CNN, June 10, 2008: Making creative budget cuts to combat high food costs

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By Nicole Saidi


(CNN) — If you think feeding a family is hard, think how hard it is feeding a family with nine children. Mary Ostyn of Nampa, Idaho, lives this reality every day, and rising food prices mean she has to be mindful of every penny spent.

As it stands, Ostyn spends somewhere between $800 and $900 on food per month, higher than housing expenses for many families. She takes high food costs in stride and challenges herself to cook creatively at home.

Her blog chronicles her meal preparation strategies, and she even plans to write a book. The family eats out only a couple times per month, plus the occasional dinner date for the parents. Shopping is a careful choreography aimed at getting the best deal.

“I’ve gotten much more careful about where I buy things,” Ostyn said. How Ostyn finagles food for her family

Ostyn shops around for the cheapest places to buy food and often makes purchases in bulk. Since she finds herself going through several dozen eggs each week, the few cents she saves on each dozen start to add up.

She’s a preferred shoper at Albertson’s, allowing her to get some special deals. For example, she found a deal touting 10 boxes of General Mills cereal or granola bars for $10. With her family of 12 people eating cereal twice a week, Ostyn surmises the 20 breakfast items she bought for $20 will last a month.

She also turns to gardening to help her to save money on produce. Baby tomatoes are grown in small cell-pack containers.

“A month from now they’ll be out in the garden and if this year’s garden is as good as last year’s, we’ll be picking tomatoes by the wheelbarow-load by the end of the summer!” Ostyn said.

High produce costs are pushing iReporters to new lengths to put food on their tables.

Double the cost

Eric Hubbard of Knoxville, Tennessee, says he pays about twice the amount for food as he did in 2007.

“For me, it is costing between $100 and $150 a week for groceries, as opposed to around $60 last year,” Hubbard said. “Add to this the difference in the cost of gas, and it becomes apparent the problem that American families are facing.” ‘Eating and surviving’ become way of life

Hubbard, who has a girlfriend and two daughters to consider, said all extraneous activities that he can possibly cut have been reduced, and he is focusing on only the most important expenses: his home, food and gas.

VideoWatch iReporter William Bernstein connect high gas prices and food prices ยป

“It just really makes you step back and take a look back at everything you might have been doing beforehand and see what you have to do to survive.”

Hubbard recalls seeing fuel expenses going up and then food prices rising shortly after. He blames drought conditions for some of the expense increases, making raising crops more difficult and creating extra costs for dairy farmers.

Now, he’s scouring for coupons and deals. Impulse buys, name brands and expensive smoothie drinks are out. Simple, healthful and carefully planned meals are in. Travel and amusements are much more deliberately scheduled, as is Hubbard’s life in general.

“It’s more of a plan it in the budget kind of thing. It’s not as spontaneous,” he said. “You know, it’s weird. It seems like it was almost an overnight thing but of course it wasn’t.”

Armed with coupons, he finds special days when some items are cheaper and looks for deals at certain stores. Generic brands are sought when possible.

Hubbard has even given up smoking, a change that he says was much-needed anyway and has given him a financial boost.

Simple food cutbacks and reductions in driving when possible are helping him offset the economic conditions, but Hubbard wonders how long it will last.

“What choices are we having to make to survive?” Hubbard asks. “The economy is going to implode upon itself without money.

Staying local

Hoping to avoid the overhead of high gas prices that sometimes accompanies food from far-flung places, Marc Plante of Middleton, Massachusetts, does his best to save money by seeking out local food resources.

His family purchases milk from a local producer. He says being able to get milk products free of antibiotics and growth hormone is another benefit. He even picks up some more for his coworkers as part of a special delivery service he’s set up to make the process easier for others.

“Every Monday, I collect orders for milk that they want, they pay me the cost for the milk, and I buy it and bring it in the next morning, since I pass by the dairy on my way in,” Plante said. “A little effort that helps several people.” Read how Plante’s milk delivery grew in popularity

Plante said he is lucky to have the ability to do this

“In the city you don’t have a lot of choices,” Plante said. “The thing is to concentrate on your choices.”

He also turns to community-supported agriculture farms for food, in which he purchases goods from local farmers.

“This is another way to save money and eat more naturally produced food,” Plante said. “If it’s local, you are not paying to have it shipped, which can save you money.”

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