Fighting Inflation

Food Inflation and What I Plan to Do About It

While our income has been decreasing and our children’s appetites are increasing, food prices are increasing. Some things have doubled and even tripled in price in the last few years. The 50 pound bag of popcorn that we buy in bulk went from $17 a bag in June of 2012 to $29 a bag in July of 2012. The less-expensive cuts of beef (chuck roast, ground beef, and London Broil) have increased from $1.79 a pound to $2.99 (and usually $3.49) a pound on sale. Potatoes went from 10 cents a pound in season in November 2012 to 30 cents a pound in November 2013.

Not everyone has an increasing income to keep up with the rising cost of living. While we’re already feeding our family of 9 for $3.33 a day, I can’t just spend more on the same things because the prices have gone up. It’s time for some changes.

Here’s what I intend to do to keep food in our bellies:

Waste less:

Food waste happens a lot more than any of us would like. I want to be more diligent about using what I have purchased and grown. To help ensure that I make better use of the resources I have, I plan to do the following:

1. Clean the refrigerator more often. This will help me to make sure I don’t miss something I’ve moved to the back.

2. Be more diligent about using food that is about to go bad in our meals.

3. Be quicker to can items that need to be canned, even if it means staying up late to get them done

4. Chopping small amounts of vegetables before they can go bad and putting them in a bag in the freezer to use in soup. This means if I have a couple of carrots that need to be used before I can eat them, they’ll be stuck in a bag for a soup later on.

5. Drying and putting away herbs from the garden to use later. In the past I have mostly used the herbs from my garden as fresh herbs. I want to be better about drying and storing them.

6. Incorporate more rice-based meals into our menus

Shop wisely:

1. Continue not to purchase the items on my list of food items that I don’t buy

2. Stick to my price points for food, even when it means doing without items that have risen above those price points

3. Focus on meats that are under $1 a pound when buying meat, with most purchases being under $0.88 a pound. (Fortunately I have a freezer full of hams and turkeys purchased under $1 a pound during the holidays. This will be the bulk of our meat for the year).

4. Continue to stock up with large purchases on items when amazing in-season prices come along (like the 152 pounds of oranges  and 80 pounds of onions that I bought for .20 a pound in December).

4. Eat more soups

5. Eat more salads from the garden while lettuce is in season. I expect we’ll have salad as a first course every day at dinner for 3-4 months, starting in late January. We may have some soup and salad lunches with homemade bread as well.

Grow more in my garden:

In 2013, I ripped out our front yard, brought in new dirt, and planted fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. The walkway to the house is lined with parsley, basil, and lettuce.

I added 6 semi-dwarf fruit trees in the front yard. Two will need to be kept smaller for the space that they are in, and 3 will be trimmed as a hedge, but they can still get quite large. I planted a lime, 3 Meyer lemons, an apricot (that blooms and ripens 3 weeks earlier than the apricot in my backyard, which will mean fresh apricots twice), and an Early Elberta peach.

On my back patio, I planted 2 oranges in pots and a pomegranate in a pot. (I moved another pomegranate in my garden to another pot on the patio last week).

I’m also growing more of what works well for my area–and gives me a great return on my money. Lettuce, Swiss chard, and green onions do really well for me, and they are also a great way for me to save money.

Just a few years ago, looseleaf lettuce was $0.79 and $0.99 a head on sale where I live. Now a sale price is $1.49 a head, and a more regular price is $2.49 a head.

I can purchase 400 lettuce seeds for $2.95.  That’s a much better deal! As an additional bonus, each head can be harvested 2-3 times, by either harvesting outer leaves and allowing it to continue to grow, or cutting the leaves off at the base and allowing it to regrow. When lettuce is in season, we can have a salad every night as a first course. With some homemade dressing, it’s a great way to keep our meal costs down.

Swiss chard grows year-round here. It’s not-only packed full of vitamins, it’s a cut and come again plant, like lettuce–but I can harvest it even more times! I grow the Fordhook Giant variety, and the leaves can grow 16  to 24 inches in length. We’ll steam it, chop it in soups, blend it in soups, and every once in a while, toss it in salads.

