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.

Would You Encourage Your Child to Try to Be an Olympic Athlete?

The Olympics have been on for a week now, and across the world, young children are watching and finding themselves thinking of Olympic glory.  Every time the Olympics air, young children are inspired.  If they’re already in a sport, they may work harder, dreaming of Olympic gold.  If they haven’t yet started a sport, they may want to begin to see if they, too, can be like their Olympic idols.

Yet, as parents, should we encourage these dreams?

The Financial Toll of Pursuing an Olympic Dream

Being an Olympian extracts a heavy financial toll on a family, not to mention the time commitment.

Is this a worthwhile dream for our children, or are we setting them up for failure?

When I was young, my teacher was friends with a family whose college-aged son was training to be a speed skater.  His family had to hold fund raiser after fund raiser just to pay for his training.  Meanwhile, because of the time commitment for training, he was unable to hold a regular job, so he also needed money for living expenses.  In the end, he didn’t make it to the Olympics to compete, let alone try for a medal.

Was all that time pursuing his dream a waste of money and time?

The Financial Rewards of Being an Olympian

Olympic AthleteThe glory, the fame, and the money from endorsements are only for those who receive a medal, usually a gold medal.  Those who reach this pinnacle can expect a handsome return on their time and money investments.  Take Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer, who is reportedly worth $30 million thanks to endorsement deals.  Shaun White, two-time Olympic gold medalist for snowboarding, brings in an estimated $7 million a year in endorsements (The Examiner).  Yet, the chance of reaching the pinnacle of your sport is very rare.

Is this a worthwhile dream to pursue?

If an Olympian doesn’t win gold and reap the endorsements, she can often find herself able to create a job as a sports commentator or as a coach.  These can be good jobs that keep the athletes in the field they love.  But is all the money they spent to train for the Olympics worth the career choice?  Can being a coach really help justify the money spent to pursue an Olympic dream?

Many people may argue that the point of the Olympics is not about the finances.  The Olympics are about pushing yourself and trying to reach your goals.  They’re about training to become the best athlete you can be.

This is a noble goal, but is it worth the expense and sacrifice to family, friends, and athletes?

A Better Way to Pursue an Olympic Dream?

If my child were to express an interest in being a world class athlete, I would encourage him to train as he could when he was young, but the goal for me personally would be for him to receive a full ride athletic scholarship to college.  If he could reach his Olympic goals from there, wonderful.  If he couldn’t, then at least he would have had the chance to compete at the collegiate level, and he would also have an education.

Would you encourage your child’s Olympic dreams?  If so, how?