As we have previously reported, two of the world’s top wheat exporters are Russia and Ukraine. Wheat prices surged after Russia’s military invasion of its neighbor and haven’t abated much since.
The price of bread increased 9.1% between April 2021 and this April, the largest increase since 2009, according to federal data.
That didn’t surprise me. In March 2021, my partner and I paid $16.49 for 50 pounds of bread flour at Costco. In early March 2022, the same bag of flour set us back $24.99 — a 51.5% increase in just one year!
Once prices have gone up, how likely is it that they’ll go back down?
If yours is a household that can’t live without sandwiches, toast or a basket of bread at dinner, here are some ways to keep costs affordable.
1. Hit the bakery outlet
Many bakeries and supermarkets send their overflow items to outlet stores. Sometimes they have leftover holiday products, such as tubs of Christmas cookies, and sometimes they didn’t sell as many hamburger rolls as they thought they would for Memorial Day.
Is it “old” bread? Sometimes these items are within a day or two of their best-by dates (although that probably doesn’t mean what you think). Then again, so is some of the bread I see in the supermarket.
That’s not to say that some items won’t be old. The bakery outlet near me has bags of doughnuts and boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes that are at or even beyond their best-by dates. My niece’s kids don’t seem to care.
My partner and I buy our multigrain bread this way, paying $1 to $1.50 per loaf. Depending on what’s available, we also buy things like good-quality sandwich rolls, Boboli pizza shells, bagels, English muffins, tortillas, onion rolls, corn chips, pretzels, coffee and canned sardines.
Learn more at “How I Buy Bread for $1 or Less.”
2. Watch for loss-leaders
Supermarkets put certain items on sale to get you into the store, in the hopes that you’ll do all your shopping there. If you see your household’s preferred bread featured as one of these loss-leaders, buy it.
Or buy more than one and freeze the extras. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bread lasts for up to three months in the freezer.
3. Try the store brand
Inflation has brought generics back into vogue. The Wall Street Journal reports that switching to store brands is one of four ways shoppers are stretching their food budgets.
Is there much difference between the name-brand multigrain bread and your supermarket’s version? Maybe, maybe not. Give it a try and see.
Pro tip: If store-brand bread doesn’t taste the same in sandwiches, try using it for the toast you eat at breakfast. The toasting texture change — plus the butter and jam — could make generic grains more palatable. Then buy the name-brand stuff for your lunches.
4. Use shopping apps
Apps like Ibotta and Shopkick offer points and/or cash back for buying (and sometimes even just for scanning) certain products. Bread, tortillas and crackers are featured on these apps. Sign up and keep an eye out for the things your household eats.
Pro tip: The CouponMom.com site aggregates all such offers, state by state. And my article on rewards programs explains things in detail.
5. Make your own
The aroma of freshly baked bread is a little slice (so to speak) of heaven. And it’s not that difficult to make. Some recipes call mostly for just flour, salt, water and yeast, along with the fifth ingredient: time.
And it does take time. There’s no such thing as instant bread. Some people find the process soothing, from stirring to kneading to watching the dough rise.
Too much work? Don’t have time? Then consider the next tip.
6. Get a (cheap) bread machine
Head to the thrift store and find a bread machine — they’re almost always there — and you’ll see how simple this can be. No kneading required!
Bonus: You can use the machine’s timer to wake up to fresh bread or to come home to it. (Hint: Freshly baked bread can turn leftovers into a banquet.)
Another super simple (and incredibly tasty) way to get no-knead bread is to follow the next tip.
7. Go rustic
Learn to love rustic bread and make longer, skinnier sandwiches instead of the little square ones most of us grew up eating. There’s a bonehead-simple rustic bread recipe — four ingredients and zero kneading — in “7 Health Foods You Can Make for a Fraction of the Cost.”
Parchment paper is recommended for this recipe. Learn how to get maximum use of this baking staple in “My Trick for Saving Up to 80% on Parchment Paper.”
Whether you bake bread by hand, with a bread machine or the no-knead rustic route, it’s likely to be cheaper than buying it. While flour prices are going up and yeast at the supermarket can be pricey, there are several ways to keep costs down.
For starters, it’s more cost-efficient to get yeast by the jar instead of those three-packet strips. You can also greatly reduce the cost of both yeast and flour with the next tip.
8. Get a warehouse club membership
If there’s a Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s Wholesale Club near you, get yourself a membership. We live in Anchorage, Alaska, and last paid about $4.29 for a pound of yeast and $24.99 for 50 pounds of bread flour. (These places sell flour in smaller amounts, too, for those with limited storage space.)
Alternate plan: Know anyone with one of these memberships? Ask them to take you shopping.
Don’t live near a warehouse club? There’s still another way to buy in bulk …
9. Visit a restaurant supply store
These emporia exist to provide the foods (and tools) of the restaurant trade. Here’s the fun part: They’re often open to the general public as well.
A professional baker gets flour and yeast at a discount in such places. You can too.
No restaurant supply stores in your area? A couple of other options exist …
10. Watch for special sales
Flour generally goes on sale before Easter and also before the winter holidays, which are closely associated with baking pies and cookies.
When you see flour at an unbelievable price, buy a couple of extra bags and store them in a cool, dry place. You can also keep flour in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one year, according to AllRecipes.com.
Note: Cooks Illustrated suggests bringing flour to room temperature before you bake with it. Otherwise, the finished product will likely have a “denser, chewier” texture.
Can’t wait until a holiday? Maybe you could …
11. Cash in rewards points
Or use the card to get flour, if you decide to bake. Frugal bonus points if you combine a free gift card with a loss-leader sale price.
Rewards credit cards also let you cash in for gift cards to places that sell bread (or bread makings). To learn more about the best rewards card options, visit the Money Talks News Solutions Center to compare available credit cards.
12. Become a wrap artist
Sandwiches do not live by bread alone! Make a cheaper version by switching to wraps, which are nothing more than sandwiches made with tortillas instead of bread.
Spread the condiments across the tortilla, layer on the fillings and roll it up. If you want to get fancy, you can slice it into little spirals of goodness, or you can just eat it like a burrito.
Note: Tortillas can often be found in bakery outlets at ridiculously low prices. I’ve paid as little as $3 for a case of these malleable flatbreads.
Finally, you could learn to …
13. Embrace the cracker!
Man does not live by bread alone! You don’t always need bread with soup. That’s why we always keep saltines on hand — to make soup suppers seem more substantial.
While cracker prices will likely go up along with bread prices, they have a much longer shelf life than bread. By the way, if you’ve ever had to toss a loaf because mold crept in, take a minute to read “4 Simple Tricks to Keep Your Bread Fresh for a Month.”
Pro tip: Crackers are often a loss-leader item, especially around holidays and special occasions like the Super Bowl. Since they’re often featured on those shopping apps mentioned earlier, combine the sale price plus rebates for the best possible deal. Buy as many as you can at these low prices, paying attention to the best-by dates on the packages.