Last year in this space, I lamented the suddenly smaller graham crackers, ice cream cartons, apple juice jugs, and pretty much anything else you buy.

The titans of the retail world have been catching a lot of flack for raising prices. So now they just shrink the products and the packaging (and then raise the prices anyway when “the supply chain” gives them an excuse to do so). As a result, we’re shelling out more cash for less stuff. It’s being called “shrinkflation.”

At the supermarket, my crack research team discovered that toilet paper is the latest product intended to wipe out our savings.

The TP companies that flood the airwaves with their angelic, soft, charmin’ commercials have slimmed their product, despite the fact that most Americans are headed in the opposite direction.

These companies should be flush with embarrassment, but instead they’re cashing in, as our weekly earnings circle the drain.

The website mouseprint.org, which investigates shrinkflation, compared a 2006 package of Scott 1,000 sheet Bathroom Tissue with the current product. They discovered a noticeable smaller package, and 20 percent less paper fiber. Readers commented, “It’s thin like the cheap paper in public restrooms where you have to use twice as much,” and “I’d rather use a leaf.” Anyone who grew up in rural America can relate.

The website also reports that another popular TP brand, Angel Soft “cut the number of sheets from 425 to 320 per roll.” 

To the surprise of no one, this shrinkage is accompanied by higher prices. Procter and Gamble, the maker of Charmin, has raised prices four percent this year. Kimberly-Clark, which makes Scott and Cottonelle, hiked their prices six percent.

Bloomberg News reports toilet paper rolls are eight percent shorter than a year ago, but prices are 10% more expensive.

Then there’s Smart Balance Spread, which has become a customer favorite with its buttery taste, once fueled by 64 percent vegetable oil content. But if you look carefully at today’s package, you’ll see that percentage has been reduced to only 39 percent. Taste-conscious consumers can tell the difference in the now waterlogged spread. “I’d throw it out if it wasn’t so expensive,” wrote one. “Maybe I can spread it on our dog’s biscuits, although I doubt even he would eat it.”

As if shrinkflation wasn’t enough to worry about, I have discovered another, hopefully unintentional way that stores are snatching your cash.

My advice: if you have the time, and want to go to the trouble, make sure that you are actually paying the price that is shown on the shelves. As my wife will testify, I am a world-class tightwad. I have been known to stick fragments and slivers of soap together to make one big bar. Yes, it looks deformed but it’s still soap. And I’ve been doing that since soap was cheap.

Anyway, on some recent shopping trips to a large, well-known grocery/department store, I noticed that about 4 out of 10 items were ringing up more than I had seen on the shelf sticker.

Now, this store is about the size of Rhode Island, so retracing my path up and down the aisles, taking pics with my phone, and then making my case to the customer service clerk required more time and exercise than I like. But somebody had to do it.

After proving that my salad dressing was supposed to be $1.48 (not $1.98), my Special K cereal was $3.28 (not $4.28), and so on, the clerk handed me about four bucks for my trouble. 

She was apologetic, but this is where it got on my nerves. She said, “Oh yes, this happens all the time. The prices are simply going up faster than we can update them in our system. Have a nice day!”

What I WANTED her to say was, “Oh my, this is terrible. I will make sure our system is updated immediately, so that this won’t happen to you, and especially to customers who may not have the time or the know-how to ask for a refund.”

Since that is apparently not happening, be a sharp-eyed consumer. It’s bad enough that they’re shrinking our favorite products. Don’t let them shrink your wallet too.

(David Carroll is a Chattanooga news anchor, and his new book “Hello Chattanooga” is available on his website, ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com).

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