We’ve all been horrified by the events unfolding in Ukraine. Putin is waging an unjust war against a neighboring sovereign, democratic country. The costs of his actions are catastrophic, heart-breaking, and have globally reaching negative impacts. Putin’s despotism is particularly despicable and cruel coming just as there was a glimmer of hope for an endemic end to a global pandemic that has taken a huge toll in lives, livelihoods, and standards of living.
In times like these, I find it challenging to keep writing about the joys of Epicurean homesteading. Homesteading is only a viable way to live in a stable political situation where property rights are enforced by the rule of law. Watching Putin rob people of their homes, livelihoods, and lives, I can’t help but be acutely aware of what a luxury it is to produce food, create a beautiful landscape, and engage with nature at home.
Near our homestead here in North Carolina, the political climate is divisive but not unstable. There are, of course, still many instances of people’s rights being denied. And sometimes those collective injustices make me question whether the US should still have moral authority in the global realm.
Yet, even though the US has much to atone for and plenty of work to do in terms of equality and justice, we have long been one of the biggest beneficiaries of global markets. As such, we have an obligation to use every economic tool in our repertoire to help bring Putin’s unjust war to an end. But I also know that doing so will inevitably lead to economic hardship for people struggling to make ends meet here in the US and elsewhere around the world.
I can’t pretend to have any grand answers. Like most, the extent of how I am able to help is limited to bearing witness, donating, and hoping for peace and healing with all my heart. In fact, it’s my constant and abiding hope that everyone, everywhere can live stable, secure lives with opportunities to meet their physical needs and pursue their creative passions.
The following tips won’t stop Putin’s war. They also won’t directly address the other inequalities we need to work to resolve around the world. But used collectively, they may lighten the burden of rising inflation. Then, we can keep our hearts and minds focused on creating a better, more just, and ecologically sustainable world together.
Tip 1: Shop Deliberately
Wanting is programmed into us as a survival tactic. If it weren’t then back when we had to hunt and forage for food, after a satisfying breakfast, we might not have felt the urgency to look for our next meal.
Now that we’ve moved beyond the subsistence phase of human existence, though, that wanting often spurns us into unnecessary action. And that costs us in terms of money, time and cumulative maintenance.
I know because I used to be the person that jumped into the car to run to the store for one thing. I’d walk out with three or ten things. Plus, then I’d realize how long I’d been gone, so I’d stop for takeout since I’d spent my cooking time shopping. The price of that trip also wasn’t just what I spent at the store or on fast-food. It was extra gas, more frequent oil changes, going up a mileage bracket on car insurance, and my lost time.
Frankly, I stopped all that for environmental reasons and started gardening and making things instead. I also began writing a list of what I had to buy and sticking to it. Then, I treated shopping like an appointment and scheduled it on my calendar.
Though my reasons for changing my habits were environmental, I was amazed at how much money and time I saved too. My gas bill dropped. I could do more at home because I wasn’t out shopping so much and that led to lots of savings. I also didn’t buy things on a whim that I later wished I’d left at the store.
Deliberate shopping has been one of the biggest cost and time saving tools in my repertoire. And frankly, my life is so much richer for not shopping on demand. If you aren’t already shopping on a schedule, using a list, and directing that saved shopping time toward pleasurable and beneficial activities, start now!
Tip 2: Save on Food
One of the things most homesteaders recommend to save money in times of crisis is to grow food. I agree that this helps long-term. However, unless you have an established garden or amazing soil ready to grow in, and already know how to grow food, you may not save much money at first.
I do have some tips to help you get started cheaply in my post on Potager Gardening in a Crisis. You can also read my series on starting a potager (regular harvest kitchen garden) for the longer-term. But, even before you start growing food at home, there are ways to save money on food at the grocery store right now.
– Be Adventurous
We often go to the grocery store with an exact idea of what we want to buy based on recipes or past habits. Then, even if costs sky-rocket we feel entitled to have those things and end up overspending to get them.
If you instead walk into the store with a baseline for how much food you need, cash in hand to pay with, a calculator, and the mindset of creatively using sale and low cost items that fit your budget, you won’t overspend. Plus, you can have a lot of fun discovering new dishes, learning new techniques, and becoming a good home cook!
- If onions are a dollar a pound, make a huge pot of onion soup. Roast onions and top with cheese. Make onion tarts, better known as “Pissaladière” in French cooking.
- If potatoes are on sale, make a meal of hearty dishes like gratin, potato soup, stuffed baked potatoes, pancakes, fritters, shepherd’s pie, and so on.
- When ballhead cabbage goes on special for a quarter a pound, make sauerkraut, Chinese cabbage salad, sear cabbage heads, or make cabbage soup.
– Stretch Ingredients
In the US, we have a bad habit of using only part of our vegetable purchases. We cut the greens off radishes and turnips. We use just the whites of leeks or green onions. We peel our carrots and potatoes. Those are all lost opportunities to create more flavorful, nutrient dense, meal options when put to good use.
Leafy green tops are great in a stir fry or soup. Peelings are edible. Plus, plant sugars coalesce near the skins which means we often cut away the sweetest, most calorie dense parts of the harvest in our haste to make waste.
With meat, we often make one meal out of portion sizes that could be spread out over multiple meals. Slice or chop meat into smaller pieces. Serve with less expensive but also nutritious rice, beans, or pasta to round out calories and achieve that full feeling.
If you normally throw out bones and gristly meat parts, collect them with the peelings and green plant taps to make your own stock.
Also, package your leftovers in single meal serving sizes so they are ready to take to work for lunch. Or, freeze and defrost as needed instead of buying takeout.
– Cook Less Often
Cooking is time consuming. But it also uses a lot of energy for heating the oven or stove top.
