Save 40 Percent on Your Grocery Bill With Bad Math!

How to shave 40 percent off your grocery bill: Buy less meat!

YahooNews has changed its homepage to include far more stupid stories than it used to, via something called the “Yahoo! Contributor Network.”

A classic: “How to shave 40 percent off your grocery bill” by Marilisa Kinney Sachteleben (her name is my name, too).

Mostly, it tells us not to buy things we’re going to throw away and to wait for sales. Thanks! But I’m especially bemused by this:

Reduce your meat spending. Meat is expensive. Twenty years ago, you could buy hamburger three pounds for a dollar on sale. Now you’re lucky to find it for two dollars a pound. Recommended daily allowance of meat is only two four-ounce servings. Yet meat is the biggest expenditure in most families’ grocery budgets. Replace meat with less expensive protein sources: fish, beans, legumes, rice, couscous, pasta, falafel and nuts. You’ll save money because servings sizes of these protein sources are only one-quarter to one-half cup.

Now, replacing meat with legumes is indeed cheaper–although not likely very satisfying as a substitute for ribeye. And, saving money by substituting smaller serving sizes is, well, not really saving money–it’s eating less.

But I especially love that hamburger has gone up from $2 to $3 a pound since 1991. If you use the CPI inflation calculator provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’ll see that $2 in 1991 dollars has the same buying power as $3.23 in 2011 dollars. So, if Sachteleben’s rounded numbers are right, hamburger is cheaper now than it was then.

UPDATE: A commenter notes that I’ve misread the claim — transposing the numbers.  She claims that hamburger was available 3 pounds for a dollar, or 33 cents a pound.  I’m not sure that’s right but, if so, it’s definitely gone up well beyond the rate of inflation. Apparently, literacy is useful, too.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. EasyShopper says:

    While I cannot comment on the value or accuracy of the content of the article, you must have been laughing to hard to actually read it correctly. She says that “Twenty years ago, you could buy hamburger three pounds for a dollar on sale. Now you’re lucky to find it for two dollars a pound.” That is 33 1/3 cents a pound twenty years ago to over 2.00 a pound today.

  2. Jack says:

    (her name is my name, too)


  3. Twenty years ago happens to around the time I moved to Virginia to go to law school, rented an apartment, and had to start cooking my own darn food every now and then. There’s no way that hamburger was 33 cents a pound then unless she was buying it from the same place Taco Bell purchases its “meat” products

  4. Ernieyeball says:

    In 1973 I pumped gas at one of Sleepytown’s Independent filling stations. The price hung around 39.9 cents/gal. for the 6 months that I worked there. My wage was $1.05/hr. If my math is good that means it took me about 23 minutes to earn the money to pay for a gallon of regular leaded fuel.
    The last time I had a job it paid $16.00/hr. That means when gas was $4.499/gal. in 2008 it took me about 17 minutes to earn the money to pay for a gallon of unleaded regular. This without applying the CPI gadget.
    Today gas is $3.509 and I am unemployed! I’m thinking about taking the bus!

  5. Boyd says:

    She’s either stupid or lying if she’s claiming she paid less than 35¢ a pound for ground beef in 1991. I was still in the Navy in 1991, buying my ground beef from the commissary with what was left over after paying child support for three kids, while also being the sole provider for a family of 3. I bought a lot of ground beef back then, and it wasn’t priced anywhere near that cheap.

    Sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s reality.

  6. anjin-san says:

    One more good reason to become a vegetarian…

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    One more good reason to become a vegetarian…

    And drink ethanol, yeah……

  8. rjs says:

    i’ve bought a lot of hamburger in my lifetime & the lowest i recall was 49c lb in the 60s

  9. Michael says:

    I managed to find the following average prices for group beef going back to 1984, and it never once went below $1/pound.

  10. Michael says:

    The cheapest price in that history was $1.16/lb (June* 1986) which, using the CPI inflation calculator, gives us $2.34, while the current average price of ground beef is $2.53, not a very big difference.

    * The average for all of 1986 was $1.23, which inflation adjusted is $2.59, so actually more than the current price.

  11. Franklin says:

    her name is my name, too

    I chuckled at this, too. Last time I sang that song, my 6-year-old asks “are you being serious? No, really, is that your name?”