How are You Adjusting to the Economic Crisis? A Question for CK Readers

Given the recent credit crisis, the spectacular decline in the stock market, and the likelihood that the economy will slow down materially over the next year or so, I have a question that I'd like to put to my readers:

To what extent have you changed your cooking, eating, food-purchasing and food-related entertainment habits to adjust to coming economic uncertainty? What things are you doing differently, and most importantly, why have you made these choices?

Perhaps you have decided to switch away from more expensive organic foods, or you've decided to embrace part-time vegetarianism. Maybe you've decided to slash your restaurant budget in half, or you've postponed the purchase of big-ticket kitchen appliances. Whatever it is, I want to hear what adjustments you are making or thinking of making.

Even if you are a reader who isn't making any changes, I'd love to hear your thoughts on why not. Are you already cooking on a bare-bones budget that can't be cut much more? Are you just not all that unsettled by the economic crisis? Or do you view the current period as a great time for consumers (after all, there certainly seem to be a lot of sales going on lately) and thus you are stepping up your purchases of certain items?

I have two goals in asking for your thoughts. One is to get a better sense of what my readers are doing, so I can adapt to you and keep giving you content that you'll find useful.

The second goal is more collaborative in nature. I have the good fortune to write for an audience of extremely creative and insightful readers, and our collective ideas ought to be far more valuable than anything any one us could come up with on our own. That's one of the key strengths of a cooperative medium like blogging, and I think today's question could generate a lot of great ideas to help us all be more proactive in adapting to the economy.

So, please leave your thoughts in the comments below! And if you want to share your views in a longer form, feel free to email me at dan1529[at]yahoo[dot]com. Include the words "credit crisis question" in the subject line so I can sort those answers out from my regular emails.

Related Posts:
A Recession-Proof Guide to Saving Money on Food
Mastering Kitchen Setup Costs
Six Secrets to Save You from Cooking Burnout

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Laura said...

I've been making a bigger effort to use up what's in my kitchen instead of buying new stuff. Also, when I go to the store and see a big sale on some type of produce, I'll stock up and figure out how to use it later, instead of planning a recipe and then shopping for it.

Chase Saunders said...

I'm afraid the current problems are going to spill right into peak oil challenges (this means declining supply, not running out).

After looking at various gardening systems "edible forest gardening" is very attractive. It's oriented around maximizing the edible yield while minimizing day-to-day and total effort. There are still some annuals in the mix, but it focuses on fruit- and nut- trees with perennials planted around them. I am going to plant my first trees this spring, and maybe get a few chickens. I'm glad I've taken time to learn about it, as opposed to sticking a fruit tree in the ground as soon as I heard about this.

For those without the resources to consider such a project, a simple garden can be cost-effective: "Gardening when it counts" by Steve Solomon is a good book.

I think it will make more and more sense to have a setup where SOME food & energy are produced at each "scale":
- household
- neighborhood
- regional
- large-scale producers

This is because when transportation costs double and triple, as we can conservatively predict, it's not going to make sense to airmail strawberries from chile every morning. Our food supply has been based on cheap everything, and we'll have to adjust to a situation where efficienct use of food and food-related-energy is more important than convenience and variety.

These changes will also be triggered by a growing role of food scarcity and food security is issues during the coming years. Remember, our food supply depends on cheap oil - unlike our ancestors we dump a large number of calories into feeding people versus the calories of food. We also depend on cheap petroleum-derived fertilizer.

Other than planning for this shift, I'm cooking a lot more, as I think a lot of people are doing.

Liz T. said...

Other than avoiding eye contact with my IRAs, nothing has changed. Yet. But I was cooking and shopping pretty efficiently already.

Anonymous said...

I am running up my credit cards.

Amy said...

I have definitely been trying to cut back on my oversized grocery budget through meal planning and bargain shopping. In fact, I'm chronicling some of my recipes and experiences on my blog this month - 1. for the benefit of my readers but 2. to prove myself that I can spend less and still have fun in the kitchen.

Kira said...

Fortunately, my husband has a very secure job, and I am a student. But we've been trying to be frugal in order to save up for a house and live within our means. I've been trying to do at least one vegetarian meal a week and cook more soups. I stretch one package meat over several meals instead of just using it for one like I used to. I've also volunteered to cook for my parents using their food (but I get to eat!) since I'm better in the kitchen than they are.
We've also essentially nixed eating out. It just isn't as satisfying, and the cost isn't worth what we get.

Amber said...

We're planning a garden for next year, and in the meantime, I've been using quite a bit more beans, lentils and grains as main dishes. I skimp on the meat, and sadly, my organic produce and dairy service has been cancelled. I shop the sales and stock up when something is cheap. I will leave things out of recipes if they are a big budget buster, or sub something a bit cheaper. I also cook nearly every meal and seldom dine out. Ok, that may be due to 3 kids under 5, but still, it's cheaper.

Daniel said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! I knew I had insightful readers. :)

A couple of reactions to the input I've received so far. It seems that about half of the people I've heard from are cutting back, about half of you are NOT cutting back.

Of the people not cutting back, it's about an even split between people not needing to cut back and people who can't really cut back any further.

Of course, this is an early take from an admittedly small sample... keep the responses coming!


Daniel said...

Also, I wanted to response to Chase's comment:

I like your thinking about growing food at home. It can be really cost effective if you are careful about startup costs and what you try to grow. A side note on how some gardeners can be a bit too optimistic on what they'll save: I have a reader who started calling her garden The Thousand Dollar Tomato. That's a great title for a blog by the way. :)

And a thought on oil prices: in the past four or five months crude prices have plummeted (down more than most stock markets if you can believe it). Unfortunately that means we'll have less incentive to conserve and less incentive to avoid second-order foods.