If you cook in bulk you can save some of your energy costs by only heating the oven or stove once. But you will have to reheat, so the savings don’t always net out on energy usage. However, if you use those leftovers to keep your freezer stocked, that food mass freezes and insulates like ice in an icebox, cutting the time your freezer has to actively cool.
Also, consider making meals that don’t require cooking like salads. Use fewer dishes. Then, you can cut energy spent on stove fuel and dishwasher cycles.
Nature grows a lot of food for us for free. Where I live the free leafy greens season starts with corn salad and hairy bittercress. Then it moves on to dandelions and dead nettle. As those begin to flower, sow thistle sizes up and mushrooms start popping up too.
Don’t discount nature’s abundances when looking for ways to save money on food or other resources!
Tip 3: Garden for Cost Savings
Now, I’m obviously a huge advocate for gardening. I’ve written hundreds of posts about it and two gardening books (Grow Your Own Spices and Weed-Free Gardening). But even if you don’t have the inclination to become a hardcore/self-sufficient homestead gardener, the garden can still save you big time!
The biggest cost savings from gardening aren’t from food. They stem from the pleasure of gardening and its impact on your overall well-being. In a nutshell, having a garden makes life more pleasurable and abundant-feeling so you can live better even if you have to spend less.
– Enriching Entertainment
When I get the urge to run out and buy something, or when I start to lose hope in the future, I curb those empty feelings by starting a few seeds in a paper pot. I go cut myself a salad of some of the wild greens that I’ve encouraged to self sow in parts of our landscape. Perhaps I’ll cut some herbs to make an aromatic bouquet, pick some edible flowers and herbs to infuse in water, or gather weeds to feed my chickens and ducks. Or I’ll just stand under blooming trees, inhaling their incredible fragrance.
These small actions are emotionally uplifting. They save me from going down darker, more expensive roads (like eating junk food or feeling sorry for myself). It’s hard to put a price on these benefits. But since I now live on a small fraction of my old income when I was a legal administrator and I’m so much healthier and happier than before, I’d call them huge!
– Cottage Style Savings
Cottage-style gardens tend to be the least expensive to start. They don’t require specific plants or formal structures. So, you can hit up friends for plant divisions. You can start a lot of easy to grow flowers or herbs from seed. You can decorate with whatever you have available or can find for free.
The hodgepodge approach to cottage gardening also means you can work in lots of self-sowing edibles. Arugula, mustard, radish, coriander, Tulsi, dill, fennel, bush-type cherry tomatoes, and more will all come again if you let them flower, fruit, and go to seed.
Perennial herbs like lavender, rosemary, and oregano are also inexpensive to buy. Then you can use those starts to propagate new plants to give as gifts and use to grow your garden and dried herb collection.
Also, weeds can be welcome in this style garden. So you don’t have to worry as much about staying on top of them if you are short on time to garden.
– Strategic Vegetable Gardening
If you do want to start a proper vegetable garden, start small. I highly recommend setting up a vermicompost bin or making a compost bin as the first step in your garden journey. Then, focus on preparing your garden to grow the foods that you normally have to buy fresh. That way you can cut costs and extend the time between grocery visits.
Baby lettuce is the biggest cost saver in my garden. Plus, herbs like basil and thyme cost a fortune to buy at the store but are easy to grow at home. Additionally, when you grow these at home, you save all that ridiculous plastic packaging which helps you detox your home!
Vegetables like potatoes and onions are so cheap to buy that unless you have amazing soil to spare, growing those won’t save you much money. However, garlic, shallots, and fancy fingerling potatoes are more expensive.
If you eat those regularly, growing your own will save you money. Plus, shallots and garlic grow through winter providing year-round garden interest. Fingerlings are out in time to start a last round of summer squash or to start your long-season winter vegetables.
Pay attention to what you spend the most on from the produce department. Then, check with local gardeners to find out if you can reasonably grow those things in your climate.
Also, try to figure out how much soil amending you’ll have to do to be able to grow your favorite produce well. So, that way you don’t end up spending more on soil preparation than you save on food production.
Tip 4: Buy Better, Borrow, and Share
The age of inexpensive everything was just that… an age. A finite period of numbered days. Between climate change, a global pandemic, and despotic autocrats invading peaceful neighboring countries, that age is over.
Personally, I’m glad the age of cheap goods has ended. Cheap goods are notoriously bad for the environment. They’re also bad for workers who are expected to operate like machinery to meet unrealistic productivity goals. Plus, they’re terrible for consumers because they cost us more to operate and replace than if we’d spent a little more to buy a durable, quality model.
I strongly believe that we need to redirect our spending towards durable goods that can be passed on to future users, not just recycled or sent to the landfill. If those things are locally made and indefinitely repairable even better!
We also need to get comfortable lending our resources to our neighbors and borrowing from others. That not only saves money for all of us, it connects us to each other, and strengthens our sense of community.
If we buy better, borrow, and share we save money, build community, and reduce our carbon footprint.
The Power of Purchasing Less
I know that it’s difficult to view reducing your spending or paying more for things that were once cheap as a beneficial. But the reality is having more than you need and getting everything that you want doesn’t make people any happier. Sometimes having to reduce our spending makes us appreciate what we already have that much more!
As an example, this year Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden topped the happiest populations on earth list again. And it’s not because things are cheap. Everything there already costs far more than in the US. It’s also not because they have such high standards of living compared to people in the US. They actually have smaller homes and less property on average.
What contributes most to the overall happiness in these countries isn’t cheapness of goods or personal wealth. It’s that they’ve become really good at living well with what they already have. They also have a strong sense of community and generosity towards others.
It will take time to solve the situation in Ukraine and to address all of the other challenges around the globe. But hardships are easier to bear when we work together. And life is more pleasurable when we find moments of grace and simplicity even through troubling times.