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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Mitigating Rising Food Costs

So I've been thinking about how to manage the rising costs of food this summer. This is what I've come up with so far. What else can we do? Add your suggestions in the comments!

  • waste nothing. You know that I try hard not to waste anything, but now more than ever I need to stay on to of all of our supplies to ensure nothing is going bad. This extends to what's in the garden. I have some Swiss chard going to seed. I've been using the leaves off of the plants despite their increasing toughness. The flavor is fine. I just find that I need to shred the leaves even finer to reduce the toughness. I'm doing what I can to use most of the abundant rhubarb, dehydrating sweetened chunks and making preserves to use in fall and winter. 
  • when buying root vegetables that have the greens still attached, pay attention to the condition of the greens as well as the roots. The greens can also be used in cooking. An example, last month I bought a bunch of radishes. We cooked the greens in soup and egg dishes. I have some beets growing in my garden. I plan on using the leaves as well as the roots when I harvest them.
  • minimize the purchase of prepared foods and focus all or almost all of the budget on basic ingredients.
  • stick to the super cheap produce items or cuts of meat. I'd like to eat some of the pricier cuts of beef or parts of chicken, but for this summer at least, we'll be sticking to chicken leg quarters and ground beef. Ditto with produce. We will enjoy the produce that is on the less expensive side, with an occasional treat of the more expensive items, such as the peaches that I bought this week for 77 cents per pound.
  • shop at the budget grocery stores, even if they're not my favorite in terms of shopping experience. The local Walmart near us is lacking in ambiance. But they do have good prices on many of the items that I might buy. I can suck it up for 20 minutes to get the things I need there and save money. 
  • shop at ethnic markets. Some of the larger ethnic markets have online ads or price searches on their websites, but many of the smaller ones do not. I try to stop in at one of our local Hispanic markets when I go to Home Depot, as it's just a half of a block down the road from HD. I sometimes find the best produce prices in that market, and I'd never know it if I didn't make a stop there. (No website or ads.)
  • use coupons and rewards judiciously. I received a coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase at Fred Meyer to use before the end of July. I considered buying a splurge item for myself, like good coffee. Instead, I decided to buy 2 extra pounds of butter, as Fred Meyer carries a house brand of butter that is my go-to bargain butter, at $2.51 per pound when buying on Senior Discount day. This will put us "ahead" on the butter by 1 month, freeing up funds in a future month to go toward other foods.
  • make substitutions in recipes whenever possible, finding a less expensive alternative for the pricier ingredients. The pretzels worked just fine in cookies in place of nuts. I don't have heavy cream for making ice cream, but I have found that homemade yogurt, once sweetened and flavored, makes a good base for a homemade frozen dessert.
  • stock up now on non-perishable basic foods when I see a good price, such as dried beans or rice.
  • grow more produce in the off-season. I just started another batch of kale seeds for our fall, early winter, and mid-spring kale. This year, I started twice as many seeds as usual for this supply of kale. I will also be growing lentil sprouts indoors throughout the fall, winter, and spring. I have some plastic tunnels that fit over our garden beds. I'll be using those to add 2 to 3 weeks onto the harvest period of the lower growing, tender vegetables (like lettuce) this fall.
  • forage for the wild foods in your area. In the PNW, we have blackberries that grow everywhere. They ripen over several weeks, giving us lots of opportunities to pick and freeze or preserve many quarts. 
  • compare, compare, compare. Check prices for as many shopping venues in my area as possible, online through individual store websites, with ads from each store, or with tools such as flipp which compare various store ads in your area for items. (Thanks Lona!) 
  • it doesn't hurt to check in person, too. When you happen to be in a store to pick up specific items, check the other items on your list, too. As an example, I found milk on sale when shopping for something else and saved myself about $1 over what I was prepared to spend.
  • make a shopping list in advance, sticking to a budget if that fits your circumstances. As you shop throughout the month, revise your shopping list. If you've found better deals than you anticipated, use the "extra" money to buy more of the essentials or sock it away for a future month. You all know that I make my shopping list for an entire month at a time. That doesn't mean that I do all of the shopping in one go. My shopping is spread out over the month. As I have found deals on my items or rethought plans for meals, I've revised my shopping list to make the most of all of my budget. My lists typically go through 4 revisions in a month. I use the list to update and track my spending as well as plan for what to buy. I can see in just a minute or two how much money I have left and could allocate for additional food. My style of planning is very methodical, but also very effective for staying within a tight budget. While I have vague ideas of what I'll prepare for meals, I don't have a specific monthly menu plan. That level of organization is more than I can manage. However, we seem to do well just planning a day or two in advance, using what I have bought or we have on hand as inspiration. It's not perfect, but it is working -- and that's what matters. Decide on the level of organization that works best for you and work to stick with it.
  • create your splurges at home with what you have on hand instead of shopping for your splurges. Make your own coffee drinks. Put together a nice cheese plate with crackers or bread and some cut up fruit. Have meals outdoors. 
Remember, there are lots of ways to manage the rising cost of food. You don't have to do all of them. But do try something new to you and that feels a bit outside of your comfort zone. This is do-able!


