In 2015, my husband and I decided that he needed to quit his job and go to school full time in order to secure a better future for our family. For nearly eighteen months we lived off our savings and food storage while jobless. It sounded scary at first, but ended up being much easier—and tastier—than we’d imagined.
As far as living with no income is concerned, we weren’t alone. Between 2011 and 2014, one in five workers were laid off from their jobs. That is a scary number. While the economy has improved in the last four years, the loss of income is an extremely likely occurrence.
Insurance against job loss is a common reason cited for having food storage. Data from a 2012 gallup poll show that the average family spends about $151 per week on food. That is a lot to spend when you are also trying to juggle electric bills and rent without any money coming in. You can theoretically survive if your electricity is cut off, but no one can go for very long without food. Therefore, having a long-term supply of stored food in your pantry makes a lot of sense.
Where a lot of people struggle, however, is how to use their long-term food supply that’s meant to save them in the event of job loss. How does it help? Does the simple fact you have it magically relieve you of the burden of providing food?
While there is nothing magical about freeze-dried food packaged in #10 cans, your food storage can do a lot for you when you are in dire straits. Here's what I learned during the 18 months we were without meaningful income:
Lesson one: Be strategic about building your food supply
A lot of your success will depend on how you approach building your food storage. You can cut to the chase and buy a complete one-year supply all at once. We considered this one year supply that frequently sells at a nice discount. It covers all the bases: fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy. There’s something so comforting about making a single purchase that guarantees you can feed your family for an entire year.
But if building your supply in one shot doesn’t work for you (like it didn’t for us), the best approach is to purchase items strategically. Want to save on meat? Stock up on an item like this plant-based beef protein that can be mixed in with fresh ground beef to extend your meals. Essentially, it turns one pound of fresh ground beef into two.
Our most important strategic purchase was a deep supply of wheat. You can stock up on red wheat, soft white wheat, or hard white wheat. We used our wheat to prepare a wide variety of staple pantry items. It was a life saver.
Lesson two: Cooking from scratch isn’t as hard as it sounds
Food storage assumes that you will cook from scratch. That might seem scary to some people. Won't it take up more time? Well, it depends. Making tortillas from scratch from the wheat you have stored in your basement takes a lot more time than going through the drive-through, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be slaving over it all day long.
Even though it can be a bit more time consuming, there are a lot of benefits of cooking everything from scratch. Food storage ingredients that you can buy in bulk are cheaper and will last a long time when properly stored. Whole-wheat waffles and tortillas are healthier than anything in the frozen-food section at the grocery store. Cooking from scratch isn't just for bored mommy bloggers who aspire to be featured in Martha Stewart Living. It's for regular folks, too.
Lesson three: Save yourself a headache and get the right wheat grinder
You need a good wheat grinder. People like the Victorio hand grinder because it's inexpensive and doesn't require electricity. It's great for the odd batch of cracked wheat cereal every now and then but not the right tool if you need to grind wheat for bread to feed a family of seven. If you have ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, you will know why. I speak from experience in this matter. That is why I now use a Nutrimill grain mill.
Lesson four: Oatmeal can be your friend
Poor oatmeal. It's the lumpy gray sweater of food storage. We think it’s boring. Nobody likes it. But what if I told you oatmeal could be delicious? It's true! People only think oatmeal is awful because they either use those terrible packets of the instant stuff or they cook it over the stove with no seasoning and eat it plain. Cooked properly over the stove with a pinch of salt and a dash of cinnamon, served with a generous helping of brown sugar, oatmeal is my kids' favorite breakfast. It's significantly less expensive than cold cereal, too. Have you noted the price of Raisin Bran these days? One box of store-brand cereal won't break the bank, but when you have a large family like I have, you need about six to get you through the week. I'm lucky if I even get a single bowl. If it's a fun kind of cereal that has marshmallows in it, I can forget about having any for myself. But oatmeal can feed everyone.
Lesson five: Switch out fresh with stored
You can use a large number of food storage ingredients instead of fresh ones. Powdered milk isn't the most tasty to drink, but it's indistinguishable from fresh milk when you bake with it. Dehydrated shredded carrots make excellent carrot cake. Tomato powder can be reconstituted and used for making pizza sauce. Emergency Essentials has an extensive catalog of freeze-dried and dehydrated foods that are perfect for this purpose. This makes using food storage easy and tastes quite good.
Lesson six: It gets easier
Like just about anything else in life, using your food storage and cooking from scratch is a skill. When I was in college I was afraid of making yeast breads because I thought they were scary-complicated. You have to let them rise? Twice? And form loaves? No one has time for that. A couple of hundred loaves later, it's really not as scary as I thought. There are only so many ways you can ruin bread. Ruin enough batches, and sooner or later you'll figure it out, I promise. It’s the same with budgeting, rotating your food storage, and figuring out how many cups of dehydrated whatever you'll need instead of “three thingies, chopped.”
My situation was slightly different from the average no-income experience because we entered into it voluntarily. We had planned for it for some time before my husband's last day of work. Still, our food storage gave us a huge amount of security in that we never had to worry about going hungry. In this way, not only does it have practical value, but also intangible emotional value. When you've just had the rug pulled out from under you, there is at least one thing – your food storage – that you can count on to see you through to the other side.