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Rising Food Prices – 6 Proven Strategies to Stretch Your Food Budget

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It's hard to step foot into a grocery store and not notice the rising food prices. Packages are getting smaller, too, as I'm sure you've noticed if you use any older recipes that include any sort of boxed or canned item as a component. USA Today reported in “Rising Food Prices Pinch Consumers” that, “Retail food prices rose 0.4% in March (2014), the same as in February and the largest amount since September 2011. By comparison, the prices of all consumer goods rose 0.2% in March and 0.1% the month before, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Rising Food Prices - 6 Proven Strategies to Stretch Your Food Budget - Plus Factors Involved in Rising Food Costs to Help You Plan for Price Increases

Some items have risen over 50% in cost over the last four years. In this post we'll look at what's causing the food price increases, and how to stretch your food budget. Even in 2018, food prices continue to grow faster “That Big Mac and Coke Now Comes With a Side Order of Inflation

Rising Food Prices - 6 Proven Strategies to Stretch Your Food Budget - Plus Factors Involved in Rising Food Costs to Help You Plan for Price Increases

What's Causing Rising Food Prices?

There are three main factors bumping up prices: Politics, Drought, Disease and Demand.  We'll take a quick look at some examples. Bacon is a great example. $20 worth of bacon in 2010 now costs $33.40 in 2018. A $1 worth of general buying power in 2010 is now worth $1.12 but that means a 50% increase in the cost of bacon over the same 7 years.

In the article “The 10 Fastest Rising Food Prices“, their top ten list includes:

  1. Bacon
  2. Ground Beef
  3. Oranges
  4. Coffee
  5. Peanut Butter
  6. Margarine
  7. Wine
  8. Turkey
  9. Chicken
  10. Grapefruit

These items have increased in price over the last four years from 22% to 53%. Many of these are common menu items for many Americans. What's going on?

The pigs are sick.  Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PED or PEDV) showed up in the US in mid-2013, and has killed about 7 million piglets since that time. The virus kills 80 to 100% of the piglets that contract it. Since then, global demand is up, but supply isn't matching demand.

Beef production is down due to years of drought in the US and abroad. Read “Epic' Four-Year Texas Drought Prompts Record Beef Prices in US” and “Australia's 2014-15 Wheat and Beef Production Down Due to Drought” for more information. As China's economy grows, the people are eating more meat, and that's a lot of people. The supply has increased, but not as fast as the demand.

The coffee plants are sick.  Drought in Brazil is hitting hard, and leaf rust is damaging trees across Central America and Peru.

Peanut production was down due to farmers growing other crops on the acreage, but that may be improving. Of course, it's a rare thing that prices come down again once they've gone up.

Citrus crops in California and Florida are being wiped out by insects and citrus greening bacteria. The bacteria causes trees to produce green, disfigured and bitter fruits, and eventually kills the tree. The insects are a huge threat also.

Higher corn and soybean prices have contributed to rising meat prices since they are the primary feedstocks used in most CAFOs. This also accounts for the margarine price increase. Drought, increased demand for fuel as well as food, increasing crop damage due to pesticide resistant pests all play a factor.

California wine, which accounts for about 90% of US wine production, has undoubtedly been affected by the drought, as well as increased demand.

I think everyone has heard about the massive bee die offs, both honeybees and native bees. Without the bees, much of our food production would be wiped out. Read more here: 5 Tips for a Bee Friendly Yard – Do Your Part to Save the Bees

I strongly believe that it is only a matter of time before our monocrop agriculture system is hit even harder by plant and animal diseases, and that this is only a first taste of what's to come. Pack a bunch of the same plant or animal in one spot, introduce lots of chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics) that destroy the natural ecosystem, and you create a perfect breeding ground for pathogens. You can read more about this in “What if I Told You Weeds and Bacteria Could Save Your Life?“.

6 Proven Strategies to Protect Yourself Against Rising Food Prices

There is no magic bullet or one size fits all plan, but there are several strategies you can use to provide more food for less money.

#1 – Grow Your Own

You don't need a ton of space, just some time, dirt and patience. If you use aquaponics, you can grow fish and vegetables and don't even need dirt. There is a growing movement encouraging urban food production, through centralized initiatives, and individual efforts such as those discussed in the article, “Urban Backyard Food Production as a Strategy for Food Security in Melbourne (Australia)“. We have over 40 Gardening Articles on this website, covering everything from seed starting and season extension to proper crop storage, with several articles on individual crops such as blueberries.

The time to learn to grow food is not in the middle of a shortage or when you are facing real hunger – the time to start is when it's okay if you screw up because you have backup. It really burns my biscuits to watch preparedness shows and see people say, “We have seeds and we're going to learn to garden when things get bad.”  DON'T BE THAT GUY!

Recommended Resources:

#2 – Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Co-op

If you really don't have time to garden or you have a black thumb, you can support people who do. With a CSA arrangement, you purchase a share or half share before the season starts, and you get a box of vegetables, fruits and sometimes other items from your local farm. You pay up front so the farmer has money to cover expenses, and your price is locked in for the season. Some CSAs will offer a discount in exchange for help on the farm, or offer excess crops at a discount to CSA members.

