Prices are rising.

I’ve felt it for a while. We see some official numbers, but none of the official numbers measure the things that I actually buy.  To figure it out, I created “the chicken grain report.”

I measure other things, too, like gas, the price of milk, and the cost of the groceries I use.  It’s an interesting picture.

Chicken food went up about 12% overnight, and one of the brands reduced the bag down ten pounds to forty pounds.  But other things were weird. Milk stayed the same at the big store and went up a few bucks everywhere else. I’m not sure if that counts as inflation or “don’t be lazy–get it at the big store.”

Gas went up ten cents every time I went out. If I went out three times an hour, it went up thirty cents an hour. If I stayed home for a week–it was up ten cents. That spilled over into the last oil refill and will push up prices for everything else, since it ends up in someone’s truck.

This makes people panic.  It’s tough to plan if you’re not sure what the end prices will be.

Don’t panic!

I’m in a couple groups and forums where I see people asking each other questions and trying to reduce grocery expenses to make up for increases–sometimes in frightening ways. I’ve seen some cutting out necessities, eating what I consider to be pretty unhealthy, or just hunting for answers as to how best to feed their family.  Many are asking basic things, like how to stock a pantry, how much food to keep for emergencies, and how to cook, plant, and grow.

These are important skills. I started doing them when I was a broke teacher looking to save cash, but now, it’s just what I do. It’s easy, I eat like a chef, and yes, I save a ton compared to shopping like a “normal” person but the real reason I do this is because–I don’t like shopping at all.

It all boils down to pantry keeping, inventory management, waste management, and learning a few “grandma skills.” Whether your motivation is health, inflation busting, or learning something, poser homesteading can do a lot of things. It can also help you smooth out the rough bumps in the economy while not taking a hit in your quality of life.

It comes down to one thing: planning and preparation.  And, I don’t mean a “shoot your own dinner” lifestyle. I mean “don’t go to the store hungry and learn to cook” lifestyle. I keep a deep pantry, eat what I have instead of shopping for what I want, get food in season when I can, and often prep meals in bulk.  That’s it.

The Sixty-Dollar Watermelon

“People are paying sixty dollars for a watermelon.”  A grocer told me this, and he’s right. This is a recent quote at the height of price increases. When they sold watermelons, they sold a few. When they pre-cut pieces and put them in containers watermelon started flying off the shelf at an amazing profit margin.

The secret–clamshells. People pass up whole fruit and veggies–especially the big ones–but they snap up pre-cut produce in clamshells.  Clamshells are brilliant for the grocer Who wouldn’t want to make sixty bucks on a two-dollar watermelon?

But do you want to pay that much just because you’re too lazy to cut some fruit? Probably not. When I say it like that it sounds insulting, but the truth is, we’re used to the flow. Convenience foods are well marketed and stacked to convince you one or two clamshells won’t break the bank and will help you get dinner on the table.

You were trained this way from birth. Look at the number of companies built around this premise–all the meal delivery services charging a ton of cash to send you a recipe card?  Even smoothie companies that’ll batch, freeze, and send your smoothie as a subscription service. 

The markup on this stuff is huge. I’m looking at a smoothie delivery company that’ll send me 14 smoothies for $111.  The recipes and pictures do look delicious, but… I can make twice that for a few bucks with pantry items on hand.  A bag of kale? Check! Some leftover bananas, frozen instead of tossed? Check! Blueberries frozen in season. Check! A leftover apple, cucumber, or orange? Got it!  A handful of oats for good luck and some milk, water, or almond milk? Sure thing! And, as a bonus, some seeds–hemp, chia, flax. Even wheat bran.  Each serving will cost me a dollar-ish, not eight or nine.

And full meal deliveries–forgetaboutit!!  It’s nuts. They’re good for learning to cook, getting new ideas, and portioning correctly, but I can cook, have tons of ideas (or have Google to help) and I want to eat leftovers, too.  To get a week of meal delivery from a popular site will cost well over a hundred dollars. Prices are disguised in “per serving” numbers. Chances are you aren’t eating alone. So, $9 per serving is really $27–$36 for one meal with a delivery charge.   I can do much, much better than that and eat exactly the foods I love.

