Are we in a recession? Who knows – I certainly don’t. Labels and certainties have never really been my strong point. And anyway, the answers vary depending on who you ask. All I know is that whether I’m going to the grocery store, filling up the gas tank, or buying feed for the animals – the new and ever-increasing prices are overwhelming. They make me start to wonder too much about my fellow shoppers, about stockpiling, and about ideal-ways-of-living. Sometimes I just want to abandon the cart right there under the too-bright store lights and walk away.
Whenever I go to the store now, I re-evaluate my shopping list. I’m clustering my shopping trips and skipping luxuries whenever I remember to. And when I’m out at the store, I’m not having fun. Shopping is a chore now – maybe even a competitive sport – and I’m not great at it.
The truth is, ever since 2020, I’ve been having apocalypse dreams. Not the scary kind with zombies or politicians. In my apocalypse dreams I stock up on conveniently unattended liquor or free-for-the-taking honeysuckle plants. Obviously, my priorities are all out of order..or maybe not, depending on your perspective. When I go to the store, I’m always willing to replace pantry essentials with aesthetic essentials. Oops!
Luckily, my husband leans towards aesthetics as well, so there’s no judgement from him.
But, if you want the advice of an impractical, beauty-obsessed, homesteaders on how to thrive, semi-frugally in the world of high-prices and empty shelves, here are my suggestions:
Learn to Love Fasting~
One of the best ways to reduce your food bill is to embrace fasting. Really and truly. Read from some of the desert fathers each morning and integrate intermittent fasting into your day. Think of the prettiness too – you wake up, pour a steaming mug of tea and sit down to plan your day. Then, with tea and water nourishing you through the morning you fast til noon, break-fast with a sourdough bread and garden veggie sandwich (I like spreading cream cheese – when I can find it – on bread, layering cucumbers, red onions, radishes, and arugula on top, then cracking pepper all over it. ). After dinner (and maybe a seasonal cocktail), you let your body rest until noon the next day.
Pretty lovely, huh? And it saves on food money! No more snacks (the work ‘snacks’ is kind of gross anyway in my opinion, but that might just be because I used to work in food service)..and you feel like a beautiful, cozy-sweater sort of desert-amma in the process. Mornings get a casual, planner and tea vibe, evenings are chill and full of quiet reflections instead of food and screens. You can water your plants, talk to your husband, and feel both aesthetic and economical.
Support those Small Businesses
When you just need something pretty to brighten up the home, don’t get a tablecloth at Target or Hobby Lobby (does Hobby Lobby sell tablecloths?) Instead, find some fabric at a little fabric store or find a family-run business and buy one there.
When you want to indulge (and can afford to) be really aware of who is getting your business. These days, I’m incredibly picky. Essentially, if you abandoned me during the pandemic, we’re done. If you’re publicly supporting something awful, we’re done. If you’re rude or pushy, I’ll be looking elsewhere. I’ve lost my (ex)favorite bar, art supply shop, and cafe in the past few years – so yeah, I’m not going to cry about dropping a local grocery store or clothing shop.
Whenever possible, I go to the local used bookstore (please, never publicly share your politics, Bookstore..I don’t want to know). I buy my meat and hay from a farmer whose politics, lifestyle, and personality are so delightful. He can share opinions all day for all I care!
[Nota bene: If you have been buying grocery store meat because “farm fresh meat is cost prohibitive” check again! Meat prices in the stores are rising faster than they are on the farm! It’s actually cheaper for me to get my meat at the farm than at the local store! And if you live in Maine – talk to Dan at Sumner Valley Farm -he’s a joy to know and a fantastic farmer too!]
Don’t get so invested in small businesses that you’ll sacrifice your morals to support them, but do give them preferential treatment. They’re your neighbors, after all!
Shake Off Consumption
Consumption: disease and Consumption: primary role of the average American (according to the companies who rule us all) aren’t actually all that different. Both destroy us from within – and actually, tuberculosis was linked to vampirism in New England. The assumption was that the dead came back to feed on the living, afflicting them with the same wasting disease.
Our consumerism is kind of similar, if you think about it. Always hungry. Always seeking after something new – something that might (we hope) satisfy us. But, like the dead, it never lasts long, we’re hungry again soon. If you (like me) love looking at new, sure to be fulfilling, ultimately empty, things online…give it a rest. Remember that you don’t need new baskets, new books, new skirts, or new (and beautifully embroidered) tapestries to have an aesthetically thrilling home.
At the end of the day, your home is beautiful and hospitable because you’ve infused it with your spirit. My home doesn’t’ need a lovely new tablecloth from Turkey. It doesn’t even need lovely, little, block-print, vegetable-dyed napkins from India..all it needs is a happy housewife, some fresh-picked flowers, and sourdough & roast beef sandwiches. Or, whatever’s available. Your home and my home aren’t as picky as we imagine them to be.
Panic-Buying is Sometimes the Right Choice
When the local grocery store started carrying my favorite whiskey (Rock ‘n Rye..if you’re interested), I wanted to buy it all to make sure I’d never run our again. Right before the price of coffee went up, I bought 4 lbs on impulse. These days, I’m always wondering if I should panic-buy or wait it out.
But for us, because my husband is still getting consistent work, and we’re stocking the pantry for winter, sometimes ‘panic buying’ is the best choice. My pantry has beans, rice, lentils, and meat to last for a while. We’re still slowly accumulating butter and spices. I watch for the sales and then jump in to snatch up what I can.
But remember…even when panic buying, don’t turn into a parody of the black-Friday shopper. You’re not so desperate that you have to horde. You’re not so desperate that you can’t talk to the shopper next to you – share your bounty. Smile. Remember, panic-buying is the most fun when you leave the store with a new friend as well as all the canned tuna on the shelf.
See…I’m not terribly practical. Maybe none of my advice will help at all. But I just went grocery shopping, started fretting a bit about the state of my neighbor’s pantry, and decided to roast him a chicken (thanks for those beautiful birds, Dan!). While I do, I’m low-key fretting about your pantry.
Don’t worry though, we can find all the fun, old ways of getting through tight times. We can listen to Ryan Bingham sing ‘Hard Times’ and smile..”everyone’s got ’em if you look around” – at least we’ve got each other too.