PracticalDad Price Index – Back to It…10/21

What is the point of paying attention to something as mind-numbingly mundane as food prices? Why bother at all? It can be boring and frankly hard on the knees when you’re having to kneel in the grocery baking aisle to read the fine print on a shelf label for a four pound bag of store brand sugar. But there are cases when it’s worth the trouble.

This particular case is the third generation of what I refer to as a “kitchen table” economics project. The project being to simply follow what is happening to a select market-basket of food items at regular intervals and watch what happens to them. The first generation project was undertaken to track the effect of the Federal Reserve’s novel Quantitative Easing from November 2010 to June 2016. It ended because of personal health issues and the responsibility of supporting a parent with dementia. The second generation to watch the impact of the pandemic on the grocery shelves as the supply chain was upended, and that lasted only a few months because supply disruptions made the results unreliable as items were chronically disappearing from shelves. Along with the fact that my curiosity seemed less important as my unhindered ability to breathe.

This generation? Well, my Congressman is one of those Republicans who has adopted Steve Bannon’s mantra of flooding the zone with shit. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is or how long the issue has existed, it can only be pegged to the policies of a particular President of a particular party. Even if that President has only been in office for nine months. My lot has become one of haunting his social media pages, since he doesn’t hold public forums and his sole means of routine dispersal of information to the general public is via a short weekly address on a local Christian radio station, and tossing in as much factual information to clarify as possible. Since he regularly goes back to what is referred to as Bidenflation, this is something with which I am familiar. So welcome to Gen 3.

The premise is simple with a consistent set of rules.

  1. What is the average cost of a basket of the same 36 foodstuff items from three unrelated grocery stores in my Congressman’s district, the 11th of Pennsylvania?
  2. The three stores reflect three different levels of ownership. One is a large chain owned by a European firm, the second is a regional American chain and the third is a purely local grocery store chain with only a few stores in the area.
  3. There are 36 separate items in eight categories: Bread, Cereal, Dairy, Drinks, Fresh Produce, Meats, Packaged Produce, Staples. So 36 items in three stores yields 108 separate data points (36*3) per monthly survey.
  4. The theoretical shopper is shopping to save money whenever possible, so almost all of the items are store instead of name brand. If the item is actually discounted for a special sale, that discounted price is ignored and the regular price is used; a real shopper might take the sale item, but the temporary savings would hide the real effect on the full basket price (what I found over the years is that grocers will put items on sale and when the sale is over, return that item to a higher price than prior to the sale).
  5. There is a decision rule in the event that there is an odd situation: all other things being equal, what would the budget-conscious shopper purchase? It might seem odd, but I found during the Gen 1 project that a grocer was having to increase store brand prices on items and wound up introducing a deep discount product line. Store brand butter and cereal was increasing in price so the grocer introduced an off-brand line to hold sales. After a short period, the store brand items completely disappeared. If I have to adapt, then that is noted and remains the rule for that item moving forward.
  6. In a universe of thousands of price points in thousands of stores, 108 data points is a wildly small sample. That means that if a store does not have that item (which for my purposes means that it not only is not on the shelves, but there isn’t even a shelf label), I will not use a substitute item but will simply not list that particular data point. If it’s not there, I won’t use it. This was only very rarely an issue more than five years ago, but it was problematic as to be unreliable during the chaos of the pandemic. It is frankly the big reason that I stopped the last project since I didn’t believe it to be reliable.
  7. If a product package changes in size, the price will be adjusted to what it would cost for the original package size. For example, the package size for store brand tomato sauce was 24 ounce in September. One store decreased its standard size to 23 ounces by October and that was priced; but I recalculated it to the appropriate price were it still in the 24 ounce jar.

And that’s it.

So what did I find?

In this generation, the baseline market-basket was priced during the first week of September, 2021. The average price of the basket was $90.79 and that became the baseline index level of 100.

The actual excel spreadsheet for 9/2021 is the first insert below. The spreadsheet for 10/2021 is the second insert below.

