1 of 4
Mike Terry, Deseret News
Blakeley Boren of Murray loads groceries into her car at Albertsons in Murray. Food prices in Utah have risen in recent months.

What a difference a gallon of gas makes.

Utahns are paying more at the grocery store now than they were at the first of August, particularly on eggs, beef and bread, according to a basket of 15 goods the Deseret News has tracked since April. But gas went down 30 cents in the past month, providing some relief.

The net effect: Our basket of groceries, movie tickets, gasoline, pizza and a pair of blue jeans costs 6 cents less this month than last.

But can you really feel the food and gas adjustments in your budget?

Murray resident Mary Weissman can't.

"Everything is so much more expensive," said Weissman, a nurse at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center in Salt Lake City, who said it costs her $5 to drive to work.

"I can do less now," she said. "I can spend less on my children, less on my grandchildren. I have to loop (car trips) together. We have to make a circle so we can save a little bit of money."

She's even bought a new car, trading in the old one that took only premium-grade gasoline, to save money at the pump. While grocery shopping Tuesday, she and husband James Kastner axed their plan for franks and beans, as the latter cost too much — $2.79, compared with 99 cents not long ago.

"He wouldn't buy them," Weissman said, motioning to her husband.

Since April, the Deseret News has tracked prices of 15 items to see how much they're going up or down. Our basket in the beginning cost $146.63. This month, it's up to $155.85, about the same as last month.

But individual food items went up, some of them sharply, after holding steady for months. Our groceries rose 1.3 percent since last month.

Bread, blue jeans and hamburger meat all were up 10 percent over the past month. Eggs, volatile since we first started measuring, were up 37.6 percent between the first of August and the first of September.

Last month, a couple of other items went up: Pizza Hut's large pepperoni pie went up 50 cents to $13.99, and frozen corn rose 10 cents to $1.29.

This month's rise in food costs is no surprise. The Wells Fargo Consumer Price Index last month showed Wasatch Front grocery prices rose twice as fast as the national increase, or 2.3 percent in July alone, and were up 5 percent since March.

Overall, the price of the Deseret News basket is up 6.3 percent since April. Hamburger meat rose nearly 14 percent, bread is up 10.4 percent, bananas are up 6.2 percent, and diapers jumped 5.6 percent, largely an effect of smaller packaging by Huggies. Eggs, although way up this month, are down 10.4 percent since April. Oreo cookies are down 7 percent.

Falling pump prices counterbalanced grocery-price increases over the past month. The cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gas was down 30 cents since the first of August's measurement, to early June prices. A month ago, it was $4.14 at the downtown Maverik where we're measuring.

Still, gasoline is up 20 percent since we started measuring in April, when regular unleaded was $3.20 a gallon.

Maybe that's some of the reason why a handful of consumers interviewed Tuesday said they aren't feeling the relief all that much. That, and a rising overall cost of living.

"I've cut back on what I usually buy. I buy less and buy the same cheaper things over and over," such as more hamburger and fewer steaks, said Murray resident Jim Carter, who lives with his wife on a fixed income.

"My budget has come down, but I don't have a family to raise," he said, "and I don't go overboard. As for the economic downturn, he said, "I don't know how long it's going to go this way." He blames the decline on government leaders long ignoring the nation's oil dependency problem.

"It's impacting everything," Carter said. "Even if oil is coming down, we don't see a change in gas prices for a week or two, or in food prices for maybe a month."

Murray mom Yvonne Winn has shrunk her food budget, mainly because her husband is working out of state, and she's making smaller meals. Still, she's a bargain shopper, flocking to store discounts and bulk shopping. It's hard for her to gauge, however, what will happen to the food budget when there's another person coming to dinner.

"I just penny pinch where I can," she said.


E-mail: [email protected]