Some Simple Ways to Save on Food Costs

by heather

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news lately, then you’ve likely heard the escalating discussion about food and fuel prices. If you missed it, here’s the four word news flash: prices are going up.

By how much? Well, I’ve seen a pretty wide swing in estimates lately. Pork and eggs are expected to jump 4%-6.5%, according to Bloomberg News. But other experts, such as Harvard economist Richard Benson, is predicting much higher price jumps.  Take a look at where we’re headed this year:

Coffee — 45%
Barley — 32%
Pork — 68%
Oranges — 35%
Cotton — 40%
Salmon — 30%

As you can see, those numbers are sky-high compared to the single digit increases that other organization’s are estimating. Either way, all of us need to plan on spending more to feed our families this year.

Another factor we have to consider are fuel prices. With the unrest in the Middle East slowly escalating, speculators keep slowly inching the price of  oil up. If this keeps up, food prices are going to start to rise as a result. After all, it just costs more to truck our food all over the country. Of course, companies are going to pass this cost onto us, the consumer.

Obviously, no one has a crystal ball. Coffee may skyrocket, and it might stay stable. I’m certainly not advocating that we all go out and hoard food or anything. But we can start taking steps now to combat rising food prices.

1. Grow a Garden
By far, planning a garden and growing your own food is the best way to combat rising food costs. I’ve written about gardening quite a lot here at The Greenest Dollar because not only is it one of my favorite things to do, but it’s also one of the best ways to save money, lesson your impact on the environment, and get some exercise.

What am I going to be growing this year?

  • Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.
  • Pole beans and cucumbers.
  • A wide variety of herbs.
  • A wide variety of lettuce.

So far those are my basics. I might branch out a bit more, but everything depends on my space (which is limited).

If you want to buy seeds and start your own garden this year, I highly recommend you check out Hometown Seeds. They’ve sponsored several contests here at The Greenest Dollar, and I use their seeds exclusively in my own garden. Plus, if you use the coupon code “BUBBA” upon check out, you’ll get 10% off your order for all of 2011. Yeah, they rock.

2. Bake Your Own Bread
The price of wheat is skyrocketing right now. It’s great for farmers, but not so great for us consumers. Bread and cereal prices are going to continue to rise this year. Which means you’ll save a bundle by baking your own bread at home.

Now, I’m not a brilliant cook by any means. Not even close. But I love baking my own bread. It’s cheap, it’s relaxing, and it’s not near as difficult as you might think.

For instance, this No-Knead Bread recipe is one of my favorites. It costs pennies to make, and it’s delicious. I also love this Whole-Wheat Irish Soda bread recipe from Serious Eats. Again, this loaf costs pennies compared to what you’d pay at the grocery store or bakery.

3. Join a CSA
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Essentially with a CSA you’re buying vegetables and fruit from a local farm ahead of time. The farm grows the vegetables and then you pick up your “share” each week. Many farms also offer drop-off services.

Here’s a good example. The CSA I’m thinking of joining this year would cost me $500 up front. Because the farm is a non-profit that helps support local food banks, this cost is 100% tax deductible. For their 20+ week growing season, this adds up to a mere $25 per week. And that’s for organic produce, grown locally. Amazing.

What do I get? Well, I get 20 weeks worth of fruit and vegetables from May through November. This equals around 150 lbs. of food. Each box has up to 24 different fruits, herbs and vegetables. And, they also include free “gifts” such as honey, eggs, beeswax candles and the like. Sounds delightful, right? And, they drop off food right in my town, so I don’t have to drive far to go get it.

If you want to find a CSA near you, head over to LocalHarvest.org. There’s a box on the right titled “What Are You Looking For?”. Click on CSA, enter your zip code, and you’re good to go.

4. Can Your Own Food
I was a canning fool last summer, and I’m planning on kicking it up a notch this year. Growing my own food, plus joining the CSA, will give me tons of fresh produce to work with.