Green onions grow year-round in my garden, and they self-seed every year. I haven’t bought green onions in 7 years. Like lettuce and Swiss chard, I trim the side leaves of the plants, and they continue to regrow. In the late spring they go to seed, and pretty soon I have new green onions growing. I will be making an effort to collect seeds as well to plant additional onions in the garden this year.

Zucchini and green beans are difficult to grow here, as they won’t flower much in our heat, but in many places, these are two other plants that will produce food in abundance for a family. I grow a bush variety of zucchini to save space, and I found last year that a mid-summer planting will allow me a plant that flowers when it cools below 90º in October, so I plant some then to allow us to have some for our family.

In short, I plan to:

1. Grow more of what works well and grows abundantly where I live; for me, this is more lettuce, more Swiss chard, and more green onions

2. Expand the garden by growing in pots and planting food in the front yard

3. Grow heirloom and open-pollinated varieties of food so that I can collect seeds to use in the future, reducing my need to purchase seeds

4. Use my garden space more efficiently; this includes lots of vertical growing

5. Be more diligent in planting and maintaining a fall garden; this includes covering all fall lettuces with mason jars before the first frost, so that I can harvest earlier and better protect the plants

6. Grow more herbs to keep me from needing to purchase them at the store

What new things are you doing this year to keep your grocery budget low?

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27 Comments

  1. Lea,Having had a 75% decrease in our income, might I suggest waiting for rock bottom prices before stocking up on anything? Your money will go further and when the cut comes you will be so grateful for the extra things that you were able to put aside because you spent less on each thing.I would also look at stocking up on dried beans in bulk and leaving the canned beans behind. You will have lots more beans on hand, and they can last you for many years. For $17, I can buy 25 pounds of beans. (And cooked beans double in size). Even if you get the canned beans at the lowest price possible, you’ll still spend more per pound. I have been so grateful to have a variety of beans in our storage.I don’t know how long your situation will last, or the details of your income decrease, but I have had a lot of readers share very similar situations with me (usually a cut as companies struggle to keep employees–and eventually the job disappears altogether as the company can no longer keep employees).It sounds like you have a great plan in place for other food. That is wonderful! I wish you the best as you adjust to your new income.

  2. Thanks Brandy! This is a completely planned decrease as part of a career change with my husband. We are anticipating 1 1/2 – 2 years of this income. There are several things in place that it should be only this long and not any more. We have a plan B if it looks like it will stretch longer than this. It is very possible that our income will be higher than we think, but we’ll go with what we have planned and if it’s better, great.I’d love to do dry beans but my digestive tract can’t handle them – I’ve tried them before and I can only eat dried peas and sometimes dried lentils (depending on how they are prepared). I’m not sure what it is about them but unless I want to end up in the hospital dry beans are a no go in our household 🙁 It bums me out because I know dry beans would save me a ton of money.The sheer quantity of the toiletries in this case is what caused me to purchase at these prices. With what we have now we are good for body wash, deodorant, toothpaste, mouthwash and shampoo until January 2015. Our prices seem to have gone up across the board here too and I’m not entirely sure what the lowest prices are. The prices are really good but we used to be able to get them lower. If I see more at a lower price I will buy but I’d hate to not purchase now and have to buy more later. Thanks so much for all your advise! I love your web site and I’m looking forward to trying more of your recipes and your gift ideas in the next few years.Cheers,Lea

