Stretching Your Produce Budget Further

Anyone who has made a simple budget has struggled with making their food budget fit with the rest of the budget.  If you attempt to eat healthy, one of the biggest components to a food budget is the produce.  Stretching your produce budget can be somewhat difficult.  Growing seasons are short, and the cost of produce keeps going up.  But, there are a few things we can do to stretch that produce budget, and make it a bit easier on your overall budget.

  1. Stretching your produce budgetStock Up on Sale: buying your produce on sale allows for you to stock up when the item is cheaper, then store it until you need it.   Canned produce is really easy to store.  Frozen only requires a freezer.  And if it’s the fresh stuff, there’s a few things you can do to store a surplus when you do pick it up in season and on sale.
  2. Canning for stockpiling: When you’ve got a surplus of produce, one of the best things you can do is can it to preserve it for another day’s use.  Canning only requires a few pieces of equipment, and a little time learning the process, then you can be off to the races filling your pantry shelves with preserved fresh produce to use later in the year when produce is much more expensive.
  3. Freeze it: Every year, around the end of summer, corn pops up in the backs of pickup trucks and in the farmers markets.  Compared to the rest of the year, it’s really cheap, and it tastes so good!  Unless we want to eat nothing but fresh corn, though, the season is fleeting, and we’re left with no other corn but the commercially canned or frozen corn you can get at the supermarket.  It’s just not the same.  Last year, we bought a whole bunch of corn (4-5 dozen), shucked them all, then cut the kernels off and combined them in a huge stockpot with some butter, a little bit of salt, and a little bit of water, and then cooked it for a little while.  Once it was done, we let it cool off, and then filled quart size freezer bags with the corn and froze it.  Now, if we want a little taste of that sweet summer corn, we just grab a bag, heat it backup and eat.  We did similar things with pumpkin, squash, zucchini, and a whole bunch of other summer fruits and veggies.  All it takes is a little bit of prep time and the freezer room to enjoy the flavor of fresh produce all year round.
  4. Grow it: If you already grow a garden every year, this might seem like a no-brainer of a tip.  But, growing your own garden can be an excellent way to stretch your produce budget out.  Last year, we enjoyed an abundance of tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, jalepenos, cucumbers, and even an eggplant or two from our tiny container garden.  This year, we’re planning on consolidating down to a smaller selection in hopes that we’ll have some extras that we can can as well.
  5. Find a Farmer’s Market: Buying your produce from a local farmer can often be just as cheap as buying at the supermarket.  In some cases, if you order ahead, you can get a deal on bulk orders of produce which is great if you are planning on canning any of it.  It’s also fresher since it only had to make the trip from the farm down the road instead of the farm across the country.  It’s not always a great way to stretch the produce budget, but if you want high-quality produce that will last longer before spoiling, it’s a good place to check out.

Extending your produce budget is important, not just when there are droughts, but as a way to provide healthy options for you and your family to eat year round.

What do you do to stretch your produce budget?

California Drought; Food Prices On the Rise

I’m not sure if you caught this or not.  I suppose if you live in California you might have heard quite a bit about it.  If you live far from California, like I do, you maybe haven’t heard much about it at all.  But, apparently, California is in the midst of one of the worst droughts on record.  The California drought is so bad that the governor of California has declared a drought emergency.  During what is traditionally California’s wet season…  Take a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor.

If you live in another state, you might ask yourself why the dryness of California should concern you.  Well, take a look at these numbers compiled from the 2007 Census of Agriculture.  California is the primary provider of a lot of the produce (fresh, frozen, and canned) that you buy.  They produce 99% of the Artichokes,  90% of the Avocados,  83% of Grapes,  79% of Lemons,  76% of Tomatoes, 73% of Lettuce, 65% of Nuts, 59% of Strawberries, and 59% of Spinach.  And that’s just a sampling from that list.  They also grow 100% of the Pomegranates.  With no water to irrigate all those crops, some farmers are resorting to bulldozing (literally) their crops and leaving fields fallow.

