Managing expenses helps counter inflation

Published 8:30 am Thursday, August 4, 2022

Life’s not always easy, even in the best of times. And now, while caught in the throes of the highest price inflation since 1981, it’s become even tougher for some.

Seemingly without warning, families across Virginia are asking themselves every day, how to make the best use of their money, during tight financial times.

Where to cut? What to eliminate? Might sound simple, but making the right decisions on stretching the family dollar isn’t always easy to do. The key is being open-minded.

“It is very important to make choices that provide lots of flexibility,” said Dr. David Lehr, economics professor and department chair at Longwood University. “Be nimble and resourceful. It is not necessarily pulling back and hunkering down, but being forward — looking and willing and able to change course should your home finances or business conditions change unexpectedly.”

Traditionally, during good times and bad, public and private financial planners advise families to always keep a close eye on family finances and household budgets.

MAKING SOME CHANGES

A shortlist of household cost-cutting actions can include eliminating unnecessary expenses, shopping for groceries differently, reducing home energy bills, being more fuel efficient, paying down on debt, increasing income and saving for the future,

It’s important for households to be prepared well in advance for budget and economic uncertainties, rather than be caught financially off guard by changing monetary cycles that are beyond their control.

“In the short run, it is difficult for ordinary citizens to do much to fight inflation,” said Matt Holt, economics professor and department head at Virginia Tech. “Historically, good inflation hedges have included owning land or real property, such as home ownership. Even so, buying a home simply as an inflation hedge is not a great idea. Citizens can also postpone big-ticket purchases, like buying a new car or truck.

“Households can trim discretionary purchases, magazine or streaming subscriptions and gym memberships,” he continued. “Some evidence these things are occurring is provided by the recent decline in Netflix subscriptions. Making your own home improvements is another way of saving money; more carefully monitoring food purchases, generics versus name brands, and food waste, is also helpful; limiting credit card purchases and paying down outstanding consumer debt is always a good idea. Finally, it may be feasible for some people to take a second job to help stretch limited budgets.”

Another way many people and families are saving money and living off the land at the same time is through gardening and backyard farming.

GROW YOUR OWN GROCERIES

An upcoming groceries-related series called “Grow Your Own Groceries” features workshops set for August 2, 9 and 16 in Farmville. Produced and hosted by the Prince Edward County Extension Office, at 100 Dominion Drive, sessions run from 11 a.m. to noon. Attendees will learn how to plant microgreens, cook with sprouts, grow herbs and start windowsill gardens, using kitchen scraps.

In Virginia Beach, Karen Munden, senior extension agent, family and consumer services, Virginia Cooperative Extension, City of Virginia Beach, encourages families to take a closer look inside their refrigerators to find savings.

“(Families) need to meal plan, think about food that leftovers can be used in various ways,” she said. “Take an inventory of the food in the cabinets and freezer; have the family get creative and only use food in the household. It could be a contest within the house.”

Munden also encourages fewer home deliveries of food and less dining out, going online to better learn how to prepare food at home and cutting back on purchasing convenience foods, such as boneless and skinless chicken, which cost more per pound than other chicken.

Sliced fruit, such as apples, are better when purchased by the bag and later sliced and stored in zipped locked plastic bags, she said, adding that fresh lettuce can be treated the same way as apples.

COMPARE PRICES, VALUE

Shoppers should also compare the size of consumer items to ensure a better value even if the price is a little more, said Munden, and use manufacturers’ and store coupons.

“Families might want to purchase items in bulk, but make sure the family will use the items,” she said. “Look for coupons and sales. Make sure to read the content of the item and make sure it is not full of water. The cleaning product should have more product and less water to be of value.”

Parents with children in school face added financial pressures as they look towards the fall and back-to-school needs.

“Families should think about the whole school year, and not just from September to December, and estimate the supplies needed for the full academic year,” said Munden. “Shop during the ‘Virginia Tax Free’ weekend in August and shop for clothing that can be worn year around, adding a couple layers for warmth during the winter months. Families may also consider purchasing clothes and shoes a little larger for children, so they can grow into them by the spring.”