The struggle to put healthy food on the table is tough enough as meat, egg, and veggie prices are rising fastest. But a 15 percent increase in soup-kitchen lines nationwide since last year indicates that many families are struggling to put any food at all on the table.
New evidence of the difficulty: 1.5 million more people use food stamps than a year ago, a 5.7 percent increase, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
At the same time, Americans are trying to stash more money away in savings – indicating a "scrounge" reaction as families dig deeper into their cupboards. Taking place over bins of oranges and stacks of canned soup, this may be the century's biggest test so far of America's consumer resiliency – and inventiveness.
"The American consumer is facing change, and that's always upsetting," says Herbert Rotfeld, editor of the Journal of Consumer Affairs in Auburn, Ala. "Change is confusion, but is it harmful? It's too early to tell."
Evidence of a grocery-aisle mind shift is clear. Coupon-clipping has reversed a 16-year-slide, driven by Internet "clipping" and sites devoted to spotting in-store sales. Americans clipped 100 million more coupons in 2007 than the previous year, a 6 percent increase, according to NCH Marketing.
"Grocery spending has the most wiggle room of any disposable expenditure, so if a family can save $400 a month, that's major in an average family's budget," says Atlanta shopping expert Stephanie Nelson, who has seen traffic on her couponmom.com website double in the last year.