By Jeffrey Green
Food prices are getting out of control. As meats, dairy, and eggs climb to record high prices and over 50 million Americans are now on public food assistance, family budgets are being stretched like never before just to survive.
Yet official statistics say Americans only spend about 11% of their post-tax income on food. I don’t know about you, but food is my family’s biggest monthly expense no matter what percentage of my income it is. I suspect that the same goes for most households reading this.
The causes for higher prices are many: currency inflation, fuel costs, bad weather, commodity speculation, higher demand, etc. I refer to the causes only to illustrate that this trend is very likely to continue. Therefore, it is wise to manage this crucial household expense more closely.
It may seem unusual to view food as an investment or your pantry as a savings account, but that is how you should treat it. The strange thing is, the health and quality aspect of food actually improves when you think of food as “money in the bank”. This concept is proven in the list below.
As mentioned earlier, food is my family’s largest monthly expense even with us doing everything I recommend in this article. But we’ve managed to reduce our food bills significantly while simultaneously building up large reserves and getting healthier by using the techniques outlined here.
Here are ten ways to survive skyrocketing food prices:
Grow Your Own: It is cheap and easy to grow some vegetables or keep a few chickens. It’s simple, the more you produce yourself, the less you have to buy. And the quality will be far superior to anything you can find in the grocery store. Outrageous prices for healthy organic vegetables more than makes it worth turning some soil.
Plan Your Meals: This is perhaps the most important item on this list. How many times have you gone crazy trying to figure out what to have for dinner only to relent and order pizza? Convenient fast food has become a crutch for busy people, but planning meals ahead of time actually makes life more convenient. Because you planned exactly what you’re buying and what you’re making and when, you save time and money.
Pre-Cook Meals: Pre-cooking meals and snacks is another way to bring convenience to busy people and save money. For instance, double up your chili recipe with the intention of splitting it into multiple meals. Or cook several more chicken breasts than you need and use them throughout the week for other meals. When you make pizza, make enough dough for several and freeze them. Pre-making food for a few days or a full week means less work and more savings.
Cook From Scratch: Cooking from scratch is a great way to save money on food, and it won’t take much more elbow grease to make a cake from scratch than it does from a box mix. Making a big batch of refried beans from dried pinto beans is not that difficult. Learning to cook from scratch is as easy as Googling, and you can buy these foodstuffs in bulk for huge savings (more on that below). And, finally, it’s much healthier than processed, pre-packaged or fast food.
Extreme Couponing: If my wife doesn’t save over 50% on our entire grocery bill, she considers the trip a failure. We are extreme couponers, which means we clip coupons and thoroughly study the store circulars before making our shopping list. We buy our favorite items in bulk when they go on sale so we not only save A LOT of money, we also always have a surplus of those items. With food prices always going up, that surplus (bought at half-price) is better than money in the bank.
Hunting and Fishing: Meat from wild game tends to be much healthier than concentration-camp cattle or chicken, and it’s nearly free. It’s is not for everyone but if you’re a meat-eater, hunting and fishing season provides a way to fill your freezer with quality meats for very little money.
Buy Staples in Bulk: If you’re not a professional shopper like my wife and don’t have the time to cut coupons, your next best bet is taking a monthly trip to warehouse stores like Costco. Canned items are often cheaper in bulk there than on sale at supermarkets. Plan your trips wisely. Another great option is buying grain right from the mill. You can buy bulk heritage wheat flour, organic rice, non-gmo corn meal at mills like Anson Mills or Pleasant Hill Grain.
Manage Your Pantry: Notice how some of these tips lead into other tips? Managing the inventory in your pantry (food bank) is crucial to maximizing your budget. Have a rotation method that keeps things fresh and alerts you to when certain items need replenishing. Managing your pantry helps you plan meals, cook from scratch, identify sales, and buy in bulk. They all reinforce each other.
Learn to Preserve: Growing and preserving your own tomato sauce alone will save hundreds of dollars per year. Same goes for pickles, sauerkraut, jams, apple sauce, meat jerky, dried fruits and veggies, etc. If you can’t grow them yourself, buying the raw foods in bulk and then preserve them is still cheaper than factory brands. Many orchards offer cheap pick-your-own options in season. Load up and preserve.
Store Emergency Food: Last but not least, everyone should have a stockpile of storable food. Thankfully, there are now some great healthy emergency foods that last 20 years. The way food prices are going, these may be one of the best investments any family can make. Not only is it an excellent measurable investment, storable food also is instantly usable insurance against disasters. At the very least, every household should have a 3-day emergency food supply.
Food should be a bigger part of our financial planning. Your large monthly expense for food is only expected to grow larger without action on your part. Use the techniques above your health and bank account will profit.
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