  3. I don’t have some of the equipment that some have to make tomato juice and I don’t like taking a long time for tomato sauce, so this is what I do. When I want to make tomato sauce, I cut up tomatoes, leaving peelings on, but not stems. I get a large bowl of them ready, and then put one layer in the bottom of a large pan. I crush them with a potato masher as they start to cook. Then, as those get to boiling, I add more, crushing and mashing all the time, until all tomatoes are added. This keeps it from separating in the jars. Then I strain that out with my hand-cranked food mill, removing skins and most of the seeds, and that is tomato juice. It is a little thicker than what you buy when I make it that way and no one here wants to drink it. I can that for my enchilada sauce and minestrone soup. recipies, plus any others I find during the year To make sauce, I buy a gallon-sized #10 can of tomato paste for under $5 and stir in as much of that as I need to make the juice thicker with a wire whisk. Then I can that, using a little salt and either lemon juice or vinegar, as called for in the canning book. You could just add tomato paste when you opened a jar of the puree, but I find this more convenient. The tomato paste is also much cheaper in the huge can. You can freeze any extra paste in a ziplock bag for the next time you get a lot of tomatoes if a gallon is too much at one time. I use this in spaghetti, casseroles, on pizza, etc., and season it when I open it to match what I am making. i.e. Italian seasoning for spaghetti, etc.This method also stretches out the tomatoes by using a big can of paste, and it saves a ton of time and trouble. I usually burn the sauce when I do it the other way and use so much energy cooking it down for hours that it begins to make me wonder if it is worth it. Of course, I add lemon juice or vinegar plus salt to this sauce as well when I can it.I hope this helps if you need to can a lot of tomato products in a hurry.

  4. Hi Brandy! Here are my two cents worth. My income is low, but I also want to be a stay at home mom for as long as I can. So I have been looking at my monthly expenses. I clean several homes, so that will be my grocery and gas budget (of about $300 per month). Anything besides that I am determined to make. So I’m planning ahead and making birthday gifts ahead of time. Anything from a homemade laundry pin bag to a freshly baked bread. Its the thought and love that counts! Also, I purchased a 1 gallon jug of Dr. Bronner’s castille soap. That I’ll be using for my soap pumps at each sink, shampoo and body wash. And anything else that I might need it for. I make my own laundry soap and dishwasher detergent and use vinegar as fabric softener and dish rinse. Then I invested in reusable menstrual pads. There are all kinds available on line. They cost me about $3/month as opposed to $10-$12? Also better for you and the environment. My two boys get nice clothes given to them and since they work, they help out with shoes etc. Our chickens add a little income and provide fresh eggs. And the thrift stores are a great and fun way to find any extra things you might need. I have put up many jars of veggies and fruit and freeze a lot as well, from my garden or low fresh market prices. For my tomato sauce, I put about 5 good sized onions, 2 garlic bulbs, 3 zuchini in a pan with a tiny layer of olive oil. I let that soften for about 10 minutes. Then add about 7 kilograms tomatoes, salt to taste and fresh or dried herbs such as herbs de province. Bring that to a boil and then simmer for several hours. The smell alone:) Then when ready, I put my handmixer in and puree it. To each canning jar, add 1 tblsp vinegar and 1 tblsp brown sugar. Add puree and can it for about 20 minutes. This tomato sauce can be used for anything calling for tomato, such as soups, lasagna, chili, macaroni….. It is all I make and I use it for everything. It’s also good as salsa with chips. Thank you Brandy! And I wish you strength and courage to keep going! Here we also have hydro that has different rates during the day. After 7 pm it is half of the daytime price. That is when our dishwasher runs and the dryer if I need it. Most of my wash goes on the lines in my laundryroom. And I do my wash then as well. It makes for a busier evening, but feels good too!All the best, Janina

  5. Janina, your tomato sauce sounds heavenly. From the kilogram measure, I suspect you are not in the US, so take this for what it is worth. The USDA guidelines here used to say that anything containing zucchini needed to be pressure canned for 35 minutes. Now they say it is not safe to can at all, & should be frozen. I do still can my zucchini, but I add more pressure for the altitude adjustment & 5 more minutes for what I call my “safety: adjustment”, especially if I have added any fats or oils. Especially if you are using it as salsa, without bringing it up to a boiling temp for 20 mins after opening, you might want to consider lengthening your processing time for safety.

