Thursday, September 9, 2021

Coping with rising food prices


Around the country, people have noticed that food prices are rising. All kinds of things are in short supply, as supply chains are stretched due to the pandemic. Choice Australia says "The most recent reported that 71% of Australians are worried about how much food and groceries cost, topped only by concerns about electricity, fuel and healthcare costs. And many had cut back on spending on essentials, including groceries".

Read about it here 

We are on fixed incomes around here. DH and I are now retired, and living on a adequate combination of pensions from our super funds and government allowances. This is both in cash and in kind -truly, the number and amounts of discounts for seniors and pensioners have astonished me- we can get everything from discounted haircuts on certain days of the week, to discounted food in restaurants if we shop at certain times. We are very grateful! 

We still have good reason to be careful when someone starts predicting rising food prices -after all, we must eat! I use these strategies listed below, all the time, even though the hard times of our lives, when DH was made redundant and our mortgage was huge, are behind us.

Disclaimer: I am in awe of what Jack Munroe has found out about managing on a tiny income, and the recipes she creates are the essence of frugal, so if you want to know some really good advice, just visit their website and don't bother with the rest of this! Or enjoy Jack's fabulous recipes and then come back and read this! 

The following are my strategies for making the food budget go as far as possible.

1. Find alternative sources of food

We have several large supermarkets within easy reach of our home. They sometimes offer 'specials' where they entice shoppers into their doors with something they sell below cost, and then often put up the price of other things to make sure they don't miss out on the money in the end. If you keep a price book- an actual list of what you pay for each thing you buy, with comparisons to other shops, other dates, you will be able to prove this is so. That is actually a very good exercise to make you aware of your actual costs, but it can be daunting. I used to belong to a website community where people did this, and it was illuminating! 

There is an alternative to keeping a price book, especially for the time poor and those whose heads might just explode at the idea! Choice in Australia regularly surveys grocery prices.

Choice found in May 2021 that the difference between an exactly identical basket of items in supermarkets varied by over $50 depending on which supermarket chain you shopped in, and could be more if you chose generic brands. 

They also found some states of Australia are more expensive than other states. My own state of Western Australia, along with the Northern Territory, are more expensive than the southern and eastern states, which are closer to the distribution centres and have higher populations. There may also be variations in suburban prices -if you live in a relatively wealthy area, it is worth shopping in another place where median incomes are lower, to see if prices are different there. 

I often find there are other sources of food worth trying: farmers'  markets- where they are selling what is now in season and therefore both freshest and cheapest, farm gate, smaller shops, ethnic grocers. It is worth having a look around your area. Ethnic food shops have great bulk spices at better prices than those tiny bottles in the supermarket. They also have a huge selection of flour, tea, coffee and pulses. 

2. Buy in bulk to even out price rises, find discounts

I am a member of our local RAC which means that I get to shop once a month in a wholesale bulk grocery store, which offers this service for members We find this convenient and cheaper. I can get 5 litres of rinse aid for my dishwasher for the price of 1 litre of the tiny supermarket bottles. I buy large, catering sized tins of roasted capsicums, and ladle the contents into smaller packets for the freezer. They become the basis for salads and dips and soups. Often a 5 kilo bag of rice is cheaper per kilo than a 500g gram bag of rice. 

On a tight budget, in order to have the extra money to buy the bigger packet, you might need to save up for these items one at a time, but as you build up a supply you will find it gets easier to afford. You can store non perishables in all sorts of places -in the garage, under the bed, at the top of your wardrobe.  

3. Make substitutions 

I have reduced the amount of meat we buy over the past few years for many reasons, including the fact that growing meat takes a lot of water in these drying times, and I want to do our bit for the planet. We are not vegetarian, we just eat other things than meat on at least 2 or 3 days a week. Meat prices are shockingly high, but I love to buy a good cut from a local butcher if I am having friends or family over for dinner. I am still overwhelmed when I hand over $70 for a leg of lamb! 

For ideas on what to eat when cost is an issue, I recommend looking for  recipe books in op shops. This book below is Elizabeth Davidson's "Vegetables" and is a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration. The filling is just onions melted in butter with 2 eggs and a bit of cheese, for a tasty onion pie.

Recipes from 'peasant' cultures are likely to be smart and tasty and frugal. I seek these out in op shops. 

4. Eat what is seasonal 

Today our supermarket had tomatoes for $16 a kilo! Now, of course, they are not in season, so you have to pay a premium if you still want fresh tomatoes. On the other hand, avocadoes are getting cheaper because they are in season. 

4. Grow your own

If you have access to a sunny space and can afford a big pot and some potting mix, you can grow some of your own food. I choose to grow those things which are expensive like blueberries (above). I now have 3 bushes of these, and we will be picking handfuls for our breakfast muesli for a couple of months now. I like to grow herbs because they make ordinary ingredients into a tasty dish, and they are full of vitamins. Anything you can grow is likely to be fresher and tastier, as well as providing some extra backup in case you ever have a supply shortage. I let the veggies and herbs go to seed, and find all sorts of things popping up where I did not plant them. At the moment I have a number of coriander (cilantro) plants growing randomly in the garden. 

Are food prices going up where you live? What do you suggest are good ways to manage the rises?