Saturday, March 21, 2009

How to Endure Economic Downturn and still Eat

My husband has worked for his benevolent employer*, Maco Bag, for a good sixteen plus years. Their boom and bust cycle hasn't been hard to adjust to. Periodically over the last few summers (we've been married 4 years soon), we've taken a day off, unpaid a few times a summer, which really FarmBoy just used a day of vacation to cover. Maco Bag Group packages and assemble items, as I understand it, and FarmBoy works in their warehouse, keeping it organized and correct in the inventory system. His favorite part is driving a forklift as necessary, and doing inventory at the end of the month. Or that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. You know, over-sized Tonka toys, and over-sized cute boy driving one. Yes, I see you do understand.

This winter the employees were called in and informed that sales and orders were down a bit and most employees were given one day a week furlough. I think this is benevolent, as opposed to laying off a bunch of workers, then retraining a new crew in a few months when orders pick up again. They will pick up again, won't they President Obama?

How does a family of seven get through the inevitable ebb and flow of orders in a factory job? We'll discuss some tactics we use over the next few days. I've compiled some resources and websites that may be of use to you in your quest to endure the downturn in the economy too. My thanks to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for making so much information available to everyone.

My first principle was to pare down our needs, from our wants. We have resources for some wants, but the key is separating which is necessary from which becomes expendable. Your choices may vary from mine, so adjust as necessary. Our priority is paying our mortgage, fuel bill for heat and two automobiles, and providing food and clothing to our children, maintaining our goat herd, and providing adequate clothing and food for ourselves. We have good dental, and RX, and health insurance through FarmBoy's employer, a flexible savings account for vision and eyeglass and hearing aid expenses, and a 401k we invest in weekly. That said, we feel very blessed, recognizing how quickly most of this could disappear.

To that end, we have heeded the counsel of a living prophet (see Amos 3:7, Holy Bible).  It's important, much like Noah's warning to get in the ark, and our family began a 1 month, then 3 month, then one year supply of basics for our family. Why should you do this? You might consider that it will absorb the impact of reduction in force at your employer, it will help insure your family's survival in case of death of a parent (and income loss), it will provide your family with comforting and familiar foods in times of stress and economic trial (like an ARM housepayment going through the roof because unemployment didn't pay enough to make the full payment). If you didn't have to buy food for a month, or three, how much cash would you then have? $500, $1500 maybe. Things to ponder. What could you pay off, if you freed that cash up for a payment? What debt could you reduce and free yourself from if you or your spouse lost your job, and you could still go to the pantry and prepare meals without a trip to the grocery store.

I don't have all the answers, but I have some good questions. Let's explore some of the options together. One thing I do is store whole grain. It doesn't go rancid like flour will, eventually. I retrieve a 5 gallon bucket from the closet, spin it open, and scoop out a #10 can of wheat berries and pop it into my electric grinder (with emergency hand crank available). That's fresh, fiber and vitamin filled whole grain flour, in 10 minutes or less. I don't make bread - but I do make muffins, biscuits, pancakes, cookies, brownies, and apple and other fruit crisps. You could make bread too, if you like. Save me the heel, with lots of butter, please.

I started with the information found at May I suggest a 1 month surplus of the things that your family eats each week? For example, make a list of two weeks worth of meals. What are your common breakfasts, lunches, and dinners? Real ones, that you eat now.

My children like Oatmeal for breakfast in the winter. I have #10 cans of rolled oats stored, which I can also use for apple crisp, oatmeal for breakfast, and oatmeal cookies. We also have boxes of instant oatmeal, just add water type, in cardboard boxes, with individual paper bags inside. For long term storage, these would have to be kept in something secure, like a 5 gallon bucket with a lid, because they'd be susceptible to moisture, or rodents, or a teething Jack Russell Terrier Puppy on a quest. If you have one like this. On alternating days we might have some high fiber cold cereal, like GoLean Crunch, and a small handful of raisins or other dried fruit. So I store some boxes of cereal (calculate how many servings your box actually feeds, and how many people are eating this.) Of course you'll need milk on your cereal, so I suggest storing either vacuum packed milk like Parmalat, or shelf-stable soy milk that you rotate, or powdered milk. Occasionally we have sweet rolls and bacon strips, so you could try canning pumpkin bread in a jar, and storing some ready to eat fully cooked bacon, that you can find in the produce section in some stores. I presume so you put it on a Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato sandwich. Granted, the shelf life
is only about 150 days, so that's less than six months storage time. I'm a bacon lover, so I'd be willing to take one for the team and heat up a package and make bacon tomato spinach sandwiches. Just to keep the food storage rotated and everything fresh, of course. I'm good like that.  For this purpose I followed the advice of Wendy Wittt and began a food storage inventory notebook.  Now I know that in 4 months, the height of tomato season here, we will eat and replace into our food storage, 2 lbs. of ready to eat bacon.

You can store bottles of juice for a year, without any loss of quality, and rotate them and work them into regular use before they go past expiration date. So there are four breakfast possibilities: instant oatmeal, boiled oatmeal, cold cereal with milk, fruit juice, banana bread slices and bacon. Considering you could also store pancake mix for a year,a few bottles of maple flavored syrup, (just the dry ingredients for a thriftier approach,) you could have better breakfasts in a downturn than you enjoy now.  That will be a good start for a day of job hunting and resume polishing, no?
Tomorrow - What's for lunch anyway?

*Any time they'd like to return his hours to a full 40 per week, I'd write a lovely, glowing blogpost about how they were voted into Rochester's Top 100.  Truly. With their logo and hyperlinks to their website. Nope, not a link yet. Alrighty then, pancakes and bacon and eggs it is for breakfast!