The average market-basket cost in October was $90.58, which is a decline of $.21 for an Index level of 99.77. Let’s call it statistical noise however, since it is only one month and it is notable in that one of the meat items (84/85% ground beef priced in five pound value packs) was missing from one of the stores. Since this particular grocer has more than one store in the area, I visited two others for the same grocer and that package was in none of them and my response was to simply omit it this month.

What is notable about the results?

  1. The Meat sub-index declined to 96.50 on the back of the unavailability of the ground beef in the one store; this is an admittedly small sample and the cost of the beef comprises an overly large percentage of the total cost of the basket so it can have an impact.
  2. The Staples sub-index likewise declined to 96.34 on the back of a drop in the average price of cooking oil from $4.08 to $3.62 per 48 ounce bottle and sugar from $2.39 to $2.29 per four pound bag.
  3. Both sub-indices for Produce (Fresh and Packaged) rose to 104.82 and 101.07 respectively. Fresh produce rose on the back of the average price of a three pound bag of Red Delicious apples from $4.02 to $4.48; this was attributable to a price increase at one store alone.
  4. As has happened before, one of the food data points underwent a packaging downsize, specifically a one ounce decrease for a jar of tomato sauce, from 24 to 23 ounces. I have recalculated the price of the jar to reflect what it would cost at the original size of 24 ounces.

What’s the takeaway?

I make no pretense that this is anything other than a very, very small point of datum in an ocean of data. But buying food is a universal experience and can be related to easily by 999 out of 1000 people. My intent is to apply a measure of scientific method to see what is actually happening and make it explicable to others so that when they hear politicians and pundits bloviating INFLATION! to instill fear, they can have a better sense of what’s happening.

Even better, use a search engine on this device that you’re reading and ask questions. Why are housing prices rising? Why is the price of gas rising? Then turn off the audio and read multiple linked articles for each question and come to a fuller, less fearful understanding.

The Basket


20 ounce loaf Store Brand (SB) White Bread, 8 count SB Hot Dog Rolls, Box SB Spaghetti (16 oz)


Box SB Frosted Flakes (18 oz), Box SB Corn Flakes (15 oz), SB Quick Oats (39 oz)


Gallon SB Milk (2%), Quart SB Vanilla Ice Cream, Cheese (# deli sliced American), SB Parmesan (8 oz), # SB Butter


SB Coffee (11/11.3 oz) package, 2 L SB Cola

Fresh Produce

3# Red Delicious Apples, # Bananas, 5 # Russet Potatoes, Single head Iceberg Lettuce


# Sliced Deli Cooked Ham, Dozen Lg SB Eggs, # 84/85% Ground beef in five # package, Can 5 oz SB Tuna in Water, 44 county Value Pack Gorton’s Fish Sticks, # Chicken Thighs

Packaged Produce

SB NFC Orange Juice (52 oz), Cans SB Peas, Green Beans, Corn, Kidney Beans, Diced Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce (24 oz), SB Creamy Peanut Butter (28 oz), Strawberry Jam (2 #)


Rice (2 #), SB Cooking Oil (48 oz Canola), Sugar (4#), Flour (5#)

When Does Fatherhood End?

So here is a question for you.  When does fatherhood end?

It isn’t rhetorical, but one that you’ll have to wrestle with frequently as the kids grow.  Stages of growth change as one passes into another and each with its own set of challenges

A Summation to Date…

Change happens.  It sometimes comes unexpectedly and in the blink of an eye and at other times, with considerable notice and more than a little planning.  As I write this, Middle is on the cusp of leaving for his freshman year in college; when I began writing this website, he was in the fifth grade.  Eldest is working two summer jobs to squirrel away money for her final year of college and she was in middle school when the first article ran in 2008.  Last night, I realized that Youngest has continued his persistent growth spurt as I now have to slightly incline my face to look into my eighth-grader’s eyes.  When I began this project, he was just entering kindergarten.

