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March 09, 2009

Rising Food Costs and Shrinking Budgets

Hello out there!

Obviously I haven't quite gotten a handle on my recent bout of blogging laziness, but I've been feeling a little more inspired lately and am hoping to stage a comeback. I may do occasional updates on the house, but for now, I would like to turn my focus back toward my two other loves: gardening and food.

Many of us are being hit hard by a economic double whammy when it comes to putting food on the table these days. The cost of food has risen at an alarming rate over the past year or so, and difficult economic times (whether they are driven by the economy or self-induced) have left us with less money in our pockets with which to buy it. While I pride myself on being able to provide healthy, organic meals for my family on a limited budget, this ability has been challenged in recent months, and I have had to take a hard look at the reality of our situation and set new priorities. It is with this in mind that I have decided to start a series of posts centering around things we are doing to trim our food budget, with a focus on frugal shopping and simple, cost-effective recipes. I'm also hoping to pick your brains a bit!

Organic food has been a mainstay of our family's diet for a long time, but it's no secret that organics are often much more expensive than their conventional counterparts. One of the fastest ways to cut costs is to switch from buying organic food to buying conventional, which can save you anywhere from 20 - 50% (or more) right off the bat, without any extra effort on your part. This probably sounds like blasphemy coming from someone who claims to be concerned about the health of our bodies and our planet, but the truth is, store-bought organic food is (sadly) a luxury that not everyone can afford.

I find it much easier to make an informed choice about what I'm buying if I'm able to identify those organic items that are worth spending the extra money on. The Safe Shopper's Bible has always been very useful for helping me figure out how to make our food dollars count most. There are also sources online (this is a good one) with lists of those foods that are most important to buy organic.

One of the major ways we've always saved money is by doing and making things ourselves, so I will be talking a lot about this year's vegetable garden, which I'm hoping will provide a lot more of the basic necessities than it did previously. Chickens are in our near future, and there may be other livestock making an appearance as well. Things could get interesting!

8 comments:

Michelle Ellis said...

This must be "the year of the chicken", we're getting chickens too!

Very excited to see you back again(: I want to share something that I'm starting. It's a e-group co-op with some other like minded women. For example, if we can get a good deal on a large quantity of say...organic potatoes, we'll post to the group to help share the cost. It will also be helpful if we have garden surplus. We'll be sharing the costs and making sure the food doesn't go to waste. I'll keep you updated on how it goes(:

Chiot's Run said...

You know I would do without a lot of things before I would reduce the quality of food that I eat. This is one of the most important places to spend your money when you think about it. You're investing in your future health. Especially when you think about the fact that studies show that conventional produce contains 50-60% fewer vitamins & nutrients. You're actually paying less for a lesser product, so actually you'd have to eat more to get the same benefits (so theoretically you're not saving anything).

So what would I get rid of before I quit buying healthy food?

I would:
*not eat out, at all
*cancel cable, cell phones, any other service I can
*drive less, car pool, ride my bike more
*not buy any processed foods
*keep my house colder in the winter & warmer in the summer
*not buy any drinks, only drink water


I would also:
*grow my own, as much as possible
*learn to eat more seasonally, much cheaper
*include cheaper oganic staples in my diet like oats, beans & brown rice
*forage for food (berries, apples & other fruits from the side of the road or empty lots)
*hunt for meat
*eat less, lose some weight (I would still be healthy 10 lbs lighter, that a lot of food savings).

Cheryl said...

Michelle - That's so cool that you're getting chickens too! I'd love to hear what breeds you're going with.
Your co-op sounds fantastic, I especially love the idea of sharing garden surplus!

Chiot's Run - Thank you for your excellent comment. I agree with you on all counts, and have blogged about many of those same subjects in the past couple of years. In fact, the way that we have managed to survive on one very modest income in one of the most expensive areas of the world is by implementing many of the ideas you listed. Unfortunately, we have recently gotten to the point where there are no more "extras" to eliminate, and until we can find a way to increase our income, we're going to have to get very creative - there's no way I'm putting groceries on credit.
I am certainly not advocating low quality food, which is why we will be growing and producing much of what we can no longer afford to buy, and I would like to look at ways of maintaining or even improving the quality of what we eat through some of the ideas you touched upon.
I hope you'll be willing to share more of your insight as we go!

freelearners said...

I have also taken a good, hard look at where my organics come from. I would rather buy locally grown, sustainably farmed, not-certified-organic items from the farmer's market than certified organic that was grown 2000 miles away, for example.

The other thing I have found is that by meal planning and buying in bulk I have been able to reduce our budget even while eating good quality foods. Less trips to the grocery store mean less impulse shopping, and meal planning means working lots of inexpensive meal ideas into your monthly budget.

Carla said...

I hear you. I have my seeds and am looking at starting them el pronto. Meant to earlier, but it's amazing how time flies.

Alicia said...

I am looking forward to learning from you. I try to buy local as often as possible (even though west coast potatoes taste nasty next to glorious Prince Edward Island ones!) I was once very eager at buying organic but have let it slip as the cost of living went up and our wages didn't go with it.

Here's a tricky question: Is it better to buy organic food that was grown miles away and imported or buy local food that isn't organic? I struggle a lot with this and almost always buy local. I have to drive a lot for work so I feel guilty about my carbon credits!

freelearners said...

Alicia, around here many local farmers grow foods sustainably and organically but they cannot afford the certification process. Or there is some minor requirement that doesn't make sense for them to implement. At the farmer's markets here they are always willing to answer questions about how their wares are grown/raised and so I feel I can buy locally with confidence even if it isn't "certified organic".

dawn said...

Chickens are a great thing. The eggs we have are wonderful and it is nice to have our own meat. Because of that and the stuff from the garden, I really haven't purchased a lot of organic from the stores due to cost and having organic elsewhere; the balancing instead of all out organic. I am finding produce to be quite pricy and I am planting to up my garden efforts this year to hopefully get a better harvest as well as improve the root cellar so we don't have food freeze like this very cold winter (thermostat and red heatlamp) for the cold days. I hope to have more vegetables in the root cellar too which will help maintain the temperatures better. That means more work, and I am feeling a little overdone now. Just another balancing act to work on. Glad you're back.

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