  1. Thanks for answering Lili. I'm not sure how bad things will be because of the terrible weather this spring. My dh is a diabetic and recently had a scare where his well controlled diabetes wasn't well controlled the month of March and we really need to watch his diet. We now eat less meat, a lot less carbs but more veggies and very limited fruit.

  2. Cheryl-- Sorry to hear about your DH's health scare. I find that it's a little more stressful trying to keep our food budget down with health issues in the family, though making a lot of things from scratch and buying a lot of produce does seem to work pretty well for both, if you can use the produce that's in-season. Good luck to you!

    Lili-- DS and DH are really good at noticing in-store sales, as you mentioned, as well as the flyer-ad stuff, and they get some great deals. I especially look around any holiday (just before and after), because it seems like I see a lot at those times, especially on meat (and often "goodies", but we don't eat those around here.) With a fairly specific/limited list, it only takes an extra glance or maybe an extra minute or two to double-check for those.

    I'm continually amazed at how well you feed your family on your tinier and tinier budgets since I've known you. I hope someday soon you won't have to be such a frugality champ, but you really inspire me, while it's necessary! Great work!

    Thanks for trying to help those of us struggling with the comments process!!! Love, Sara

  3. PS... I got my comment through first try with no problem at all! Hoooray! Sara

  4. That's scary, Cheryl. I can understand how important it is for you and your husband to eat as well as possible. I'm sure you know this already, but most frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. And they can be cheaper than fresh. I typically see some deals on frozen veggies in mid to late summer, and then again in fall around Thanksgiving. Even our Smart Food Service Cash & Carry puts their frozen vegetables on sale, so I stock up then. (It's usually in late summer, if you have a Smart Food Service in your area. I've bought the 20-lb boxes of green beans before and saved a bunch of $$. I just had to repackage the frozen beans into gallon ziploc bags.) Have you found that eating less meat allows more in your budget for increasing veggies? You know, when it comes to health scares, I would be the first one to say find money in your budget anywhere, so that proper nutrition and care can be the primary concern. We've had a few years where one of our family members has needed higher nutrition, and we devoted more of our resources to get that.
    Best wishes to you!

  5. Hi Sara,
    as you may have discovered, the one drawback to the new set-up with the comments is that you can't have threaded comments, now. So answering someone else's comment will be a bit awkward. I am looking around to a solution for that!

    I think you're right about holidays being good times to snag some deals. I'm hoping that proves to be true again this year.

    Thank you for your good wishes, Sara! I appreciate the thoughts. You know, I feel like I am being provided for in different ways, now. When I think things are not going to be possible, something unexpected opens up. It's not necessarily me doing anything, but opportunities being shown to me constantly. Have a great day!

  6. I tried this comment format for a short while because I heard there are fewer problems for others trying to comment from different platforms. However, I didn't like the stream of the comments, so I switched back. I will be interested in what you do.

  7. Hi Lili,
    I've been unable to comment on many blogs for months now. Let's see if yours works for me now...
    Something to add to your list - always check the clearance section/areas!
    Jo Ann

  8. and as for food waste...I hate when that happens to me but I also hate to see people throw away good food. I think it was a brother who threw away the leftovers after the meal was eaten. What???