Recommended Resources:

#3 – Forage for Wild Edibles and Unharvested Surplus

There are many edible wild plants, and often folks with fruit trees will have more fruit than they care to deal with. Ask around at your church or other community organization. These foods are basically free for the picking. You can learn more about edible wild plants on our Herbs and Wildcrafting page.

Recommended Resources:

#4 – Store Food

Depending on what you store and how you store it, food may have a shelf life of up to 25 years or even longer. They found honey in Egyptian tombs that was completely edible.

  • Salt, sugar, raw honey and alcohol will keep indefinitely if stored in an airtight, non-reactive container.
  • Hard grains such as wheat, corn, buckwheat and millet will keep for around 10-12 years
  • Soft grains such as barley, oats, quinoa and rye will last around 8 years
  • Beans and lentils may lat 10-30 years in airtight containers with the oxygen removed
  • Flours, mixes and pastas will last around 5-8 years, with white rice lasting up to 10 years (brown rice requires freezing or refrigeration or it will go rancid)
  • Chia seeds and sprouting seeds will last from 2-5 years
  • Coconut oil will last for over 2 years. Solid fats will keep better than liquid oils.
  • Canned meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, coffee, tea, peanut butter, hard candy, powdered milk and dried herbs and spices will last 2-5 years

Watch for sales, buy in bulk, preserve your garden produce or other local produce. (Given the current hog production trouble, Yoders' Canned Bacon might be a better investment than the stock market.)

Learn more about food storage at:

#5 – Shop Smarter

  • Watch for sales and discounts on seasonal produce.
  • Use coupons only if they are items you really use. Don't buy a more expensive item “just because you have a coupon” and not end up saving at all.
  • Watch store flyers for loss leaders and stock up on items that keep well.
  • Buy store brands.
  • Look for ethnic markets to get great pricing on certain foods. Our local Asian markets have great bulk rice prices.
  • Watch for discounted day old bread and baked goods.
  • Buy in bulk. Look for family sizes to repackage at home instead of single serving containers.
  • Buy fewer processed items and more raw ingredients. Example – whole carrots will likely be a better deal than baby carrots.
  • Watch for “must sell” produce near the end of its shelf life. I have purchased many bags of brown bananas over the years.
Rising Food Prices - 6 Proven Strategies to Stretch Your Food Budget - Plus Factors Involved in Rising Food Costs to Help You Plan for Price Increases

#6 – Reduce Food Waste

Make sure you're using as much of everything you grow and purchase as you possibly can.  A great deal is not a great deal if food goes to waste. Get creative with reworking leftovers. Turn bones into stock to use as a base for soups and sauces. Cook more at home to save money compared to dining out. Buy in bulk and repackage or preserve your garden produce with a vacuum sealer to virtually eliminate freezer burn.

Every little bit adds up!

Rising Food Prices - 6 Proven Strategies to Stretch Your Food Budget - Plus Factors Involved in Rising Food Costs to Help You Plan for Price Increases

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Updated 2018.

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  1. Gasp! I did not know brown rice goes rancid! I’ve stocked up and vacuum sealed it. The bags I’ve opened from 2-3 years ago are still all right, so I’m thinking vacuum sealing is fine. Do you know? I’ve not read anything about this at all till this post, so any additional info would be great! Thanks for all your info, time, and encouragement for us!!

    1. Rancidity is caused by oxidation – literally oxygen in contact with the food causing a chemical reaction with the fats still left in the brown rice kernel. Anything you can do to eliminate that oxygen from the equation will extend the shelf life. I keep my brown rice in the freezer (heat also speeds up oxidation). While standard recommendations only give brown rice a shelf life of six months, with vacuum sealing and storage in a cool, dry, dark location, it will likely last much longer. The article “Storage Life of Dried Foods” talks about brown rice stored vacuum sealed with oxygen absorbers still being good after 10 years.

  2. sorry but this blog misses a very impt. reason why food prices rise…SPECULATION. Yep, Wall St. bets on the prices going up and down. ” Matt Taibbi Reveals the Cause of High Food Prices: Financial Speculation
    I first became aware of what was really causing prices to rise when I read Matt Taibbi’s article on Goldman Sachs, The Great American Bubble Machine.

    For this topic one needs to take special note of the section BUBBLE #4 – $4 A GALLON. Here Taibbi argues that following the collapse of the American mortgage bubble in 2007 a lot of the money that would have been invested in mortgages had to go elsewhere. They went into commodities.

    In conjunction with a decline in the dollar, the credit crunch and the housing crash caused a “flight to commodities.” Oil futures in particular skyrocketed, as the price of a single barrel went from around $60 in the middle of 2007 to a high of $147 in the summer of 2008.

    Taibbi argues that the price rises were caused because banks such as Goldman Sachs and others

    persuad[ed] pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil futures – agreeing to buy oil at a certain price on a fixed date. The push transformed oil from a physical commodity, rigidly subject to supply and demand, into something to bet on, like a stock. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of speculative money in commodities grew from $13 billion to $317 billion, an increase of 2,300 percent. By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed.

    As Taibbi details elsewhere in the article back in 1991 a Goldman Sachs subsidiary called J. Aron was able to gain an exemption from a 1936 law that allowed it to trade in commodities.

    This article was the first thing that properly introduced me to the real reason for the commodities price rises of 2008.

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