Better Ideas for Better Times

Family Food Security

Shopping smart and beating the odds

It's easy to spend money in a casino. That's how they're designed! Grocery store builders have similar goals. Everything in the store is designed to separate you from your money. Suppose you need a gallon of milk and some eggs. Are these items located conveniently at the front of the store? Not likely. You have to walk all the way to the back of the store to find them. You go past displays of "special" merchandise. Chances are, you'll end up at the cash register with more than a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs -- especially if the kids are along for the ride. Here are some common store tricks and ways to avoid them.

Wall of Values.

Right up front the store will put the "deals of the week". These may or may not be good values. The only way to know for sure is to compare prices. Often there are cheaper equivalents further inside the store.

Price Tag Problems.

High priced items may be mixed with low priced items. The low or the high price tags may be located a few inches away from the item they refer to. The items directly above the low price tag may be the more expensive choices. The lowest priced item may not have a price tag. Selection becoms price roulette. Check prices at the checkout line. If they are more than you thought, tell the clerk you don't want them. Beware of the tricked price.

Large Sizes Aren't Necessarily the Best Buy.

Carry a calculator with you, or use a pencil and paper. Figure the price per ounce, per pound, per pint, quart or gallon. Large items may be higher priced per unit than smaller packages of the same item.

Fiddling with the Package Size.

Same price, less stuff is all too common these days. Big Displays Aren't Always the Best Buy. A big display only means the store bought a lot of something. It may be a good deal or no deal. The only way to know is to compare prices.

Brand Name Games.

Big corporations spend billions of dollar to convince you that their brand is the best. It is a rare situation where the brand name is actually better than the store brand. Often, they all come from the same food factory, they just got different labels on the way out the door.

Coupon Games.

First cousin to Brand Name. Even with a coupon, the item may be more expensive than the store brand. Check the prices.

Look High & Low on the Shelf.

The high priced items are usually at eye level on the shelf. The lower priced items will be either high or low on the shelf.

Meat Goes Down, Canned Goods Go Up.

If prices are low in one area, they have been increased elsewhere. If you can keep extra supplies of everything on hand, you can buy extra of whatever is cheap that week, and avoid the high priced items.

Watch Out for the 1st and 15th of the Month.

Stores will always have some good deals on those dates, but other items may go up in price to compensate.

Snack Food Games.

You pay a big price for 50 cents worth of popcorn and sugar, or 30 cents worth of potatoes and salt. It is always cheaper, more tasty, more nutritious, and more fun to make your own.

Be fair to yourself and your family.

Genuine deals can be found, but you have to look carefully, with your eyes wide open and your calculator in your hand. The store has a legal right to price its merchandise. You have the right to find a better deal and save money. By shopping smart, you encourage grocers to offer real deals, not trick deals. If you beat the casino shopping game, you win a better quality of life and more secure future for yourself and your family.

Fifteen Shopping Rules to Save YOU Money in Grocery Stores.

Stay Out of Grocery Stores! The more times you go to the store, the more money you spend. Organize your shopping so you go to the store less than 4 times a month. Avoid trips for "just one thing."

Plan. Plan. Plan. Never to go the store without a list. Plan every meal including snacks. Make a shopping list from that plan. Buy only those items on your list. Beware of impulse buys.

Scout the Territory. Check the advertisements for specials. Go to at least 2 stores to check prices on major items before buying. Cherry pick the best deals. You may have to go to 2 or 3 stores, but think of the money you are saving as compensation for your time. Save your receipts and keep track of the prices you are paying.

Eat Before You Shop. Never go to a grocery store hungry. Shop after a meal or a big snack.

Don't take the kids. Kids who watch television are programmed to say, "Mummy, buy this" during shopping. The items advertised on TV are almost always the most expensive items. As an alternative, teach your kids to ignore most television advertising. Teach your kids that shopping smart is part of what it takes to succeed in life.

Keep Track of What you Buy While you Shop. Use a calculator or pencil and paper to keep a running total of everything in your basket.

Avoid the Name Brand Game. And its first cousin, the Coupon Game. Buy the generic and store brands unless price comparison or a special sale bring the name brand into your price range.

Avoid Prepared Foods. You deserve the best, so "cook from scratch," like your grandma did. Make your own sauces and gravies and pizzas and snacks. You pay a premium price when you buy packaged prepared foods that are inferior in taste and nutrition to those you can prepare yourself for your family.