California DroughtWhat will happen if 10-50% of the production in California is lost?  All those produce items that they contribute so much to are going to get really expensive.  This article on CNBC is reporting that prices are expected to rise by 1.25-1.75% across the board.  And it’s not even clear if that increase takes into account the drought in California.  Even at an average of 1.5% increase, that’s a pretty significant hit to the wallet.  Imagine if it gets closer to 5%!  What if it gets worse?

The truth is, it’s not just the food cost that might be on the rise.  Power could be affected too.  Low water levels due to the drought could me a pretty significant drop in power generation at hydro-electric dams.  And those power generation shortages could mean power shortages, brownouts, and will most certainly mean an increase in the cost of electricity to users.

While the cost of power might stay somewhat localized, the cost of food is going to be universal across the country.  As the cost of produce increases, more and more people will buy less of it, and switch to eating more affordable food sources.  Except, there might not be any more affordable sources.  If cattle producers can’t water their pastures, there’s less grass for the cows to eat.  And if there’s less grass to eat, they might have to start supplementing with grains.  Which will increase the demand on grains, and raise the price of grain as well.  The price of meat and dairy is likely to rise significantly too.

We’ll see, of course, just how bad it gets as the summer season progresses.  Many of us will be desperately finding ways to stretch what produce we can buy, and create extra room in our budget for extra food costs.  It’s not going to collapse the economy, I don’t think.  At least not yet.  But it is very likely that it’s going to create a very tight summer in many budgets.

How Much “Stuff” Do You Own?

Every few years or so the discussion in my house comes back around to how we’ve seemingly outgrown our house.  It’s about 12oo square feet, and there are currently 2 adults and 2 children living in it.  It can get cramped.  Sometimes more than others.   But, I try to remind myself that the people we bought the house from somehow managed to raise 4 children in the home.  How?  I have no idea.

We have a bunch of “stuff”

I think that one of the major differences between the couple that lived here before us raised their children in a different age.  It was an age of far less consumerist tendencies.  And, even with our increased awareness of consumerism, we still seem to accumulate stuff regularly.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I contribute almost as much to the problem as anyone else.  I’m frugal to a fault, but there are plenty of things that I accumulate that fit within those frugal means.  Books would be the primary culprit.  I’ve been better lately, buying books for my kindle more often, but I still have quite a bit of books that are hanging out on shelves.

Aside from the books, we’ve also got an entire shelf full of DVD movies.  We probably only watch about 4-5 of them with any sort of regularity.  And they’re all kids movies.  I can’t tell you the last time any of the adults here watched any of the adult DVDs.  It’s hard enough for us to find our time to watch The Walking Dead.

There’s so much other “stuff” that we just don’t need.  Every so often, we go through and clean a bunch of stuff out, and minimize a whole bunch of “stuff” out of our lives.  And, slowly, it all creeps right back in.  Either through gifts, or through replacement with other new things, it eventually grows to the same size.  I suppose it’s because it’s not really a “necessity” that we keep the minimalism up.

It’s nice to have a certain level of creature comforts around.  Things that we simply don’t need, but that we use once in a while.

Too Much StuffHow wonderful would that be?  Nothing that isn’t specifically useful, or that you don’t think is beautiful.  Of course, that means you’d have to find out how you define useful.  Beautiful is easy to define, even though it’s definition is a little different from person to person.  Useful, though?  That’s a different story.  At it’s simplest, you can probably define useful as something that you use daily.  Or maybe it’s something that you use weekly.  Or monthly?  Well, maybe it’s not so easy…

What You Want Balanced By What You Need

If you’re reading this article, you’ve likely read other articles.  And if you’ve read other articles, you’ve likely also read a few about people who live in incredibly small spaces.  Those are people who’ve really, really managed to discover just how much they really need.  The rest of us likely are living with so much “stuff” we don’t really need.  And, if we’re living with so much “stuff” that we don’t need, maybe it’s just the natural path of things.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to believe that it’s just “natural”.  I think we accumulate “stuff”, even if it’s subconsciously, just because we can.  Because we don’t have any good reason to live minimally.  That would require work.  That would require some commitment.

And frankly, work and commitment are something that most of us aren’t willing to give to our “stuff”.  We’ve got better places to put our time and efforts.  But, we can take small steps.

What steps do you take to make your “stuff” more minimal?