Sharon April 27th, 2008
My readers have been so great about reporting shortages and prices, I thought I’d expand this and start a discussion of what things look like in your neck of the woods, and through your budget. How are you all doing making ends meet? How are rising food and energy prices affecting your household? What are you most concerned about? What are you seeing when you go the store? I admit, I’m curious to hear more about what this looks like through the eyes of more people.
Today’s New York Times reports that people are changing their dietary habits in response to the recession, buying cheaper food, cutting back on some luxury items and cutting red meat from their budget. I have to admit, the last quote in this section struck me – this is, after all, the New York Times.
“Home prices are sliding, wages are stagnant, job losses are growing and the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, a broad measure of stock performance, is down 6 percent in the last year. So consumers are going on a recession diet.
Burt Flickinger, a longtime retail consultant, said the last time he saw such significant changes in consumer buying patterns was the late 1970s, when runaway inflation prompted Americans to “switch from red meat to pork to poultry to pasta — then to peanut butter and jelly.”
“It hasn’t gotten to human food mixed with pet food yet,” he said, “but it is certainly headed in that direction.”
So how does this look to you? To your friends and family?
Our region is one of the few that hasn’t had a major downturn in housing prices – the greater Albany area has slow sales but is still hanging tough. Still, we were finally able to get the house reassessed after a ridiculously high assessment (redone after Eric’s grandparents moved in near the peak of the market), and will see our property taxes drop by 30%. We’re actually benefitting from everyone else’s suffering, and so are some elderly neighbors. It is tough on others as well – one of our neighbors lost her husband recently and wants to sell the house, but can’t.
The other big savings has been getting rid of the van. We’ll save nearly a 1000 keeping it on the road. Cramming in the little car is quite uncomfortable, but then again, having riding in the car be a bit uncomfortable isn’t bad for us. Someone asked what we were driving – it is a 1993 Ford Taurus – we inherited it from Eric’s grandmother and it has been our commuting car ever since. We can put 2 boosters and a carseat side by side in the back.
We’ve definitely slowed our stock up rate, and at this point are just trying to maintain on everything (we’re actually letting our rice supplies slide a bit). But we’re rapidly approaching our six months of grocery-store free time, where we live primarily off our own home produce. Even better, the goats will arrive in July and we’ll be able to cut back on milk runs to the local farmstand. Meanwhile, we’re getting the property into order – fixing the leaky roof (grrrr…we had it replaced 3 years ago and the $&#@*! who did it did a bad job), replacing attic insulation, putting drainage on the back field so we can expand the gardens that way, building more raised beds close to the house, setting up fencing for goats and sheep. The hoophouse is going up this year, come hell or high water – I’m determined to produce all of our greens over the winter. If we can afford it, I might even put up two, and start a winter CSA this year.
We’re betting on the fact that as the New York State budget collapses, Eric, who isn’t tenured (intentionally so) and is much cheaper than tenure track faculty with similar qualifications, will probably keep his job, even if he’s stuck with more courses. Last recession, they encouraged older profs to retire, had a hiring freeze and added more adjuncts rather than tenure track faculty, so we think Eric’s status may serve him well. We’ve got dentist appointments for everyone and tetanus boosters for us planned, since we won’t be shocked to see benefits cut at some point. Definitely working on *staying* healthy.
I’m going to intensify my efforts to find birthday and holiday presents at yard sales, so that we aren’t buying much of anything new. Also Eli’s feet jumped three sizes this year, and since he is drawn to mud puddles the way metal is drawn to magnets, more bigger shoes are on the list. I figure at some point, things will get so expensive people stop using things lightly and discarding them so easily – so might as well look a little further ahead and pick up clothes a couple more sizes up.
We’re going to suck it up and fill the oil tank (which runs backup heat to keep the pipes from freezing when we’re out of town and the hot water heater) this spring, since I don’t think the price will be any lower in the fall. We’re already splitting and hauling wood for winter. May will be a tight month, given the price of oil. But a tank full should, at our present rate of use, last us two years, so better do it now.
I’ve upped my plans for growing our own chicken feed and alfalfa hay for the bunnies and goats. Feed prices are way up. Not a lot of ways we can cut our food budget, except by producing our own milk and perhaps by giving up some seasonal fruits we really like and don’t grow enough of. If we had to, we would. For now, it is worth keeping them. I’m already canning rhubarb and drying nettles and dandelions.
We’re going to start a homeschooling coop with two neighbors, to cut back on everyone’s trips to various activities. And we’ll do all our swimming one day a week, to cut back on trips to the pool at the next town over.
I’ve decided not to sell eggs this year – I have noticed in the last few years that the things we give as gifts sometimes profit us more than what we sell, so I decided that this year, we’d give the extra eggs away – to the food pantry, to neighbors, Eric takes them to work and hands them out.
So far, things haven’t really penetrated hard into our lives – we’re lucky – and we’re reaping the fruits of a long time of being called nutcases . But I don’t expect it to stay that way for the longer term. How are you doing?