  6. Hi,Hope everyone had a blessed week. We are also trying to save on groceries. We eat meat about 2 times a week. This week we had butternut squash soup with homemade bread still good from our garden,butternut waffels for dinner tasted like pumpkin, cream of broccoli soup with homemade rolls Garbanzo bean burgers with homemade hamburger buns , Fajitas with lots of onions and the last 2 bell peppers from our garden also had rice with these,sloppy joes on homemade rolls made with turkey sausage these were so yummy and the sausage was gifted to me. We are trying to eat less meat because of the cost. We also had egg salad sammys with macaroni salad and one night was a huge chicken salad. We try to always make enough so we have some left for lunch. I know some people do not like leftovers but this saves us so much money. We make all our bread and rolls that saves a ton. I canned from our little community garden . This was my first time to ever can anything. Brandy really inspired me I watched her video on canning and it worked. I canned a bunch of free to me pears.I also watched some you tube videos and then felt comfortable enough to try it. We started buying things during the time of year talked about on this blog and stocked up. I live in a small condo but made having a food stockpile a priority you can get creative about storing staples. I remembered a trick my mom used to use for making lettuce and kale fresh after it goes limp. You put a bowl of water in the frig add limp lettuce or kale I have not tried any thing else yet, Leave them in cold waterin frig overnight you can also add fruit fresh if the edges are a little brown in the morning it is freshand CRISP ! I was so excited lettuce is exspensive. My mom also used to put a big bowl of water and ice in the sink add lettuce by the time the ice melted the lettuce was crisp. The fruit fresh can be added to the ice water also for little brown edges. This works for limp lettuce. If its slimy throw it in the compost. I wish I would have remembered this years ago I hate to think of all the lettuce I have wasted.We also make our snacks from scratch 🙂 Thank you everyone for all the wonderful ideas. I read everyweek but do not always post.Blessings,Pattiyummy and the sausage was gifted to me. We also had egg fried rice

  7. For our family, and our cirumstances, having two parents employed outside the home works. But we are incredibly fortunate in that we both have part-time jobs which are flexible and pay well. When our children were young, I was the bread-winner and my husband was the stay at home parent. He returned to work recently; and our schedules mean that, every morning, one of us drops the kids off at school, and every afternoon, one of us picks the kids up from school, so that we only have to rely on day care during school vacation. We have a great school vacation day care provider – the kids do things like go to the movies, go mini-golfing, go swimming, go to museums, play paint-ball, etc. No matter the excursion, it’s a flat fee for us; and it’s subsided, so that it is very affordable (less than 1 hour of work). The children love it too – my daughter’s always asking if she can go 5 days week instead of just 3. For us, it works; but our circumstances are far from common. Most people don’t have flexible bosses who are willing to accomodate school schedules; most people can’t walk into part-time jobs that pay well. Generally working outside the home comes with sacrifices and hidden costs (petrol, a professional wardrobe, child care, etc.) which often eat away any extra income.When I was a kid my mom was mostly a stay at home mom. She worked outside the home when I was in high school. She also worked outside the home for a few years when I was in grade school, until family circumstances were such that she felt she should quit. She loved the job, and she was very good at it; but the extra money never went as far as it could’ve, because of the hidden costs. In fact the only thing I remember ‘losing’ when she quit the job was ice cream – when she worked, it seemed like we almost always had ice cream in the freezer; when she quit, ice cream went back to being a special treat.I didn’t feel any less loved or less nurtured when she was working outside the home. I just liked the ice cream. I guess I was a particularly mercenary child; for a while my older sister worked in a donut shop, and I was devestated when she quit because she got a better job offer, because it meant she wouldn’t be bringing home any more day-old donuts. What good was it to me if the new job paid her better? I just wanted my donuts!

