How to Rebudget Your Household in the Face of Soaring Gas Prices

PHOTO At Suncoast Energys gas station in Orlando, Fla., a gallon of regular gas will cost you $5.39, the steepest in the country.
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Gas prices hit a high of $3.52 a gallon in the latest weekly survey, and that has a ripple effect on our budgets. Not only do we end up spending more on gasoline, but those who use their cars to save money on other things -- namely groceries -- suffer twice. Many people are in the habit of making runs to multiple grocery, big box and drug stores to take advantage of the best deals. With gas prices surging, it's time for at least a temporary change in tactics.

For advice on how to recalibrate, I turned to my own grocery guru, Chrissy Pate of savings website BeCentsAble.net. Sure enough, she says she's been getting "tons" of e-mails from her members asking for ideas. Chrissy is also co-author with Kristin McKee of "Be CentsAble, How to Cut Your Household Budget In Half." Chrissy and Kristin think about how to save money each and every day, so she was ready with some suggestions. Here are Chrissy's tips for the thorny gas/grocery conundrum:

Shop one store.

Shop at only one store or a cluster of stores close by. Use price matching to get all the hot deals in one store without running around town. Price matching simply means shopping at a store that offers to match competitors' prices. Typically you provide store circulars from the rival stores as proof of the low prices. It helps to put all your price match items in one area of your cart, so they're easy to present to the checker.

Shop when you are already out.

Put your grocery list in your car and stop by stores that you are passing when you are alread out and about. This works best for nonperishables, of course, but I can remember a time when my mom used to tote a cooler around in her car to keep milk and other things cold a bit longer when running other errands.

Shop less frequently.

For example, you could shop for 10 days' worth of food instead of seven. It helps to plan your menus and create a list from there so that you don't have to make extra runs to the store because you forgot something. Be extra conscious of expiration dates on your dairy and meat products. Or plan to freeze them -- you can even freeze milk and cheese. If needed, use canned or frozen produce to help you squeak through the last couple of days before you get back to the store. Buying in bulk is another way to avoid shopping too often.

Shop at home.

If you live in an area where your local grocery store offers delivery, do the math and see if the delivery fee is now worth it since gas prices have gone up. Alternatively, Amazon.com now sells all sorts of groceries. "They run 'hot' deals," Chrissy told me. "I got Horizon Organic Milk for $.78 for 8-ounce cartons when it is regularly $1.38." Chrissy's final insider tip: Use Amazon's subscribe-and-save service to get free shipping and 15 percent off. You can always cancel if gas prices go down.

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