College students adjust to inflation-impacted grocery prices

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By the year-end of August 2022, food prices were up 13.5% — the largest 12-month percentage increase since the period ending March 1979, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Students said they can save money on food by shopping at discount stores like Walmart and Winco. (Cameron Cook)

A limited budget and little spare time can make grocery shopping as a college student difficult. 

Since the pandemic, food-at-home prices have gone up 23.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The consequences of inflation do not exclude college students. 

BYU student Marcus Chamberlain from California said he is able to save money by shopping in bulk at Winco. 

“I go to Winco in Orem. I do feel like I get pretty good prices. I like going to the bulk section there, and I can get big bags of whatever I need … I feel like that helps me save money,” Chamberlain said. 

BYU student Rebbecca Shaw from Layton said she has noticed the inflation, and saves money by shopping at Walmart and buying ingredients. 

The rise in food prices can be explained by supply and demand, BYU economics professor Christian Vom Lehn said. 

Content creator Dollar Tree Dinners went viral showing off $2 dinners that can be made out of dollar store ingredients. Shoppers can find off-brand condiments, spices, cereal, pasta, canned goods and more for $1.25 at dollar stores. (Cameron Cook)

“Supply chain disruptions and trade dynamics typically affect the price of food by changing the supply of food. Disruptions to either trade or supply chains will tend to push the price of food up, due to a reduced supply of food,” Vom Lehn said.

The 2020 pandemic and the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine are a couple of the factors that have disrupted food supply chains — contributing to the rise in prices, according to the Food Industry Association.  

Vom Lehn said food prices in the U.S. are beginning to stabilize and will stop growing so fast going forward.

“When it comes to price stability, I think we are seeing that happening already. Food prices are still growing slightly faster than usual, but the rate at which food prices are growing is back to what we saw in early 2020 and will likely return to pre-pandemic levels early next year,” Vom Lehn said.

Though inflation is slowing, those still adjusting to a higher grocery bill can find new ways to save money. 

A 2022 study analyzing foot traffic to five different dollar stores found a spike in shoppers in 2022 and a continued gradual increase in 2023.

For those who don’t mind off-brand products, dollar stores offer basic groceries including cereal, pasta, canned goods, condiments, spices and a small section of frozen foods all for $1-$1.25. 

BYU also offers a variety of on-campus and off-campus resources for students struggling with food insecurity, which can be found here.

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