#7 I Wonder What the Poor Folks Are Having Tonight?
height=”300″ width=”600″>When times are a little difficult, it just makes good sense to be more careful about how we allot our limited resources. These days there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about our resources, what with inflation a serious concern, international conflict that affects energy prices, covid restrictions, political upheavals, etc.
Take inflation, for example. If you regularly do the shopping for your clan you have seen, especially over the past two months, that prices are changing in a major way. During the first two years of covid there were spotty shortages and supply problems that resulted in certain items going up. Beef was a good example. Where I shop, filet mignon is $27.99 per pound now, down from $29.99!. Ground beef is $5.99 or more. Chuck roast is $6.99 per pound. Chicken breast is $5.99 per pound. Bread suddenly went up by nearly a third. Practically everything in the store has gone up noticeably. Inflation results in higher prices across the board, not just on a few things.
We’ve seen times of inflation and shortages
The past few years have been better than some eras, with rising wages and steady prices. We’ve seen some of those conditions in the past, and we’ve seen times of inflation and shortages. In the good times we don’t need to be so careful at the grocery store. But when inflation brings tough times, the tough must give a thought to revising their shopping skills.
I’ve always loved a grocery store and I’ve always enjoyed shopping. When your spouse lets you do the shopping, or participates with you, well, it’s a very good thing. If you believe in a free market economy and the benefits of capitalism, well managed grocery stores will put you in a happy place. I have one of those in my little home town. Not everybody has it as good as we do. I appreciate and enjoy the bounty before me on every visit.
Here are some strategies that have served me well through lean and fat times
Improve your sense of shopping discipline. Always eat before going shopping! Going to the store hungry will make everything look even better than it is. A sated appetite will make you a better bargain hunter.
A grocery visit isn’t like going to the Louvre thinking it’s the only time you’ll ever be there. You’re going to come back another day, so pick out some really good things to look at and let the rest go until the next time.
Go to the store for what’s on sale, not for what you’ve decided you’re going to fix for supper
Go to the store for what’s on sale, not for what you’ve decided you’re going to fix for supper. Most everything is on sale now and then. On a given trip there, you’ll find things you like on sale. Get those, or wait for an even better sale later or somewhere else. Next time, other things will be on sale. If you go to the grocery with a specific list like steak, Boston lettuce, feta, artichokes, and cookie dough ice cream, the odds favor most of those items for sale at their regular prices. If you list reads entrees, vegetables, lunch items, and fruit, then there will be more inclination to look for things at better prices.
When I shop I go up and down every aisle looking for bargains and ideas for meals. What is on sale that fits your general list? My main grocery has bright yellow stickers for everything on sale. I look just for those instead of looking for specific products. I consult my generalized list now and then, and sometimes go back for something when I’m nearly finished looking for what’s on sale.
Learn which departments can be depended on for good values, at least compared to other stores. Some stores have good produce departments, some have really good meat departments, some have lots of dairy bargains, etc.
Practically everything has an expiration date on it now. Look for reduced prices on things nearing their expiration. Some grocery stores even have clearance sections.
Find out when the meat department guy comes out to check for cuts that will expire in the next day or two. Beef is better aged, anyway, so I always check that first. I try not to buy chicken that’s marked down, but if I do, I make a point to use it that day. It’s the same with pork. They say that if you ever saw an aged beef loin before it’s cut into prime rib, you would never eat it. The flavor in prime rib doesn’t come from eating grass in Wyoming. It comes from aging. Enough said. Now, I don’t let my porterhouse get all fuzzy before I stab it and put it on the grill, but beef a day or two past the expiration date doesn’t frighten me, either.
Plan to use cheaper cuts of meats
Plan to use cheaper cuts of meats. Most every cut can be made tender and flavorful with proper cooking. The worst cuts of beef and pork are often used for barbecue because the meat has to be slow cooked before it’s served. The slow cooking tenderizes it and brings out the flavor. Barbecue sauce makes it all better. Pot roast is often made with a chuck roast or shoulder roast of beef, and neither can be called tender. Six or seven hours in a crock pot will make even a chuck roast fall apart. Pot roast has to be about the easiest meal on the planet that doesn’t involve peanut butter.
I don’t know about most people, but I could stand to lose a few pounds. When groceries are expensive, it’s the perfect time to cut back on portions just a little. I’m famous for being king of the original Clean Plate Club. The steak weighs in at better than a pound? No problem. I can handle that. Can’t be wasting good steak! If someone had put 2/3 of it on my plate and offered me the rest of it next day for lunch, I’d be just as good to go, and I wouldn’t have to be wondering why my pants keep shrinking. When I slow down and eat just a bit less, I still manage to survive to the next day. I must make a note of that.
Never limit yourself to a single grocery store. Different stores have different stuff on sale, and they often have different warehouses and distributors. That means opportunity for patient shoppers. Mom and Pop or other locally owned stores are sometimes more costly on some items, but cheaper on others. Go up and down every aisle there. If their products don’t have to come from California or Florida, there can be some serious savings.
Home centers like Menards and Lowe’s often have food sections now. I was in a new Menards just this week, and I was surprised again to see what an extensive grocery department they have as well as health and beauty items like shampoo and toothpaste. There were some bargains there. There was a dairy case and a frozen food section, heavy on frozen pizza. If you love soft drinks, look for unusual brands at home centers and discount stores like Dollar General and Family Dollar. Most discount stores have grocery sections now, too. Since covid, I’ve tended to go to Dollar General stores for laundry soap and paper products because they’re plentiful and not so big and crowded. I’m often surprised at what I find there. I was also impressed that the Dollar General people where I shop were more interested in selling stuff than worrying about mask mandates. Discount stores, like most stores, are only as good as their managers. Pick a good one near you.
Find a local meat processor. They usually have retail counters where you can pick what you want, and they often have frozen foods, too. Ask about frozen fruit when a hankering for pie strikes you. On any given day, there may be bargains to be had there, or you may be able to find things not available at your regular grocery. They will have meat packages and special offers that can perk up family mealtime. One place near me has alligator. I’m not interested in eating alligator, but it’s nice to know where to find it in case that long lost relative visits from Louisiana. Remind him to bring his own hot sauce. That stuff should have a skull and crossbones on the label.
I could go on, but I’ll save some other ideas for another day. When I go to the Louvre, I like to take a general list like ‘Dutch masters’ or ‘Romantic landscapes.’ Like the grocery store, you never knows what’s featured in the next aisle unless you go have a little look-see.
Dr. Bruce Smith (Inkwell, Hearth and Plow) is a retired professor of history and a lifelong observer of politics and world events. He holds degrees from Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame. In addition to writing, he works as a caretaker and handyman. His non-fiction book The War Comes to Plum Street, about daily life in the 1930s and during World War II, may be ordered from Indiana University Press.
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