17 October, 2008

What is the Suburban Plot?

plot n.
1. a. A small piece of ground, generally used for a specific purpose: a garden plot. b. A measured area of land; a lot.
2. A ground plan, as for a building; a diagram.
3. The pattern of events or main story in a narrative or drama.
4. A secret plan to accomplish a hostile or illegal purpose; a scheme

This blog exists in response to each of the four above definitions of plot. Sure, in simplest interpretations, this is a chronicle of my little family's efforts to work the soil of our small chunk of Suburbia, but there's more to the story. More to the plot, if you will.

What is the great suburban plot, then?

Making money. I know, catch your breath, that was a real shocker, I'm sure. The great suburban plot is to make money from providing goods and services for a population that's forgotten the skills to provide for themselves. And that, more than anything, is what has motivated us to grow our little garden.

To be fair, my husband has quietly daydreamed of constructing a veggie patch in the ample back garden since he bought the house three years ago. And again, in fairness, I have a touch of inner hippie that requires a good bit of dirt digging to keep the peace-sign-flashing demons at bay. But truly, it is a mercenary thing that brought us to this place of gardening goodness.

We're broke! Yep, that's right. Broke. I mean, we pay our bills (mostly) and we've not been late on the mortgage even once, but still...we're broke. This is, in no small part, due to our terrible, unfortunate habit of liking to eat three times a day...sometimes four. Our food expenses ranked second amongst all our spending. Something had to be done.

If you've read back a bit, you'll know that in my past life I was an analytics specialist, deciphering patterns of data into solid trends. In other words, I'm a spreadsheet junky. So, naturally, I applied the trusty tools of MS Excel to our grocery problem and began tracking common purchases at several different local stores over a period of twelve weeks.

In the beginning, the trends showed that, no matter what we bought or where we shopped, we were averaging $140 (AUD) in total weekly grocery spending (food, supplies, personal care, etc). Through some creative shopping and planning, we've knocked it down to $100-110. This is for a family of two adults with no pets. That may not sound like much, but when non-grocery bills total around $1950 per month, and one's total income is about $2600, monthly...well, you do the math. Inspired by curiosity, I also conducted a little poll of an online Adelaide community and discovered we were all in the same fleet of expensive little boats, with average food-only spending for a family of 2.2 (yeah, yeah, I know.) people at $118.24 per week, not including take-out and restaurant food, nor that occasional cappuccino at the corner cafe.

This is an Oz-wide—likely Worldwide—problem, which even led the government to attempt some pitiful semblance of price monitoring, though I think one of the morning talk shows does a better job of it. We don't even have unit-based pricing (ie price per kg/lb etc) here! So, while I'm not a conspiracy theorist by nature, one does have to wonder how anyone, shy of a spreadsheet-obsessed immigrant with too much time on her hands, is supposed to save on food at any of the whopping three main grocery chains.

The easiest solution when faced with near-monopolistic food-peddling empire and lackluster government policy? Grow it yourself. So we are.

More on this rant later, no doubt!

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