Researching exactly what her family needs to stock up on and the best place to get value for her money is worth spending the time on, says Amber Ethien
In the summer of 2019, Amber and Eric Ethien sold their Barrie home and decided to hit the road with plans to travel across North America with their growing family, a trip that was unfortunately cut short when COVID forced them to head back north.
The family, which now consists of mom and dad and 12 kids between the ages of one and 22, have since settled back into a life in Barrie, but the couple is determined to continue to find ways to provide their family with the kind of unique life experiences that the adventure on the road was meant to provide.
It’s for that reason, Amber explained, that as the price of everyday items from food to clothing continue to climb, she’s needing to be a lot more creative as she goes about things as simple as grocery shopping.
Shopping for a large family was a challenge before the price of food started climbing in recent months, and the ongoing increases have forced her to be even more diligent with her planning and budgeting.
Since moving in December 2019 to a larger home in the city’s south end, Amber says she’s been able to experiment with different things in an attempt to find what works best for her big family.
“I have tried bulk shopping and shopping for the whole month at a time, but I still ended up spending $1,400 for the month and that was me trying to get it cheaper,” she said.
This month, she has a different game plan: to find the best bang for her buck, even if it means having to shop at multiple stores and stocking up on whatever is on sale.
“The most expensive stuff right now is meat and produce. Produce is hard, because you have to buy it every week and you have to pay the prices, but with meat, if chicken is on sale, I am stocking my freezer. If it’s pork chops on sale, then that’s what we are getting,” she said.
Amber said when it comes to produce, she has had to forgo the “variety” they used to enjoy and instead stick to whatever happens to be on sale.
“Before in the fridge we’d have grapes, apples, strawberries, blueberries and now it’s like, ‘OK, we are going to choose the two we like the most … it’s just a lot.”
As many parents know, sometimes, there are just items that you know you need to get, no matter the cost. For the Ethien family, that includes cucumbers, strawberries and green grapes.
“I just paid $9 for a bag of grapes, but I need them because half of my kids survive off of them,” she said. “Cucumbers used to be 75 cents and now they’re like $2.50!”
While Amber does her best not to think about the fact that prices are going to continue to climb, she believes having a good system and being prepared is something that is definitely needed — whether you have one kid or 12.
“I would like to say having a good plan for things that maybe you are willing to cut out or change is solid. Some people don’t feel the crunch, but if you’re feeling it there are ways around it. Yeah, you may have to cut out strawberries one week but I think you just have to go with the flow and develop some sort of plan that works for you and your family.
“Any corners you can cut or if you have to go to two or three different grocery stores … do it … and it really, really helps to do your research.”
Researching exactly what her family needs to stock up on and the best place to get value for her money is worth spending the time on, she added.
“In my mind, it is worth it because I have to feed so many people. I buy specific things at specific stores. It may seem ridiculous to go to three different stores to buy things, but it’s the only way I am going to be able to get everybody the things they need and want,” Amber said.
When planning her shopping excursions, Amber said she typically focuses on where she can get the biggest bang for her buck, and relies heavily on an online coupon site to get her discounts.
“I do our Walmart shop online, and because it’s always such a big shop, I use Rakuten and I buy Walmart gift cards … then I do my shop and I am always getting that extra little bonus. It’s not much, but it adds up with the amount of groceries we get,” she said.
With even less time on her hands than before — Amber just returned to college to become a registered practical nurse — she has been taking advantage of the availability of online shopping.
“I think if it wasn’t for that (option) I would be spending a lot more time. I will spend a good solid hour going through the freezers, etc., but other than that it’s usually a daily check-in,” she said. “It’s spread out over the week, so that I don’t go crazy, but it takes some skill and brainpower — and you need to know what you’re doing.
“It can be draining.”
Although all of this extra time spent researching and planning can take its toll on anyone, Amber said it’s absolutely worth it as it means she can continue to provide her family with the kind of life she’d dreamed of when they first hit the road over two years ago.
“I have always valued experiences over items. I wanted to be able to experience some different things with my kids,” she said, adding they are in the midst of planning a trip to Florida later this year. “For me, realizing and coming to terms with how fragile life is and how important it is … if I can go out of my way and eat a $5 steak instead of a $20 steak for my entire year and in turn I get to spend two weeks at Disney and a couple of good camping trips I will do it.
“To me that’s my priority.”