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Tips to Avoiding Higher Food Prices

8 ways to stretch your grocery budget during the worst drought in 50 years

En español  |  Get ready: This summer's terrible heat and the worst drought in nearly 50 years are likely to strain your food budget. "We're looking at grocery prices to go up 3 to 4 percent" in 2013, says Richard Volpe, a Department of Agriculture economist. That's about a percentage point faster than normal, and on certain foods, the jump will be bigger.

The good news: Prices will probably hold basically steady for the rest of 2012. But here are some specific rises you can expect next year, the USDA says:

* Beef and veal: 4 to 5 percent (the largest predicted hike)

* Poultry and eggs: 3 to 4 percent

* Pork: 2.5 to 3.5 percent

* Dairy products: 3.5 to 4.5 percent

* Cereals and bakery products: 3 to 4 percent

* Fruits and vegetables: 2 to 3 percent, the normal annual rate.

So how can you eat well without eating up your savings? Here are eight ways.

1. Eat more produce. For financial reasons, 2013 may be the Year of the Vegetarian. The reason: Many of the price hikes affect farm animal feed — in July, for instance, feed corn was selling at 50 percent more per bushel than in June. This helps drive up the cost of meat and dairy products. But fruits and vegetables aren't being affected much because they're largely grown on irrigated land, which is less vulnerable to lack of rainfall. And produce is a popular loss leader; supermarkets often price it below cost to attract customers.

If you scale back on meat, consider beans and legumes as a low-cost, high-protein alternative.

Plan Ahead for Rising Food Costs: 7 ways to stretch your budget: Eat More Produce

Consider eating more veggies to save money on that grocery list. — Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton/Getty Images

2. Buy now, eat later. If you have room in the freezer, you may want to stock up on meats before next year's price hikes. Steaks, roasts and whole chicken can be frozen for up to one year, chops for about six months, and meat leftovers for up to 3 months. Canned meats are easy to store and have a long shelf life.

3. Buy big. Pound for pound, "family" or "value"-sized packages of meat will remain cheaper than smaller ones. Prices may be less at warehouse stores such as Costco and Sam's Club than in the local supermarket. (If you're not a member, consider finding a friend or neighbor and split the food and cost.)

4. Shop late in the day. At many meat counters, meat may be marked down twice in the same day, according to the website The best discounts (as much as 60 percent) come in the evening on leftover "must-sell" items.

5. Become a couponista. Study supermarket circulars, newspapers and websites for coupons and sales. Planning shopping around these discounts can yield major savings: claims a conscientious shopper can trim what would be a $260 weekly grocery bill to $150, saving more than $5,700 a year.

6. Keep an eye on savings, not shelves. In supermarkets, less-expensive items are often positioned on the bottom and top shelves. Eye-level space may be reserved for pricier items.

7. Be smart about preparation. Buy the most affordable beef cuts, but make them taste like top of the line. Cheaper cuts such as chuck, round, plate and flank benefit from a tenderizing marinade before cooking. Less tender roasts and steaks improve with braising or slow cooking.

8. Grow your own. You don't have to buy everything you eat. Plant a vegetable plot in your yard or, if you live in an apartment, create an indoor garden. If you don't have enough space at home, see if you can join a community garden. Find more information at the website of the American Community Gardening Association.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer affairs.

Also of interest:

Remember to go to the AARP home page every day for great deals and for tips on keeping healthy and sharp.

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