Americans’ fear of going to the supermarket during stormy times

Kerry Carter, 54, said when he was a child he was always excited to go to the supermarket, but now he just shudders.

For Kerry Carter, a construction worker in Houma, Louisiana, grocery shopping has become a second job. Carter has a passion for cooking but now only buys groceries and relies on that to plan meals.

In the Houma area, more than 50% of households are considered middle class with an average income of $44,956 a year, according to the Pew Research Center. At the Rouses supermarket in Houma, Carter and other customers share similar stories. They are increasingly worried as staples, from milk to bread, skyrocket in price and their wages can’t keep up.

The US consumer price index (CPI) rose 8.3% in August from a year earlier, as prices for everything from vehicles to medical care to electricity bills rose. Grocery prices in August were 13.5% higher than a year earlier, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the most sudden increase in a 12-month cycle, from March 1979 to now. In the face of an even more bleak future, many consumers say they are struggling to adapt.

Carter decides where to shop during the week thanks to the discount flyers he sees for breakfast every morning. He usually only goes to Rouses every Wednesday when there are more goods on sale. However, Carter said that no matter how hard he tried, his monthly bill kept increasing.

Kerry Carter with her shopping cart at Rouses supermarket in Houma, Louisiana.  Photo: WSJ.

Kerry Carter with her shopping cart at Rouses supermarket in Houma, Louisiana. Image: WSJ.

“I can’t do what I want. I have to spend sparingly,” Carter said. He couldn’t remember when his last vacation was and couldn’t afford the materials needed to complete the house he was building for his family.

He spent 80.86 USD on the market that day. He intended to buy tomatoes but ended up taking 6 more packages of chicken wings because of the promotion, along with three packages of sausages, chicken thighs, bananas, broccoli and a purple onion.

Carter says he can no longer afford red meat or pork chops, but his biggest regret is that he can no longer cook delicious seafood meals for friends and family. A tray of shrimp, crab, corn, sausage, potatoes and lemons that used to cost $100 is now $300.

When single mother Jamaica Bonvillian was asked about her shopping trip, she burst into tears. “I’ve reached the point where I can’t stand it and I wonder how I’m going to get over it,” Bonvillian said.

After leaving her part-time shift at the construction site, she went to the supermarket and bought groceries for $129, including a school snack her son begged her mother to buy, which increased the price from $5. USD to 7.99 USD. She is stocking up on her pantry after two weeks of returning to her old house. Over a year ago, it was severely damaged by Hurricane Ida.

Just a few months ago, $832 in monthly government support was enough to feed her family of four. Now, the essentials alone cost her nearly $1,400 a month. She chooses to buy from wholesale supermarkets to get better prices. She also chooses cheap tissues and toilet paper to save money. Bonvillian took on extra painting and gardening on the weekends to try to make up the shortfall.

“I have to be honest, in terms of mental health, I’m exhausted. Why is it so difficult just to exist,” said the 40-year-old woman. Bonvillian’s two children, one 8, one 13 years old, went to the supermarket with their mother. They said that they also feel very worried.

A woman chooses goods inside a supermarket in Washington DC, USA, in mid-August. Photo: Reuters.

A woman chooses goods inside a supermarket in Washington DC, USA, in mid-August. Photo: Reuters.

Jessica Boudreaux, 45, and her son Daniel Horsley, 23, spent $68.21 during their Rouses shopping spree on cornbread ingredients, Mexican broth and cheap staples like hot dogs. .

She said she chose to shop in Rouses over a more expensive store near her home. Two years ago, Boudreaux spent about $300 a month on groceries. Now the bill of mother and daughter has reached 600 USD.

Boudreaux was surprised when the price of a dozen eggs went up to $2.49 and a stick of margarine went up to $1.49. According to the US Department of Labor, egg prices are up about 40% from a year ago, while butter and margarine are up about 29%.

“It’s horrible, it’s so absurd,” Boudreaux said.

Another of her sons and grandson are about to move in with Boudreaux. She said she did not know how to make enough money to feed everyone.

“Luckily my grandson is only two years old so he doesn’t eat too much,” she joked.

Boudreaux is also thinking about buying candy for the upcoming Halloween. She has started stockpiling now for the cheapest options. “I feel bad because candy is for the kids, but I have to do what needs to be done,” she said.

Megan Naquin and her two children in a supermarket parking lot.  Photo: WSJ.

Megan Naquin and her two children in a supermarket parking lot. Image: WSJ.

Megan Naquin, 38, went to the supermarket with her two young children to buy ingredients for breaded chicken. With a family of eight, Naquin says she now spends even more money on groceries than she does on a $1,500 a month home loan payment.

“Things don’t just add up a little bit, but increase a lot,” says Naquin, adding that she and her husband used to try different recipes as a way to relax, but now they can’t. that again.

She warns her six children not to use the food in the pantry too quickly. “Every time we go grocery shopping, we’ll reassure the kids that we’ll buy what they want next time,” Naquin said.

Vu Hoang (Theo Wall Street Journal)

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