Shrinkflation Is Here: How to Combat It

by Maurie Backman | Published on July 31, 2021

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Here's how to eke out more savings on consumer goods at a time when that's hard to come by.

For many weeks, Americans have been feeling the impact of inflation. Groceries have been getting pricier. Gas has been out of control. And for those living paycheck to paycheck without any money in savings to fall back on, it's putting them at risk of racking up costly debt.

But it's not just that everyday items are now costing more. In some cases, they're costing the same as they ever did. But don't be fooled -- it's not that some companies aren't raising their prices. Rather, it's that they're sneakily charging you the same amount of money for less product.

It's a concept known as shrinkflation, and it means getting less for your money as companies reduce package sizes but keep their prices steady. Shrinkflation is nothing new, but at a time when everything seems to be costing more, it becomes even more of a problem.

How to combat shrinkflation

The tough thing about shrinkflation is that it's tricky. Say you're used to your favorite cereal costing $3.50 a week. If its price suddenly increases to $4 a box, that's something you're apt to notice. And that may cause you to stop buying it or seek out a cheaper brand.

Companies don't want that to happen, so instead, what they'll commonly do is sell you your cereal at that same $3.50 price point, only instead of giving you 16 ounces worth of loops, flakes, or puffs, they'll give you 14 ounces instead. The logic is that shoppers are less likely to notice a change in the weight of the products they're buying, but they're more likely to pinpoint a price hike.

So what can you, as a consumer, do to fight back against shrinkflation? For one thing, pay closer attention to the everyday items you buy. If your favorite cereal is the same price as the store brand, only the store brand gives you a few extra ounces of product to enjoy, then that's the better buy.

Additionally, you may want to get even more judicious about holding out for sales. If you're now getting fewer chips or pretzels for your buck, you may want to only buy those items when they're available for less at your local grocery store.

Finally, consider buying staple items in bulk. You may pay a lot less per ounce or unit than you would buying those things in smaller batches. Just be careful, though, because if you buy too much of a given item and don't manage to use it up before it expires, you'll end up throwing away money rather than saving it.

Along these lines, if you're going to buy in bulk, make sure you have the right storage capacity at home. If your kids' favorite chicken nuggets cost you a lot less when you buy 200 at a time, but you don't have room in your freezer to stash them, then purchasing them isn't a smart move -- even if your kids could normally take down that many nuggets well before they're set to go bad.

While inflation may peter out as supply chains that were halted during the pandemic manage to catch up with consumer demand, shrinkflation probably isn't going anywhere. Pay close attention to what you're buying so you don't get taken for a ride.

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