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Inflation Blues? Tips to Save Money on Food, Gas and Travel

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's happening

Prices soared by an average of 9.1% last month, with US inflation remaining at 40-year highs.

Why it matters

Rising prices mean your dollar doesn't stretch as far as it used to, costing you more for everyday essentials and putting a strain on household budgets.

What's next

The Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates to try to tamp inflation and slow the economy, but that could increase the risk of a recession.

Inflation reached a new high in June, rising to 9.1% -- the highest combined 12-month increase since November 1981. And consumers are feeling the biggest pinch with steep food, gas and housing prices: The food index increased by 10.4% and the energy index rose by a whopping 41.6% since the previous year, while rent rose by 0.8% just in the last month. 

There's been a sustained pressure on our wallets throughout 2022, making it harder to pay for everyday expenses and keep a roof over our heads. Even before this latest peak, US families were paying an average of $460 more per month for everyday essentials and services, according to a June report from economists at Moody Analytics. Talks of a recession add to the pending worry. 

As inflation is not likely to ease up anytime soon, we can only focus on what's in our control. Here are a few methods to unlock savings in everyday expenses, including food, gas, utilities and travel. These spending strategies might just help you cope a bit better with inflation's toll on your household.

Money saving tips for food

  • Consume carefully. As we've reported, 40% of food waste comes from our kitchens. But shopping with more precision, consuming leftovers and taking inventory inside your kitchen cabinets before hitting the grocery store are savings strategies that support sustainability while keeping more money in your bank account. 
  • Go frozen. In the past, I equated buying fresh fish and produce with the best possible quality. But in recent years, especially now that our family has doubled in size, I love frozen options such as greens, berries for smoothies and filets of fish. With advances in rapid deep-freeze tech, the quality is just as good when thawed -- and you can save easily 30% to 50% on the price. To that end, we've invested in a separate freezer where we store bread, cheese and other quick-to-perish foods to boost their shelf life by an extra three to six months.
  • Diversify where you shop.Don't only hunt for sales at the supermarket. Check for deals at drug stores, dollar stores and even big-box retailers (which are expanding their fresh food and pantry offerings), sometimes at a lower price than grocery stores. 
  • Shop store brands. Whether you're at Costco or Whole Foods or the local supermarket, keep an eye out for the store's own private label. You can usually find these products in the pantry and fresh food aisles. The quality of store-label goods is just as solid (in my opinion) as the name-brand variety and they sell for as much as 25% to 50% less.
  • Buy discounted gift cards for eating out. Gift card resale sites like Raise and CardCash let you buy discounted cards from a variety of brands. You can often find solid savings on cards tied to chain restaurants, as opposed to grocery stores, which tend to sell out faster. For example, on CardCash I found a gift card to Subway for 10% off.

Money saving tips for gas

  • Sign up for fuel savings programs.You can usually shave 5 to 10 cents off every gallon of gas by signing up for fuel savings programs at your favorite gas pump. They're typically free and can be accessed via mobile phone. For example, BP has an app-based gas rewards program that saves members 5 cents per gallon. 
  • Search for the cheapest gas. There's an app for that! Gasbuddy, for example, will use your location to identify the cheapest gas nearest to you. Another option is to use a gas credit card, which can get you rewards or allow you to get up to 5% back on purchases made at gas stations. 
  • Bring cash to the pump. Some fuel stations offer a small discount for customers who pay with cash, as opposed to credit.
  • Renegotiate car insurance. On a related note, if you're driving less than you were before the pandemic and have yet to call your car insurer to ask for an adjustment to your insurance premium, you should. Driving less means that you're at less risk for accidents and flat tires, so while this isn't a way to save on gas, you may be able to earn some money back on car insurance to bulk up your gas budget.

Money saving tips for travel

  • Be flexible. If prices are too high right now, it might be best to wait. If you can fly off-season or on off-peak days or times, you could find a better rate. Along with being flexible with timing, try alternative destinations. While some popular destinations have been flooded with tourists after two years of pandemic travel restrictions, you might be able to find better deals at unexpected destinations. 
  • Plan ahead. Booking activities ahead of time can allow you some peace of mind for trip budgeting, and give you more options to find discounts and deals. Also, searching for the most affordable hotels and housing months in advance gives you more options to cut costs. Staying close to key tourist destinations could mean avoiding the price of a rental car, for example. 
  • Bank on unused card points or miles. We just used our card points that we'd been racking up as rewards during the pandemic to buy round-trip flights to go out west to see our family. The trip was essentially free thanks to card points that had been collecting dust over the last two years of the pandemic.
  • Consider a local trip. If you're not into flying right now, explore your own community with a staycation. If you moved to a new locale during the pandemic and haven't ventured out much, this could be a great time to explore surrounding attractions. While you're planning, take note of your various affiliations to score discounts on car rentals and museums. Students, AAA members and AARP card-holding members can often earn discounts. In New York, residents can apply for the IDNYC card, which unlocks so many perks, including free entrance to museums. Check your city for similar programs.

Read more: How to Save on Your Summer Trip 

Money saving tips for utilities

  • Ask for discounts. Negotiating with your providers and billers is always a wise practice -- from your cable provider to your streaming service to your utilities company. Speak with customer retention and let them know that you want to save money and see what they offer you.
  • Drop a streaming service. With everyone from Netflix to Hulu announcing an increase in monthly subscription costs, consider dropping one streaming service. Maybe it's the one you use the least or that you joined simply because of a single show that's now ended its season. You can renew next year when it's back. If you can't keep track of your subscriptions, there are apps like Truebill that will scan your bank account to identify all of your subscriptions -- and even help you cancel them for a fee.

Read more:How to Save on Your Gas, Electric and Water Bills

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