Most of us don’t realize the true cost of convenience foods when compared to scratch cooking. Here are a few examples:

  • One watermelon. Maybe five bucks versus a one or two cup clamshell of pre-cut watermelon for five to seven bucks.
  • A mango. A dollar fifty. Cut mango: five to six bucks.
  • Onions. A buck each. Pre-diced clamshell onion: four bucks.
  • A pineapple (not on sale). $3.99.  Cut into pieces in a clamshell: $6 for about 1/4 of a pineapple.
  • Two chicken breasts: five to seven bucks.  Chicken on a skewer with a little marinade, ready to grill. Fifteen bucks.
  • A loaf of bread. Four bucks.  A bag of King Arthur Bread Flour (the good stuff): $4.84 today. It makes five loaves of bread.
  • An omelet at my local diner: $9.  An omelet at home: less than a buck for the 3 eggs and the cost of the toppings. This is a great space to use leftovers.

Those are extreme examples, but even food in the freezer and box aisles can add up. The close you get to scratch cooking, the more you will save, and the better your food will be.

Beverages

“Nobody ever went broke buying a latte.” That’s a rough quote from author Ramit Sethi. Ramit’s “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” was my number one most stolen book when I was teaching.

Ramit’s right. Most experts tell you to cut out all the extras. Ramit’s telling you to do the right things and you won’t have to stress over your Starbucks. I agree with him, but with one caveat. I’m not too cheap to buy a latte if I want one. But, I don’t need to, because I can make unlimited barista drinks at home.

Be your own barista.

If my barista can do it, so can I.  I’ve learned to make all the drinks I love:  tea, coffee, french press, pour over, milk drinks with froth, espresso drinks, regular coffee drinks, boba (bubble tea), fruit-infused iced teas, kombucha… everything. I had a great time deconstructing each, then drinking far too many of them until the novelty wore off.

None of this cost me a million dollars. I’ll confess–I was looking at some super snooty espresso makers, but in the end I got a manual lever style machine. It’s smaller and I don’t have a lot of space. The bonus was it was far less expensive, fun to use, and the espresso is just as good. Once I mastered espresso, a world of drinks opened up.

On a weekly basis, I make espresso drinks, iced tea, bubble tea (boba is easy to find at my Asian store), and good, strong, hot coffee from a French press.

Take a look at the upscale beverages you love and learn to make them. Get the best quality ingredients you can with your savings, and enjoy!

Be your own bartender

Project Barista counts twice if you let it be Project Bartender, too. I don’t really drink, but I have a reasonably well stocked bar at home. If you come over, I have wine, beer, and I can mix you a proper drink. High-end cocktails aren’t all alcohol these days–more and more “sober bars” are spilling out into recipes and startups serving really good non-alcoholic mixed drinks.

You can drink top-shelf cocktails at home to unwind for less than what you should tip your bartender. Have a night out for fun but if you’re inflation busting, learn some mixology, to be sure!

Food

Can, freeze, and preserve

I do a lot of canning–not just when my garden’s overflowing. I do small batch canning, too, and rescue unwanted food and “B-grades” (misshapen and non-commercial grade produce), too.

Once you learn the safety skills and flow, you’ll waste less food and have things on hand for, “What do we eat now? days.

Things I keep on hand: canned tomatoes, soups, broths, chili, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, some “dinner sauce mixes” like curries and meats that can go into casseroles, top pizzas. I also have canned chicken we use in chicken salads and risottos.

This is important: If you’re new to canning, beware of forums and people telling you how their grandmother preserved food. Follow the USDA guidelines, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and buy yourself a copy of “Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.”  This is also called “The Blue Book” because one of the original editions was blue.

Spring for latest edition, because safety is always evolving. Never, ever listen to people telling you to do anything different unless they are a master canner or food scientist with tested recipes.  I was speaking with a senior citizen who told me to can meat by boiling in a water bath canner for three days (“Eight hours on the first day, Six on the second, and three on the third.”  This can kill you dead. Painfully.

If you aren’t ready for canning, you can freeze foods. Double up batches when you cook in meal-sized portions or freeze produce in season.  I also dehydrate fruits and veggies for use or eating later. I use them in my weekly oatmeal.  You can also make a nice beef jerky, too.  Lots of people dump dehydrators. You can probably get a Nesco round dehydrator on your local marketplace cheap.

Pantry

Paper products

I don’t use a lot of these things. Toilet paper’s a non-negotiable. I also have kleenex and an emergency “dog roll” of paper towels.  I get them at the warehouse store when sales and coupons pop up, but for the rest, I use cloth cleaning rags. I demote the dish towels to the rag bin. It’s much more waste free but also less expensive.

Cleaning products

My big box store always has coupons for laundry soap, dish soap, and other cleaning products. If I pay attention to those cycles, I save a solid 20% and I never run out. I keep ahead on laundry soap, cleaners, disinfectants, and other supplies, since I hate running out.  I pay even closer attention since many products fall victim to the supply chain. I didn’t run out of anything I usually use during the pandemic. The Poser Homestead served me well.