Some years ago, my better half suggested that I write a book.  I personally enjoy writing although it’s sometimes been frustrating because being the stay-at-home parent with active kids doesn’t always lend itself to long periods of time for reflection and composition.  Activities, errands, meals, laundry, paperwork and all of the things that make a household run means that the traditional model of sitting down for hours to compose an essay or article isn’t always operative.  Never having written a book and knowing that the fatherhood is cool but look at the funny things that happen when Dad is in the household meme was well covered, I opted to start with a website instead with the notion of moving on to a book. 

That hasn’t yet happened.  But after more than 740 articles and essays to date, I’ve learned a few things.  The first is that the writer that I’ve become is not the writer that I was at the inception of this site.  I believe that a writer has to have a voice and what I write now is nothing like what I wrote at first because I simply didn’t yet have one.  My voice is that of a father who sees massive change ahead and who wants desperately to raise his children to be productive and moral adults in an America that’s going to be truly different from the one in which I was raised.  I am a late Boomer, now in my mid-fifties, and believe that my generation has done a poor job of parenting, most especially in letting their children become wrapped into an electronic cocoon and devoid of the guidance and information that kids need in a complicated culture.  I do not believe that a person raised as part of the Me generation – who truly embraces that notion – is the best fit for a role that is as far removed from Me as being a parent.  It is personally galling to talk to a young person and hear the phrase I wish that someone had told me and my personal vow has been that my own children never be able to say that about me.

The second is that I’m not the kind of writer who can just sit and write a quick article in response to one thing or another.  A publicist told me years ago – yeah, I tried that – that I was what was referred to as a source writer, someone who wrote in the background and frequently provided materials for others but never engendered an avid following that left a lengthy comment thread.  She was correct because I find it difficult to write quickly and can indeed spend hours – and on a few occasion, days – to find the right information and words for a particular article or idea.  It’s honestly a bit lonely since I hear so little in response yet it’s immensely gratifying to know that over the years, so many have taken the time to place me on their Syndication Feed

So…What is This Middle Class?

There’s been an ongoing flow of ink and discussion about the decline and potential demise of the American Middle Class, that economic entity in which many Americans were raised.  The data over the past seven years has shown material damage to the entity with a drop in median family income as well as a loss in median family assets.  A record number of Americans are receiving food assistance, more than 93 million are no longer in the workforce and the discrepancy in wealth distribution is now at a point not seen since the Gilded Age of more than a century ago.  My own thinking in the more recent past has been about the questions, what precisely is the American Middle Class and how did it come to exist?  When did it become a real thing and what factors led to its rise?  I don’t believe that you can remedy a situation until you manage to understand it and frankly, focusing on only the economic data is akin to saying that the patient died of massive hemorrhaging when that hemorrhaging was actually caused by multiple gunshots from a Sonny Corleone-style gangland shooting.  And yes, that is a purposefully pointed analogy.

What we’re watching now is just a bleeding out from a wounded mass of people, but that hemorrhaging is the result of both purposeful and inadvertant policy decisions that have occurred over the course of decades.  This American Middle Class didn’t just arise because a gaggle of World War Two veterans returned home and said Woot! We survived, so let’s start buying!  It arose from the culmination of four principal factors that coalesced together after more than a half-century of oft-times painful development.  Had any of these factors not occurred, my belief is that what we’ve come to appreciate and mourn would probably never have existed in the first place and we’d have been no different as a nation than any other developing nation with an intransigent oligarchy.

Another Look at the American Middle Class

There’s been a persistent drumbeat of commentary over the past eight years – since the onset of the Financial Crisis of 2007 – that pertains to the demise of the American Middle Class.  It’s the start of a period that I refer to myself as The Great Reversion.  It’s framed within the context of a declining median family income as well as declining number of assets, backdropped against what is now the largest gap in wealth distribution since the Roaring Twenties, prior to the Great Depression.  But to consider the American Middle Class in such a light is too shallow, both in terms of what it is happening as well as how it came about.  What’s happening to the American Middle Class is not just an economic event.  To say that the American Middle Class will suddenly make a magical comeback with a

A Nine Year-Old With an Uzi?

