Inflation teaches students new lessons about juggling costs, school

Inflation is squeezing PNW students as many juggle rising costs with tuition payments. 

“I have noticed the inflation within the grocery stores. I have a budget for groceries and I have either been going over the amount or not able to get everything I need,” said Lauryn Tillmon, a junior Marketing major. “I’ve noticed a lot of the cereal packaging has gotten a lot smaller while the prices have gone up.” 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that its Consumer Price Index increased 8.2% for the 12 months ending September. Without food and energy, the index rose 6.6%.

Economic professor Paul McGrath said inflation is being compounded by lingering supply chain problems that began a few years ago.

 “Supply chain issues in the agricultural and food processing sector directly led to shortages,” he said. Those shortages can result in higher prices as people are forced to compete for fewer goods.

The problem has affected many industries, from meat processors to truckers.

“The increase in energy costs have added further fuel to fire,” he said. “We ship a lot of food by truck, so higher gasoline prices increase shipping costs. In turn, retailers pass a portion of that increase on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.”

Students try to keep up as best they can. 

Rylie Camp, a senior Finance major, spends more time plotting her trips to the grocery store.

“Grocery shopping has become almost a part-time job where I have to prep before I even walk into the store,” she said. “I search online for deals and then have to figure out what meals I can make out of those products.

“Spending money on groceries is something I do biweekly,” she said. “Budgeting for that with increased prices makes it difficult to get enough food to last me two weeks.

Tillmon is worried about inflation’s impact on health. 

“I think a lot of college students won’t be obtaining all the nutrition they need because they won’t be able to afford it,” she said.

Professor McGrath said Tillmon may have reason to worry.

“Eating healthy is actually more expensive than not,” he said. “Prices for fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy have increased significantly and are, in addition, very volatile. 

“Volatility in prices makes planning difficult,” McGrath said. “For example, milk prices seem to be all over the place.” 

His suggestion? Be thriftier.

“Buying in bulk, buying store brands and items on clearance or sale would help,” he said. “I came to understand that those date ‘sell by’ or ‘best used by’ stickers can be deceiving. … Food remains fresh for much longer than the dates indicate. So, be careful tossing food away.” 

He also advises students find ways to stretch available dollars. One option may be to visit the PNW food Pantry. 

“The items they encourage as donations seem to be of the healthy variety,” McGrath said. 

Since it began in 2019, the Food Pantry has distributed food more than 75 times to PNW students through the Office of Housing and Residential Education.  The pantry typically distributes canned and packaged goods. The organization operates at Room 307 of the Student Union Library Building in Hammond and the former darkroom in the Library Student Faculty building in Westville. 

More information can be found on the PNW website.