Pet food

This was one area where I almost lost my perfect record.  I had a couple extra bags in the beginning of the pandemic, and I usually keep at least one full bag on hand. But, one of my dog’s prescription food became unavailable for so long my extra bag wasn’t enough. I ended up buying it at price gauging prices on eBay. I’m paying closer attention now.

You can save a lot of money on pet food by setting up “subscribe and save” with Chewy.com, Petco, or even Amazon. Also, most companies give a giant discount for first autodeliver purchases–they’re trying to get your business.  You can take that deal, and decide which company’s serving you best.

My Petco also has a discount for buying online and picking up in the store. If you’ve got one nearby, you can save a few bucks that way, too.

The Bottom Line

You can beat inflation by paying attention to your shopping flow, cooking from scratch, and using online ordering to your advantage when it makes sense to do so. That doesn’t fix the global economic situation, but. you can offset the pain, practice some great cooking skills, and eat like a chef.

My little poser homestead really pulled through these past few years. I appreciate it more and more each day.  I hope you’ll take this time to build yours out, too. It’s a pretty good way to live, I think.

 

Now, try these recipes for saving some cash:

Here are a few recipes you can make that’ll keep costs way down.  But, they’re delicious.

Make yogurt at home.  If you’ve got a low-cost source of milk, this is for you. Save some cultures for the next batch and it’ll stay alive forever.

Pesto and alfredo sauces.  Sauces are a major place to save some cash. If you can deconstruct your favorites, you’ll skip the gourmet sauce aisle–basically two to ten bucks a bottle.

Tomato soup.  You can go to Panera. Or you can have eight bowls of this for under two bucks if you’ve done your tomato freezing and canning. Even if you haven’t, you can get a case of Pastene (or your regional favorite 28 oz tin) for a buck as of last year. Here, the big sale on these is pre-Thanksgiving and before Easter and Passover.  Get a year’s worth on the spot if you’re not canning. If you are–skip them and can a bunch of crushed tomatoes.  Then, make this all year. It’s delicious.

Here’s my article on eggs.  If you’ve got chickens, this is a money saver. If not, eggs can be pricy, but compared to the cost of other meats and ingredients, they are healthy and delicious.

Bread pudding.  I can cook desserts like a chef with a few scraps. So can you. Bread pudding is an old world favorite you should bring back. Elevate this one with any sauce, fruit, or even layer it into a trifle. Play with the sweetener–brown sugar, caramel, jam, maple, or honey are brilliant here. This one’s a keeper. Never tell people you’re reusing the dead bread on the counter.

Daily Bread. Homemade bread costs pennies compared to store bread. Make the dough at night and bake it while you’re getting ready for your day. Tweak the loaf to the size you’ll use in one or two days–it’s all ratios, so you can change it easily. The bonus here is it answers every kid’s high school math complaint, “When will I use this?” Here.

Stir-fried rice. Rice is a magic food. For a few pennies, you can make real chef-style meals. This is my recipe for stir-fried rice. It’s about to get an update since I bought a proper wok and have been studying Chinese cooking technique. I’m not even offended if you google someone else’s recipe–Woks of Life and Omnivore Cookbook both have amazing Chinese cuisine.  Just get your rice cooker, Instant Pot, or stovetop working on this one. Rice looks cheap and simple but it’s gourmet waiting to happen. And nearly free.

Diner-level breakfast.  Make pancakes or waffles in stacks and freeze the leftovers. I make these sweet or savory–skip the sugar in the recipe and waffles can do double duty as a sandwich, panini, or fold it over for a grab-and-go wrap.  Crépes (also known as “blini”) store well, but only if you pre-stuff them and roll or fold them first. Then, you can lay them flat and freeze the extras.

Split Pea Burgers. This is a favorite around here.  It’s a pain to make, but costs pennies. Alton Brown’s original recipe has peppers and things I don’t want in my burgers. Follow the technique here but you can use lentils, peas, dal, beans… Make extra and freeze them flat for later. You can freeze them before or after frying.

Here’s a black bean burger recipe, too. Don’t be afraid to swap out the legume, spice profile, or add in different veggies. You can recreate anything from cheese, smoked, barbecue, curry–veggie burgers are a canvas for greatness. They’re not just for carnivores.

Toffee.  This is a fantastic candy. It’s best made on a low-humidity day.  It costs pennies to make but you’d pay ten bucks a pound or more in the store.