    I am fond of saying "oh, I'll make you eat this one way or another". Ask any of my kids and they probably will tell you that's what I say.

    The nicest thing I've been hearing from my young adult kids who live with us is "thank you mom for making supper". Before you all have words about having adult kids live with us, here's the deal. My 26 yo daughter is a missionary and comes home summer and Christmas. No spouse and no where else to live. My 25 yo son has a good job, creates no drama, has no spouse so why wouldn't let him live at home? He's only been out of college 2 years and paying off debt.

    I'm cooking anyway so why not enough to feed all of us. I love it.


  9. Hi live and learn,
    I'm going to give this comment format a go for a while. There doesn't seem to be an ideal way to do comments with Blogger. We'll see how we all feel about the format after a bit.

  10. Hi Jo Ann,
    Clearance section -- absolutely! Some stores have clearance for each department, dairy, meat, produce, bakery, and canned/boxed goods. Other stores mix the clearance items in with the rest of the stock. Even one of the produce stands that I frequent has a clearance rack. Thanks for the addition!

  11. Hi Alice,
    You know, in many cultures, it's expected that young adult kids will live with their parents until they marry. That's the norm. In my opinion, it's a family decision. No one outside of that family has any business telling you what to do with your family members. Americans seem to enjoy poking their noses into others' affairs.

    Lately, I've asked a few friends about their situations with young adult kids. One family is from Hong Kong and the mom told me that it was considered the norm in Chinese families to have their YA kids live with parents until marriage or a job took them out of the area. We also have friends from Indonesia and I asked about their son who is in his mid-20s and living at home. Like the family from Hong Kong, the Indonesian mother and father told me that this was not only normal in their culture but expected and seen as a good thing. It really disturbs me when others feel the need to dictate personal or family choices.

    Anyway, back to the topic -- you're right, using up leftovers is critical to saving money on food. I had to throw away a piece of bread yesterday and I hated doing that. It had grown mold on it. This happens every year about this time. The weather suddenly turns warm and our bread needs to be stored in the fridge, lest it mold.

  12. Hi Lili! You're welcome! I also keep boxes of jiffy cornbread mix as a "convenience" item. A batch can be whipped up with cut up hot dogs inserted, a corn casserole, or just a quick side item. I only fill the cup to half full so that more muffins are yielded. I always browse the mark downs and occasionally can find a roasted chicken for less than $3.50. We have the first night of chicken and sides, the next night I pull the rest of the chicken off the bone and make chicken salad in the food processor.

    Peanut butter chewies
    1 c of sugar
    1 c of corn syrup
    Bring to gentle boil, remove from heat
    Stir in 1 c of peanut butter
    Add 6 c of corn flakes

    Rice Krispy Treats
    Melt 1/2 stick of butter
    Add 3 cups of mini marshmallows
    Stir until melted
    Add 3 cups of Krispy rice cereal

    I definitely need to stay on top of the food waste. That's our grocery money out the window.

    Thank you for this list and the opportunity to let us share our money saving strategies!!

  13. Lona, thank you for your ideas and recipes!

  14. Lili, I prefer frozen most of the time because I just use exactly want I need and no waste.

  15. Lili, your brain is super efficient! Like everyone else, I am constantly amazed at how you make bounty out of very little.

    Lona, your PB chewies recipe sounds terrific. I like non-baked goodies at this time of year to avoid heating up the house.

    Alice, it sounds like you have had a few judgmental comments about your adult children living at home. I agree with Lili, it seems to be a cultural thing. I have noticed, at least in the medical fields, that getting a degree involves way more education than it used to (I have a bachelor's--currently, new grads have to have a master's degree and by 2028, a doctorate will be required). I was able to pay off my school loans within a few years of graduating from college, but the debt burden for these young adults is getting harder and harder to manage. It seems to be a practical financial solution to have your adult kids living with you. It's certainly the most economical. I don't think it's all that unusual, either, so don't let the naysayers get you down!


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