On the news that a nine year-old girl accidentally killed a shooting instructor with an Uzi submachine gun, I could only sit back in slack-jawed wonder and shake my head in literal disbelief.  Seriously, who in the hell even considered that this would be a good idea?  The range owner?  The parents?  The dead instructor?  Certainly, common sense died well before the child took the weapon and it’s with that that the questions now arise once again about gun control.  But even before you get to the philosophical questions about the right to bear arms in America, what are some of the common sense questions that a parent should ask before allowing their child to handle a firearm, if at all?

As a full disclosure, I am a gun owner and have had each of my three children undergo basic pistol training with a trained instructor.

Conversation with the Teen:  Is the American Middle Class Dead?

You know that a concept has hit the mainstream when high school social studies teachers raise it in class.  Such was the case with the apparently imminent death of the American Middle Class, a topic that was raised by Middle’s honors history teacher the other week.  This teacher is a known and highly respected quantity since Eldest made it a point to tell Middle that he had to get this guy if at all possible since he makes it a point to riff on the subject matter with topics of modern consequence.  As he discussed the industrialization of the Far East, he shifted the topic over to the problems facing today’s American Middle Class and it was a topic that Middle brought home in a later conversation.

What Middle, and most, know is that the American Middle Class is suffering from a significant income drop over the past decade due to a true paucity of jobs.  He’s aware that many of the jobs now created are of the lower paying, benefit-free variety in the service sector so that the typical American that loses a decent survivable wage job can replace it with a lower paying job.  The first whammy is the loss of income and the second whammy is the new need to suddenly pay for previously "free" benefits that had been covered by the former employer such as health insurance.  Okay, you not only now have less but you have new and unexpected uses for that decreased income…When the news hit that millions of health insurance policies were being cancelled and the former policyholders were being forced to go to the market via the 1929 Obamacare Flivver (with a rumble seat), we had to explain that the cancellations were actually expected since the old policies were non-compliant with the new health insurance feature. Reissuing new ones with the required features, available to anyone now, would cause new policies with wholly new pricing.  Lesser income, likelihood of more variant hours worked and a new category for the money than what was faced by the parents are huge stressors.

So the middle class is under assault but like the refrain from the old Monty Python skit goes, I’m not dead yet…

The Legacy for the Kids…and I’m Outraged

Things change a person’s political perspective – age, experience, education – but something else that changes a political perspective is parenthood.  Through most of my young adult life, I could be classified as a socially liberal and fiscally conservative person.  I did listen to Limbaugh but spent late afternoon drivetime with NPR to get a different slant on the same topic on which Limbaugh had opined just a few hours previously.  Now I no longer listen to either but choose to get the news from a wide variety of internet sources, including foreign newspapers.  But fatherhood changed that political perspective and I’m now…well, I’m not entirely certain how to categorize it but it’s safe to say that I’m simply angry with what our political, corporate and financial sectors have become.  But while I’m angry with them individually, their proto-fascist collusion in the past decade or more drives me to outrage for this legacy that’s being crafted for my – our – children.

What our nation is becoming is increasingly fascist.  The exact definition of fascism is murky, dependent upon multiple factors.  But Franklin Delano Roosevelt best described it thusly in his 1938 address to Congress on the curbing of monopolies:

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.




“Inflation is low now, but could be excessive in the future”

And that is the headline from a post on  The comment is attributed to Federal Reserve Governor Bullard, and the story is so developing that as of this writing, there’s no actual story attached with the caveat that it’s “developing”.

Gee, y’think, DiNozzo?

That a comment like that would come from a Federal Reserve Governor is stunning, a recognition that present policies are a set-up to a potential inflationary event that’s inimical to it’s long-held policy standard of price stability.  The theory is that the ongoing rounds of Quantitative Easing will throw enough digital money to the banks – which should theoretically lead to actual physical cash amongst the public – floating through the economy that spending increases, leading to greater economic activity and recovery.  Despite all of the controversy about inflation versus deflation, the evidence from my small PracticalDad Price Index is bolstered by the recent Walmart news release that Q2 (2013) comparable store sales were flat partially due to low inflation