Thanks for your insightful comment!


Hedy Leibowitz Johnston said...

Overall I haven't made a huge change in what buy, since I think I am usually pretty good with meal planning/shopping. I do most of my shopping at one store but if i see a sale on certain items I will go and stock up. I have also been trying to remember to bring my coupons to the store more often. I will also buy the store brand if it's pretty comparable. I still can't give up tropicana OJ for the store brand though...

Anonymous said...

I have long engaged in what you call "part-time vegetarianism" that's nothing new. DH was raised as a vegetarian, and although he's slipped a bit he still prefers a vegetarian, Indian diet. And few cooking styles are more laughably cheap than that!

We grow a (very) few of our foods, and we make every effort to buy local...which is sometimes hard to do in this desert we live in. We do so more out of concern for the environment than the economy, however. I do follow Laura's philosophy of stocking up on what's on sale and using it rather than shopping for recipes. Again, we buy a lot of the staples for "our" recipes in bulk: rice, dal, chana (garbanzos), etc. And we definitely use fruits and vegetables only in season. We have been lucky this summer to live less than a mile from a U-pick orchard/farm: their fruits and vegetables HAVE been laughably cheap. Unfortunately, they will be closing around Thanksgiving until the spring.

The reality is, however, that we've always cooked and eaten like this. Fortunately, both our jobs are relatively recession-proof, and only the prospect of a son entering medical school (with student loans so tight) is forcing us to reign in a bit. Our one major cutback has been in our restaurant habits: we still go out, but almost exclusively to inexpensive ethnic places. We limit the "fancy" night outs to business affairs...

Daniel said...

Thanks, Hedy and Janet, for your thoughts.

Totally agreed on the convenient laughable cheapness of vegetarian food. And there's a clear consensus from these comments and other feedback I've gotten so far that restaurant meals are the key killer for peoples' budgets and that fancy and expensive dinners our are the first things to go.

One thing I've found interesting is that nobody is stepping up their purchases of big-ticket items yet. Perhaps the sales haven't gotten good enough quite yet to entice consumers?


Christie said...

I'm not terribly worried about my job, but I'm hoarding money anyway and cutting back in different areas. We're saving for various things (like a house), in addition to stowing it away JUST IN CASE. It's a fun challenge!

We already were not major restaurant people, so that's not been a problem. I think for me it's been an issue of being more efficient. I went through all of my cupboards and really took stock. Now I'm being more efficient about using all the bulk grains and legumes I've had in there. I'm not shopping for recipes anymore, but instead planning even more around my weekly produce delivery and what's already in the cabinets. I've really cut my grocery bill down, which is exciting.

Also, the husband and I are dedicated bike commuters, but we used to get a little lazy when it came to grocery shopping. It was just so nice to hop in the car and go. So, to save money on gas (and wear and tear on the car--even though the store is relatively close, it does add up!), we've been making a concerted effort to always bike to the store. That also impacts our wallets because our space to lug things like huge glass jugs of cider (or whatever) is limited!

We're not planning on gardening yet, but only because we're in a rental right now. As soon as we get our own yard, though, we're hoping to start. As long as it can truly be more efficient, of course!

Unknown said...

I'm not buying little-used ingredients anymore; no spices or condiments that I can only use for one recipe. We're also doing a lot of make-more-freeze-some, so that we have a LOT fewer nights where we just grab takeout. This has worked out surprisingly well, and we grocery shop less, too. Today we had an eight-item shopping list (e.g. milk), because our freezer stash is in good shape.

Of all the silly things, the $2 basil plant and rosemary plant I bought this summer really came in handy, too. I plan to try more herbs next year.

Probably just as well for my waistline, I'm not baking for fun! It has just gotten too expensive. And Costco is my best friend right now; again, paired with the freezer, I'm saving a lot of money.

My husband and I were very slightly ahead of the curve in that we've always cooked at home a lot, and we started taking a personal finance class this summer. The class really showed us where our money was going, and one of the clear places to plug some holes was in shopping.

Anonymous said...

I joined the part time vegetarian group.
I discovered the joy of Indian recipies - hot, spicy, great variety and cheap as they can get.
I shop at ethnic grocery stores (which have spices at the same prices for 1 lb compared to 2 ounces at mainstream stores).
I did buy energy saving appliances even before the crisis, because what good is a 100 saved in buying a freezer if it costs additional energy of 200 over the long run? Electricity prices are not going down any time soon.
I decreased my energy consumption even more by adding modern light bulbs (even if they are a bit uglier than the conventional ones).

chacha1 said...

I hope a few more people update the comments here. The economic crisis is by no means over, and what people are doing now may be quite different from what we were doing in 2008/2009.

I voluntarily downsized myself in early 2008, worked a fairly peaceful year in the lower-paid job, then was laid off when our industry tanked. (Four months of disemployment later I landed a new job. 18 months after that I moved to a newer and better job.)

The first thing to go was dining out. And I started learning how to cook. I stopped shopping at Bristol Farms. Our entertainment budget (which has always come out of my earnings) was slashed. Our cars were already paid off and we have kept them running.

Our personal economy is in a much better situation now than it was BEFORE I downsized myself. Our food budget has crept up as I have gotten more adventurous in the kitchen, but it is nowhere near what it used to be since we still do not eat out much.

Daniel said...

Chacha, thank you for the update. And yes, thanks to your feedback as well as from other readers, I am going to run an update post this week on this subject. I also want to know what people have done since I first asked these questions.

Look for it on Thursday 11/10/11!