  8. Hi Marivene,You are right. I’m a Canadian and the recipe is from the Netherlands. But I’ve been using it for about 3 years now. And probably have canned it for longer than 20 minutes. Most of the time, it is used in a hot meal. For easy reference, 7 kg. is close to 15 lb. Sorry for any confusion that I may have caused.Sincerely, Janina

  9. Becky, I do tomato juice just the way you do except I add all at once. I do mash them down as they cook so I can add more to the kettle. I use the food mill too. It is a bit thicker than store boughten juice, but not as thick as sauce. I use it for soups, spaghetti sauce, enchilada sauce etc. I don’t add paste though, I saute lots of vegetables, whatever is handy and then spices and a quart of whole tomatoes to the quart of juice and cook. It thickens down on its own. We don’t like the really thick sauce as comes out of jarred sauce, though, so ours might be considered a bit thin. My family really likes pasta dishes so we probably do this every other week, at least.

  10. I have some of that Castille soap, but I don’t like it for cleaning after all. What a great idea to use it the way you do! Do you dilute it? Or just put some directly in hand pumps?

  11. My post keeps leaving must be something wrong with my computer sorry Brandy.We have been saving money by eating meat just a couple of times a week. Making all of our bread and rolls homemade. We had a community garden this year and will next year. We did a groupon for a csa . We try to buy in bulk any time we can. We shop at the dollar store or 99 cent store..We will be getting a super Wal mart close to our house I plan to shop there and price match. it will be about 2 miles from my house. We use amazon subscribe and save when they are the best price. I learned to can this year. Thank you for the encouragement. We found some things on deep discount at michaels 20 cents for socks this week in their Christmas mark down. I used a trick that my mom used to use put wilted lettuce or greens in a bowl of water in the frig leave over night the next day lettuce is redydrated and crispy.We have started to bake our own snacks. We just got a grocery outlet we check in their for deep discounts on lots of things. I usally make granola but they had the fruit and nut granola for 99cents a box. I bought 10 .Most of the things are a one time special but that is the fun of it. They are building a smart and final 1 mile from my house I am looking forward to that.BlessingsPatti

  12. Brandy—One way to cut waste — go to Food 52 (NY Times food blog) and search for candied orange peels(any citrus will work) It says to roll in granulated sugar at end — but just the simple syrup coatingon slivered peels is sweet enough for me. They are delicious. I no longer throw citrus peels away.Margaret

  13. Patti,I just wanted to let you know that comments are moderated on this blog. Your comment won’t show up until I read it and approve it. You only have to write once. I am not on the computer 24/7 so it might take a while to show up.

  14. Thanks, Athanasia. We say it with the J sound. But Europeans in the Polish area etc say it with the Y. Very pretty that way!Hi LE. I won’t be using it for cleaning because I make ‘Sunsoda’ which is Sunlight soap grated in water with washing soda. Works wonderful on almost everything incl. windows and the car. That is also what I use as laundry detergent. The castille soap I’ll put 1/3 in a pump, add 2/3 warm water and shake. Should be ready to go. There are lots more uses on line.Greetings, Janina

  15. I worked full time since my 2nd youngest was born, oldest was 6 ( I have 5) on Memorial Day, and my mother just happened to be retiring from teaching that June. Our church/school decided they needed a full time paid librarian at that time so I took the position and pretty much started immediately. I had worked for 5 years in a public library before children. My mother took care of the children while I was at work, just as her mother did for her when we were young. We all live in the same house which was super easy. I’m happy, the children were happy, husband happy. It worked well for us, but everyone has to figure out what is best for them. My son that has degrees in Social Work and Counseling says he saw a study where the attitude of the parent is what is most detrimental…i.e. if the mother has to work and is unhappy about it or the mother feels she needs to stay home but would really rather work. The mother’s unhappiness about either position transfers to the children. I can’t say whether I would have taken the job if my mother was not available, but I believe God laid all the pieces of our life into place.

