Editor's note: Food and fuel prices are up; home sales and job opportunities are down. As the country sinks deeper into a period of economic uncertainty, residents are looking for ways to tighten their belts, ride out a likely recession and maybe even save a little money. The Eagle-Tribune is taking a three-day look at how Southern New Hampshire residents are weathering the financial storm — covering the basics, scrimping on luxuries and keeping big-ticket dreams alive.
Armed with her coupons and sale fliers, Janice Greenfield hit two supermarkets Friday afternoon in Londonderry. First, she bought a carriage full of groceries at Market Basket. Then she headed to Shaw's with a flier that already had a bunch of coupons attached to it.
"I've always been a sales-oriented shopper," Greenfield said. "I stock up on sale items and I use coupons."
She said the biggest change in her shopping habits is that she does all her weekly shopping in a single trip to save on gasoline, which also costs more.
For Greenfield, rising food prices translate into about $20 in extra spending a week, despite all the steps she takes to get the lowest prices.
There are even certain items Greenfield said she has stopped buying, including dinner rolls, because of the higher cost.
As food prices rise, shoppers are becoming more price conscious, paying more attention to sales, buying less-expensive store brands, and shopping at more than one store to get the cheapest prices.
Some are even getting back to basics, meaning they are buying meat and vegetables, and cooking them from scratch, instead of buying more expensive packaged products, said John Dumais, president of the New Hampshire Grocers Association.
Dairy and poultry products, including eggs and milk, have seen the largest spikes in prices, along with wheat products, he said.
The average increase in food prices over the past year has been close to 5 percent, compared to an increase of about 2.5 percent annually over the previous 10 years, Dumais said.
"The primary culprit for all of this increased inflation is fuel oil," he said, "which affects everybody in the food distribution system, from the farmers to the food processors to the wholesalers and the retailers."
The cost of corn to feed cattle has gone up because there's less of it, he said. That's because corn is being diverted to producing more ethanol, as a fuel alternative.
It also costs farmers more to run their tractors and heat their buildings. The companies processing the food have to spend more to heat their buildings and it costs them more to buy plastic packaging.
And it costs wholesalers more to transport food products, thanks to fuel prices, he said.
Consumers are taking steps to reduce their shopping bills, Dumais said.
"It's concerning," said Christine Berry of Derry. "What I used to be able to get for $100 is now $120 or $130. Pasta has gone up, along with dairy products, including milk."
Berry said the rising prices have prompted her to buy more store brands and take advantage of sales.
"I'm stocking up a lot more now," she said, "and I'm using shelving space in my basement a lot more than I used to."
Diane Giordano of Londonderry said she, too, turns more often to store brands.
"We've had a freezer for a while, but we really didn't start using it until right after Christmas to help us keep up with the rising price of food," she said.
Joanne Joaquin of Londonderry said she has started shopping at three different stores and she plans to start using coupons.
She emerged from Market Basket in Londonderry recently with $173 in groceries, which included food for her Easter dinner. She said her weekly grocery bill has risen by about $30 over the past year.