Most of us are familiar with the concept of building an emergency fund for when finances get tough. But what about an emergency food fund?
Now, I’m not talking about building a store of canned goods for a natural disaster or for survivalist prepping (not today, anyway). While there’s good reason to discuss that, I want to address a much more common occurrence. What about having food sources in place for when you’re short on cash?
We have had to rely on our garden and our food stores more than once when our finances were looking grim. The nice part about having homegrown food sources available is that your grocery budget can be a flexible expense. Sure, you may want to have certain ingredients in the pantry, but if you can’t afford it, at least you have lots of other food options available to you.
I don’t think most Americans think this way. There’s food stamps and WIC available for when you get into trouble, right? I don’t begrudge anyone who truly needs government assistance (we are on government insurance because of our income level), but I personally don’t like the idea of taking more than we need from government programs.
And of course there’s credit cards. If your financial dry period is just temporary, why not just swipe now and think about it later? Why can’t a credit card serve as your emergency fund? I personally really don’t like the idea of having to pay off our food bills later in life- with interest. It makes me squirmy to think of deferring payment for something that is here and gone so quickly.
Basically, we feel that if we can grow and source our own backyard food, why shouldn’t we? If we have learned the skills to do it ourselves, then why not be self-sufficient in that area? Why rely on someone else for something that you can do yourself?
(I know that not everyone is immediately able to do this. I am not criticizing you. At one point, we didn’t have permission to dig up our landlord’s yard for a garden, and I didn’t know how to can, and I bought everything we ate. I get it! I’m just encouraging you to consider this type of preparation as an option if you have the ability to do so.)
You don’t have to have a large garden or lots of land available to you in order to prepare your own emergency food fund. Here are some ideas to help you build a stash for when times get tough.
1) Buy store-bought canned goods ahead. When times are good or if you spy a great sale, buy a stash of non-perishables to keep in your pantry. Focus on the most nutrition for your buck- beans, vegetables, canned fruit without added sugar, rice- you want to be able to stretch your dollar when you don’t have that many to spend.
2) Learn a preservation method. Arm yourself with knowledge. You can learn how to water-bath can, pressure can, dehydrate, ferment, vacuum seal, salt, or smoke. I don’t have all of these under my belt yet, but we try to add a new skill every few months. Even preparing vegetables and meals for the freezer is better than nothing, so long as you use them before they get past their prime.
3) Buy bulk produce. Late summer and fall is the perfect time to stock up on fresh, delicious vegetables and fruits from your local farms and markets. You’ll get better prices than at the grocery store, and better quality food, too. Once you have the produce, go exercise one of the preservation methods you learned.
4) Start a ground or container garden. Start small and add a little each year to your home garden. We began with a few tomato plants, and have now ended up with one large main bed and several smaller beds scattered across our property. I would guess it provides at least half of our total produce needs year-round- and more when we don’t have the money to be picky about it.
5) Learn to hunt, trap, or fish. My hubby fishes regularly in the warm months, and we freeze his catches to eat year round. About a $30 investment in a license and a trout sticker gives us a good return in healthy protein. Of course, these skills can become expensive when you are constantly buying equipment for them. See what you can get for free or used to ensure that the meat actually pays itself off- otherwise you negate the point.
5) Raise your own meat or protein. We have laying hens and a milk goat. The chickens provide us eggs for breakfast and cooking, and the goat provides us all we need in milk, yogurt, and cheese. We haven’t specifically raised meat animals yet, but we may at some point in the future. (UPDATE: We since have taken on raising meat rabbits and butcher the occasional chicken.)
Learning one of these above skills not only provides you with healthy, frugal food sources, it also helps to prepare you for when times get tough. There have been several times when money was tight that we’ve said, “Well- we won’t starve, anyway.” And it is a real blessing to know that our family can still eat healthy food without us having to go to the store for it.
How do you plan for your food needs when money is short?