Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sticker Shock

A few weeks ago, much of the nation was in the deep freeze. That cold weather extended down into Mexico, where much of the produce we buy in the winter is grown. The crops froze. Guess what that does to prices? Yup, they skyrocket! After hearing of the problem on the news, I was in the store to pick up a few essentials, so I checked out the lettuce prices. Yikes! The head of iceburg lettuce that I paid $1 for last week, was nearly $3 this week! I also checked the celery, and it was in the $3 range as well. A single piece of celery was a bit cheaper, only $2. Wow!

So, what do you do when faced with such price increases? Is there any way to insulate yourself from the sticker shock? It is definitely a painful situation, but I have a few ideas that may help.

1. Cut back. This is something we see a lot when gasoline prices rise. We start to watch how often we drive, we consolidate trips or just stay home more. Maybe that pot of soup could get by with one piece of celery rather than 2. We can serve green salads twice a week rather than 4 times. It's a little painful, but better than paying the full price for our previous levels of excess. Unless it wasn't excess, and then it is just painful.

2. Price shop. Anytime I go into a grocery store now, I check the price of lettuce and celery. The store to the north of me had lettuce and celery both for alnost $3 a head/bunch on Sat. Today I was in the store just south of me. Their lettuce was only $1.59 a head, although the celery was nearly $3 still. I picked up a head of lettuce.

3. Buy in bulk/stock up. Admittedly, this is hard to do with lettuce because of the short shelflife, but it works for other things. I expect sugar prices to rise soon, also. So when I go into a store, I check their sugar prices. When I find a reasonable price, I buy some, usually in a larger size package. For example, a local store has 5 lb. bags of sugar for $2.59. That same store has 25 lb. bags of sugar for $11.78. Sugar in the smaller 5 lb. bags would cost 12.95 for 25 lbs., or $1.17 more than the 25 lb. bag. Sometimes there are reasons to buy the smaller bag and spend a few cents more per pound, such as if you don't use much sugar, or if it wouldn't keep long enough to use it up (more a problem with lettuce than sugar), or if it is difficult for you to physically handle a larger bag. I like to keep some smaller bags around so that when my kids come "shop" in my basement, there are smaller bags for them to take home. But I usually buy the larger bags because I use a lot of sugar when I am canning, and it usually saves me a few cents per pound. Do the math though--sometimes a special sale will put sugar in the smaller bags at a better per pound price than the larger bags; don't just assume. Buying a 2 pack of whole chickens can save 10 cents a pound over buying them singly. Warehouse stores often sell large sizes or multi-packs, and they can be real bargains. Sometimes. Again, do the math. Whe you find a real bargain, you may want to stock up with as much as you can afford or as much as you can use before the expiration date. Then everytime you use that item, you have paid that bargain price for it.

4.Substitute. If you can't have a lettuce salad, maybe cole slaw would be a good substitute. Or a fruit salad, or jello. Try other vegetables. Maybe try growing your own sprouts. They are easy to grow, and add a similar crunch and flavor to lettuce. One shape of pasta can be exchanged for another. If beef roasts are expensive, maybe a pork roast would work. Ground turkey or chicken is often cheaper than ground beef. Many store brands are as good as the name brands. Substitutions are very subjective, though. What one person finds acceptable, another person might not. Be open minded and try the substitution, and if it doesn't work for you, you know it is worth it to you to pay extra for the real thing. I have yet to find a salad dressing that we like as well as the name brand Miracle Whip, so I just watch for a good price for the name brand.

5. Buy simpler. A head of lettuce is often cheaper than a pre-made salad. You can marinate and season your own meat much cheaper than buying the pre-seasoned cuts. Peel and cut your own carrots rather than paying the premium for pre-cut versions. Again, do the math, but usually, the more processed something is, the more cost is added to it.

6. Produce your own. I can't grow oranges here in Utah. And I am not going to produce my own gasoline. But I can grow lettuce. I meant to grow some in pots in my house this winter, but didn't get any started. Oh, well. I started some seeds yesterday, and in a month or so, I will have some lettuce to harvest, and then the price the store wants for lettuce will no longer matter to me. That money will be able to go toward some other essential on my list, and we will be that much better off.

Anyone else have any ideas of what to do when essentials skyrocket in price? Your comments are welcome.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

How did you fare through the storms?

I hope everyone is safe and sound after the wild winter storms that have been happening. We were lucky here, and although the weather got very cold, we had little snow. I saw plenty of news reports, though, with pictures of cars half buried in snow, and sliding around on the roads. Brrr! It makes me cold to think of it. When I hear about such things, I like to think about what I would do in such a situation. I go through it in my mind, and imagine what I would need to get through it the most comfortably.

For example, when I saw pictures of cars half buried in snow on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, I thought about what I would have needed in my car to survive buried in snow much of the night. Blankets, water, food, light, warm clothing, charged cell phone. A shovel might not have done them much good, but in other winter situations, it would be helpful. And coarse salt or kitty litter for if you get stuck on icy roads. And wouldn't that be a horrible time to run out of gas? It is easy enough to always keep the gas tank at least half full, once you develop the habit.

How about those plagued by power outages? If it were you, would you have had food, water, a way to keep warm, light? A way to cook the food? A way to entertain yourself and the rest of the family that doesn't involve power? This is a good time to evaluate your preparedness, while the recent winter storms are fresh on our minds. Don't think that if a storm is forecast you can just run to the store and pick up what you need, because everyone else will beat you there. A family friend posted pictures on Facebook of his local grocery store 2 days before a snowstorm was predicted to hit his Atlanta neighborhood with an inch or two of snow. The shelves were literally empty. Do you know how to bake bread? Do you have powdered milk to top your cereal with? Do you even have an extra box of cereal (or whatever you eat for breakfast)? Remember, when the power is out at your house, it is likely to be out at McDonald's, too, so you may not be able to rely on breakfast out, even if you wanted to brave the weather.

Another consideration is, what if you or a family member is sick when the storm hits? Would you have enough medications to get you through the crisis? Probably the only thing worse than having to go out in the storm, is having to go out in the storm while sick. Or having a sick child you can't comfort because you are out of infant Tylenol.

It is easy enough to learn from experience, but it is much more comfortable to learn from someone else's experience, and not have to go through the discomfort yourself.

We recently got an early morning phone call from our son. His car had died on the freeway a few miles from our house. We went to help him tow his car to the local repair shop. Fortunately we had tow straps in DH's car, but the thing we didn't have was a flashlight. At least, there wasn't a flashlight in DH's glove box. Or in DS's car. (I still say there was a wind-up flashlight in DH's 72 hour kit, but he wasn't willing to dig through it to find it.) So there we were in the early morning dark, trying to connect a tow strap by feel. We managed, just barely. By the time we got to the repair shop, the tow strap had come un-hooked, and was just wedged in place. DH learned from that experience, and immediately made sure that everyone in the family had a flashlight for their glove compartment. Do you have a flashlight in your car? Tow straps? Basic tools? A little mental exercise now could save a lot of discomfort in the future.

Stay warm and safe.