  16. Cecile, I don’t think I would consider the premade crust too much of a convenience, I am talking more about ready made pies. Just as I would not consider store bought dry pasta and mayonaise a convenience food, as opposed to box pasta salads or deli. Pies for me are just second nature…I think I have mentioned this. I usually mix 10 crusts at a time and freeze some for future use. You can either freeze them in a patty shape or roll flat and stack a bunch on a cardboard circle. That works for me.I have a couple convenience foods I keep too. One is a can of cherry pie filling…I need this for making a “dump cake”. Ever had that? I also buy a number of crescent roll packs for fresh vegetable season as we make lots of those veggie pizzas with the cream cheese and chopped fresh vegetables. The one canned soup I buy is Campbells Tomato soup…I buy the large size one, I can’t think of the ounces. I used to buy the institutional size when everyone was at home!

  17. I’ve so enjoyed reading your entries and have learned a lot that I’ll integrate into our lives here at home (esp. the gardening/canning info). I’m curious though, since you rarely leave your home and you homeschool your children, how do the children get social interaction with other children (outside of their family members)?

  18. We go to church and they have Sunday School each week (2 hours with other children). Once they are 8, they have outside activities with the youth at church as well; the boys have Cub Scouts and the girls have their own program. At age 12 they have other youth activities (plus still Scouts, so there will be camping and meetings). Everyone lives close enough that there is a lot of carpooling happening, or bike riding to activities. One mom takes home a car full of girls each week. Also we are involved in archery. I don’t take them to that, but my husband does 🙂 and he picks up a van full of youth from church (who happen to live close by) to take with him and the children to the archery range, which is not far from here. Plus they get together with their friends. (And they have 60+ cousins who live in town).Lots of homeschooled children are involved in other activities, including sports, homeschool groups, and more. We have friends who homeschool who are never home! They are busy doing gymnastics and horseback riding and going to competitions. They take their schoolbooks with them.My husband doesn’t want me to become a taxi driver, which is fine with me!

  19. I enjoy reading about the ways you are cutting back on waste. Isn’t it terrible on how much we really do waste? This has brought to my attention to many ways that I could start cutting back too. I also love how you gather water from your shower to use in the garden! Great idea!! As I look forward to retirement, and living on a fixed income, I have calculated how much we could spend on utilities..which is not much. About 200/month. We will have a one story ( probably new manufactured home) on a couple of acres then. I am hoping it will be well insulated. Do you think 200.00 in an unreasonable range for a utility budget? We will be living in 4 seasons in Washington State.. Summer is very warm, and winter brings beautiful cold snow. Just curious to how you have cut back, and how amazing you are at finding ways to be frugal.. Thank you Brandy~~

  20. Thank you! I will try that — you are saving me money as I wasn’t going to use it at all. Thanks Brandy and everyone for all the new ideas to save $, much needed.

  21. I took in my two nephews and a niece when they were little, 4 & 8 and my neice was 3. The 4 year old would stash food in pockets, under his pillow or any place else he could think of. When I first found out I took him to the refrigerator and asked him if he could open it. He tried and said yes. I then showed him the bottom shelf that held fruit, carrot and celery sticks and hard boiled eggs. I explained that food hidden caused bugs but that food stored correctly was good to eat anytime. This shelf was for them to help themselves whenever they were hungry. He stopped hoarding food, ate a reasonable meal three times a day and after a few days only used the bottom shelf on occasion. I pray that my little William never went hungry again after going back to his mother.

  22. I just wanted to take a second and say that I loved reading the background of all of you inspirational women. It is interesting how the frugal mindset can take hold I anyone in any walk of life. I for one am not a mother (of human children) and I work full time. My husband also works full time. We make what most people on this page would probably consider a large household income. I could not work if I wanted to, and we would still live a comfortable life. For me both working and frugality is very important because life has a way of sneaking up on the unprepared. I know that if we save pennies now when it’s not a necessity then if it ever becomes a necessity it will be a lot easier. I also would love for both the husband and I to retire at 50. I think it’s admirable that you women do what’s best for YOUR family

  23. Will you please tell me about #5? Why cover lettuces with mason jars before frost? I’m very new to the idea of gardening. I live in SW Missouri, zone 6A.

    Thanks!
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage

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