer to the burning question, “Who shot JR?” If that era seems like ancient history to you, here are a few tips for beating inflation from someone who can remember when gasoline prices averaged thirty-five cents per gallon at the pump and you could buy a candy bar for a quarter.
— Stop buying candy bars. No, no, that can’t be the answer! True, you could institute a boycott of higher priced goods, like Canadian children did in the Candy Bar Protest of 1947 when the price of candy bars soared from five cents to eight cents and outraged children hit the streets (fun story—look it up). But there must be other ways to economize.
— Eat less. With grocery costs skyrocketing, what better time to go on a diet? Embrace “shrinkflation” in your own home and reduce your food portions at every meal. Adopt the “no one can eat just one” challenge laid down by Lays potato chips. If you only eat one chip per serving, that seven-dollar bag will last you for the next three weeks.
— Don’t hoard food. Yeah, you might be getting it on sale, but it will end up costing you in the long run when you let your mustard expire in the fridge. You’ll have to throw it away and buy a new jar. And please, people, don’t send those expired boxes of mac and cheese to the food bank and then write it off on your income tax as a charitable deduction. That’s just cheesy.
— Give up that daily trip to the coffee shop. Wait, what? Why is it that the first thing people want you to give up is coffee? If you search any random article on how to save money, coffee shop purchases always make the short list. But there’s a quality-of-life issue here that can’t be ignored. The feeling of virtue that comes from saving money will never outweigh the misery produced by a coffee-free existence. I repeat, there must be another way.
— Make soup out of trash. When I was a kid, my mom saved the bones from our chicken dinner, along with various carrot peelings, onion skins, and celery leaves, to throw in the crockpot to make soup. In those days, we called it “chicken soup.” Today, it’s called “bone broth,” a much-touted healthy food that costs more than chicken soup in the grocery aisle. They don’t want you to know that it’s made out of trash.
— Bolster your savings. Bend down and pick up that penny off the ground. Check the coin returns like you did when you were a kid. I know it’s not the same since pay phones have disappeared, leaving both you and Superman stranded. But if you keep your eyes on the ground when you’re out in public, you’re bound to spot some loose change.
— Binge-watch with abandon. Do you subscribe to numerous streaming services and binge-watch one series on each? Rather than running all those subscriptions simultaneously, take them one at a time. Binge-watch to the end of The Office, then cancel that subscription and sign up for a different one that lets you watch all the Star Trek episodes over all the different series. When you’re done with that, cancel and move on.
— Use it all. Invest in a good scraper for scraping out that last bit of peanut butter from the sides of the jar so you can tell your kids you’re Magic Mommy who can make a peanut butter sandwich from an empty jar. Save your used vegetable oil to start up your campfire. Collect those tiny bits of soap into an old nylon stocking tied up with a bow. They’ll lather up better than a new bar, leaving nothing to throw away.
Do all these things, and you’re guaranteed to feel the satisfaction of beating inflation. You might also save enough money in your budget to indulge at the coffee shop from time to time.
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.