Canning isn’t nearly as difficult as most people imagine it to be. I taught myself, and I’m certain you could too. Now is actually a great time to shop for canning supplies at thrift stores because most people don’t can during the winter months. Come spring and summer, you won’t be able to find a canning pot unless you buy it new. So if you think you’d like to learn this awesome DIY skill, then start shopping now to find the bargains.

You can also branch out. For instance, tonight, for the first time, I’m going to try and pickle eggs. I found an easy how-to online, so if it’s a success you can bet I’ll post pictures and instructions here on the site. I also want to invest in a pressure canner so I can can a wider variety of foods. So, it’s not just jams and jellies for me this year.

Final Word
Are you doing anything to combat high food prices this year? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

(photo credit: mistagregory)

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Isabelle March 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I may have to try that bread recipe, although I have to conquer my fear of yeast! I’m totally convinced I’m going to mess up anything that involves yeast — perhaps I had a yeast mishap as a child.

My resolutions for this summer are to try to freeze more Farmer’s Market produce to use throughout the dreary winter and to try growing some zuchinni in pots (along with tomatoes which I’ve done before).

Ginger V March 12, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I just found your blog and I am loving it. I am going to do a container garden this year. I am thinking about do the vermicomposting.

JN Urbanski March 13, 2011 at 4:06 pm

This is a great article. I love it! (Everyone I know with money at the moment wants to put it in gold, but food is the way to go) Aside from that, my husband has had a garden for a few years and grow all our vegetables. He also cans, but I find the food a bit salty for my tastes. I’ve watched Food Inc and it frightened the life out of me. Truly healthful food is hard to come by.

rob March 21, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Another great tip, if you have the space is to get a couple of chickens. We recently got three chickens & after two weeks were getting 2 eggs a day then after another week 3 a day and they cost relatively nothing to keep & are quite entertaining.

Jeremy March 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Mr. Benson is not a “Harvard economist.” He went to school at Harvard. The statistics you cite with some alarm, do not have as great an effect on food prices as you suggest. (See: http://www.newyorkfed.org/research/current_issues/ci14-8.html)

In fact, those huge numbers you quote from Mr. Benson (I don’t know if they’re accurate or not) would turn into the single digit percent price increases you cited earlier.

I like your blog and read it regularly (though this article obviously sat in my googlereader “unread” list for a long time). There’s no need to erroneously instill fear of double-digit food price hikes to promote gardening, CSA membership and preserving the harvest. Focus on the area you know, and don’t look for outlying data you may not be familiar with to keep us reading.

Alex March 31, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Love your blog! I like all of the money saving tips. Rob’s suggestion about raising chickens is a great tip. I have raised chickens for over 10 years now. Besides providing you with meat and eggs, chickens are about the best garbage disposals you will ever find; the only thing I have found that they will not eat is citrus. Since I allow my chickens to free-range, they scavange much of their own food. This, plus the kitchen scraps, keeps my feed bill low.

I am working on an article about raising chickens for my blog at thethriftynation.com. Stop by and check it out.

Sheila April 14, 2011 at 2:12 pm

This is all great advice but it won’t work for everyone. I live in a senior community by myself. That leaves out gardens, CSA (for one person?), canning or raising chickens. It would be great if you could do an article focusing on people like me.

Canadian Coupons June 25, 2011 at 6:13 am

we live in canada and couponing is a bit more strict here then in the usa but we get by with around 80% usually off our grocery lists not including the meats 😉

steve@best saving money October 10, 2011 at 9:44 am

This is great advice, but it will not work for everyone. I live in a larger community, itself. They left the Garden, CSA (one person?), Canning or chicken. It would be great if you could do an article focusing on people like me.

Thomas @ Expertwager March 16, 2014 at 1:06 am

Another good tip, if you have the space is to get a few chickens. Recently, three chickens and two weeks were always two eggs a day will cost you after another week 3 a day and have maintained relatively nothing and very entertaining.

Coupons Canada April 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm

It’s different in Canada, but still possible to get coupons!

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