This just in: The retail price of beef increased by 10 percent in 2011, with the average price per pound coming in at $4.83 for USDA Choice. And it's expected to rise by another 10 percent in 2012, with experts warning the price hike will hit by summer.
Now seems like a good time to stalk the sales and load up my freezer. More than that, I'm talking to a local butcher about purchasing a side or a quarter of beef, dressed and packaged for home consumption. I'm hoping to get my average price per pound well under the 2011 price. I'll keep you posted.
On the heels of rising beef prices, the cost of all foods is expected to rise in 2012. So what's a consumer to do? Start building a food "hedge fund." That means when things are on sale, buy as much as you can afford. At sale prices, not only will you be beating inflation now, depending on how much you buy, you'll knock the socks off inflation in the future.
Think non-perishable: flour, sugar, coffee, rice, beans, canned goods, canned meats and tuna. Buying these foods at today's prices is like running ahead of an avalanche, provided you pace yourself and don't slow down.
Here are few inflation-beating tips:
1. When it's on sale, buy enough to last until the next sale. We know food retailers work on a 12-week cycle. Everything comes on sale at least once every three months. That doesn't mean every brand, but you can bank on peanut butter being on sale sometime within the next 12 weeks, for example.
2. Create storage space. You might believe you just don't have room to build a stash of non-perishable food, but consider this: The space under beds is the perfect size for canned and dry goods, stored in shallow plastic bins.
3. Buy a cow. Now, I'm not talking about a calf to raise in your back yard - I'm thinking large quantities of beef in bulk, at prices that are better than the average supermarket. There are many ways to do this, the simplest being a local butcher shop. There are also great resources online that will ship you the exact cuts you desire, packaged to fit your needs. Wilson Beef Farms (WilsonBeefFarms.com) is one example. Located in upstate New York, you can purchase a side of beef (about 300 pounds) for $3.72 per pound plus shipping or any number of smaller "meat packages."
4. Change your eating habits. Just because beef is getting more expensive doesn't mean you must banish it from your diet. Instead, simply cut back. Think of ways beef can become more of a side dish rather than the main event of your meal.
I'm always happy when I get feedback from my readers. I'd love to know how you are dealing with the high cost of food. Write to me at email@example.com and I'll share your tips in a future column.