Meat-Smart Shopping. The meat market is always confusing. Inexpensive cuts of meat can be just as tasty as the expensive steaks, as long as you prepare them properly. Generally, this means low, moist heat in an oven or crock pot. Buy whole chickens and cut them up yourself, or bags of leg and thigh quarters (usually a price leader).

Cook with Powdered Milk. You save money on every gallon when you cook with powdered milk instead of whole milk. The least expensive powdered milk is the same stuff as the most expensive, so buy based on price, not brand. Powdered milk may be less expensive at suburban stores.

Check the Prices at Specialized Meat Markets and Wholesale Stores. Sometimes, shops which only sell meat or deli items may have lower prices than supermarkets. Wholesale stores or big discount markets may also have some deals, compare prices carefully.

Don't Shop in a Hurry. Good shopping takes time. You'll want to compare prices, check out more than one store, etc. In this case, time really is money, because you're using your time to save you money.

Watch Out for Non-food Items. Do you really need to buy these products at the grocery store? Are they perhaps cheaper at a dollar or discount store? Consider using alternatives to expensive packaged cleaning products, such as (1) bleach to clean toilets and porcelain sinks; (2) baking soda to clean the refrigerator; (3) ammonia for floors, walls, ovens. Warning: never mix chlorine bleach or cleanser with anything other than laundry soap as it can produce dangerous fumes when combine with other products.

Buy Bread at Bakery Outlets. Avoid the high priced bread section at supermarkets. Look for a bakery outlet and get your bread items there. Or bake your own (best choice).

It's OK to Save a Few Cents. Save a few cents on every item, and it adds up. Since money is scarce, you can use that free money for other things.

Keep at least 2 months or more of basic food supplies on hand in your home pantry.

You're asking: "Why so much?" Here's five good reasons.1. To increase the safety and security of your family by giving you more control over your circumstances. 2. To make you less vulnerable to crisis and hard times. 3. To increase the quality of life for your family. 4. To provide great meals for your family. 5. To save money and time. It's like having your own in-home convenience store.

Cooking meals from basic foods cuts your monthly grocery bill and increases family security. If hard times come your way -- if you get fired, get sick, your utility bills are high, whatever the crisis -- with food in the pantry, hard times are less hard.

"I can barely afford one month's food. How could I ever get 2 months ahead? By careful planning and work you can slowly and gradually increase your family food supply. Cut your current food budget, perhaps by making your snacks rather than buying junk food, & use that money to stock extra groceries. The more food you grow and process yourself, or buy directly from farmers, the less money you spend on food. Properly managing your budget for fruits, vegetables, fruits, and meats provides many opportunities to increase your family's food security.

The Top Ten Lies of Television

(10) TV is real life. (9) The news tells the truth. (8) TV characters make good role models. (7) Children's TV is harmless. (6) TV advertising benefits you. (5) Everybody watches it, so I have to. (4) My life will be better if I buy advertised products. (3) What I and my kids watch doesn't really affect us. (2) I can learn all I need to know by watching TV. (1) Television is necessary.

To avoid fools, take steps!

Eight More Steps Towards Family

Food SecurityGrow some of your own food. If you don't have a yard, find a community garden. Sometimes owners of empty lots will allow people to plant gardens. Home-grown food is the freshest and best tasting food.

Buy directly from farmers. Look for farmers markets & roadside stands & buy "with the season".

Learn to process your own foods. This can be dehydrating, pressure and boiling water canning, brining, pickling, salting, and candying. The best jelly is the jar you make yourself. Invest in some basic equipment, such as a crock pot, grain mill, pressure cooker, dehydrator (check thrift stores and garage sales for good deals).

Think carefully, make serious plans, follow-through, pay attention to the details. Make your decisions and stick to them. Be firm in your purpose. Don't get distracted from your project.

Make your own snacks. Start by saving money in the over-priced junk food section.If you want comfort food, try chocolate pancakes with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. If you want jerky, make it yourself for a buck a pound.

Join a food co-op, or help start one, Get together with friends and buy large amounts of basic foods, and divide them up. Negotiate prices with a farmer for large amounts of produce.

Work together with neighbors and friends. Many things are easier to do with a group. Neighbors, friends, families, or even churches could share the cost, and the use, of food processing equipment.

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. We start small or we don't start at all. Make a small amount of progress each month and you build a secure and safe future for your family. If something bad happens, you are in a better position to get out of the hard times & back into better times.


is an African word meaning, "Let's all work together."

Text by Robert Waldrop, Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City,