Inflation is making Fourth of July celebrations more expensive than ever

Personal finance

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Nothing says Independence Day like a good, old-fashioned barbecue.

In keeping with tradition, most Americans — roughly 60% — plan to grill this weekend, and 53% will get together with friends and family, according to a recent report by market research firm Numerator.

“Consumers want to celebrate this summer for a number of reasons, and food is central to that,” said Karol Aure-Flynn, a food and agribusiness analyst and author of Wells Fargo’s July Fourth food inflation report.

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However, with the cost of burgers, chips, soda and side dishes on the rise, revelers will be spending a lot more than they did last year.

The consumer price index, a key inflation gauge, rose 8.6% in May from a year ago, the highest increase since December 1981, spurred by surging prices almost across the board.

Food costs alone climbed 1.2% in May, bringing the year-over-year gain to 10.1%.

And it’s not just staples such as meat and bread that are getting more expensive. Inflation has led many food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, to raise prices on drinks and packaged goods, as well (or make their packages smaller, also known as “shrinkflation”). 

Overall, the cost of a cookout for a party of 10 is up 11%, according to Aure-Flynn’s report.

Other expenses associated with the July Fourth weekend have also skyrocketed — including the price of fireworks, which soared about 35%, and propane fuel used to power gas grills, which is up 26% compared to last year, according to a separate analysis by personal finance site TheBalance.com.

Higher fuel prices may mean shorter holiday trips

Of course, anyone hitting the road will also face near record high prices at the gas station.

Fuel oil posted a 16.9% monthly gain in May, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, pushing the 12-month surge to 106.7%.

More than half of Americans, or 55%, still say they’re traveling for the holiday, according to a report by the travel website The Vacationer — an 8% increase over last year.

Consumers, for their part, are scaling back due to the rising costs: 39% of them plan to buy less than they have in previous years and 27% said they will go shorter distances because of higher gas prices, Numerator found.

5 ways to save on July 4 expenses

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Here are five ways you can try to keep your holiday costs down without sacrificing the festivities, according to Aure-Flynn:

  1. Look for value. Give your barbecue budget an extra boost by planning your menu around the best value you can find, she said. Frozen patties are often less expensive than buying fresh ground beef and, while chicken prices are up 17% year over year, pork has been a relative deal, she said.  
  2. Scout sales. Generic brands are usually much cheaper than their “premium” counterparts and just as good, but name brands may be offering discounts for the Fourth of July in order to build loyalty, so it pays to pay attention to price changes, Aure-Flynn said. “There could be specials that way, too.”
  3. Shop what’s in season. Fortunately, summer fruits and vegetables are in good supply this time of year, which has led to lower prices in produce departments. ”Much of the produce is in season, so there are bargains there,” Aure-Flynn said.
  4. Share the costs. Divvying up the dishes gives your guests a chance to participate and leaves more room for homemade alternatives, which can be a great way to save money on prepared sides and baked goods. For example, try making lemonade instead of buying soft drinks, Aure-Flynn suggested.  
  5. Buy in bulk. When it comes to the rest of the items on your list, you can save more by buying in bulk. Joining a wholesale club such as Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s will often get you the best price per unit on condiments and nonperishable goods.

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