Supply Chain Pain

I work in high tech, so I know something about supply chain issues. In fact, if I hear the phrase again, I am likely to scream. With war raging against the Ukraine and the pandemic far from over, along with supply chain fragility going decades back, we are all experiencing issues getting the things we want and need.

We Americans are not used to bread lines or going without, at least not since World War II. Even then, our plucky grandparents and great-grandparents dug victory gardens, swapped recipes that did not use up valuable supplies going to our boys overseas, they made do. Ford Motor Company converted some of its production lines to manufacture Sherman tanks just like Microsoft is now apparently beating back cyberattacks on the Ukraine government and financial infrastructure.

We all do what we can.

I have dealt with some curious supply shortages since the pandemic hit. Flour and sugar and of course, toilet paper made big headlines initially, but domestic and Canadian suppliers addressed that. I mention our friends to the north because we get a lot of paper goods from Canada and the logging industry in Canada was battling tree disease well before the pandemic, further damaging our ability to eventually get all the toilet paper we wanted.

In response to the scarcity of flour and sugar, I went online and bought a 50-pound sack of flour and a 25-pound sack of sugar figuring that most people would not think to buy in bulk. I kept both in large coolers in my garage so I could dole out what I needed. That worked fine. Pasta, when it mysteriously became scarce, was harder to source but I simply bought less popular shapes until the supplies of what I normally used resumed.

When it came to my garden last year nobody and I do mean nobody had fresh pots of oregano which I always plant. Nobody had it. I called around, believe me. We use a lot of fresh oregano, so this was curiously troubling. What had happened to the fresh oregano seedling supply? I never found out but instead bought seeds and grew it that way. By the time the seeds started sprouting OF COURSE the supply shortage had righted itself and I could buy plants. Of course. But I had a workaround, nonetheless.

I find myself dealing with multiple supply issues every month now. From buying a new laptop to find the colored beets I like; everything is a challenge now it seems.

And this, my frugal friends, is where we frugal types can shine. We instinctively swap out or find another solution or model or brand. We wait it out or made do with what we already have. We literally know how to make it work. We don’t let the lack of one ingredient or consumer item drastically impact us.

When I had to get a new personal laptop, seemed every model/brand I looked at had a three to six month wait to ship. I simply called my former webmaster, a good friend, and asked her what was available now that would fit my needs. She knows me well and had an answer/solution immediately. My new laptop showed up on my doorstep less than a week later as a result.

So here are my frugal tips for dealing with supply chain issues:

  • Ask an expert. If you need something you cannot source, find an expert who can tell you what is readily available.
  • Try another brand/model. The model of the laptop I bought was not on my radar but with my former webmaster’s recommendation, it turned out perfectly.
  • Wait it out. I waited out buying a new laptop a good year past when I normally would have replaced the old wonky model. By the time I bought a new one, the old one was literally non-functional.
  • Change brands. Do you really need a particular brand of something when a generic or other brand will do? Not usually a problem for frugal folks.
  • Make it yourself. When my partner’s beloved brand of ranch dressing mysteriously disappeared from the grocery shelves, I shrugged, found a copycat recipe online and made it from scratch from ingredients I had in the pantry and fridge. Shortage resolved. I did the same when my dogs beloved treats went MIA from the grocery store. They prefer the homemade variety now of course.
  • Grow it yourself. I love golden beets and could not find them for the life of me last year. While I used regular beets, I also grew golden beets in my container garden. Took time but it was worth the harvest to do so.
  • Switch gears. Sometimes an entirely different product will serve the same purpose. My youngest grandbaby loves puff-puffs which basically disappeared from the baby food shelves the minute she learned how to pick them up and eat them for herself. Undeterred, I found an organic breakfast cereal that looked and apparently tasted nearly the same, at least that is what my daughter reports because I never tasted either of them. Turns out, the cereal, ounce per ounce, (which is essentially what puff-puffs are) costs a quarter of what puff-puffs cost. Problem solved; money saved.
  • Go big and forgo convenience. If you have the storage room and you will use it up. Often times, the supply issue is with small-ish convenience-sized quantities. I had no issue buying ten pounds of wheat bulgur for example whereas health-minded friends could not find the 1- or 2-pound packs. I bought mine and we split the contents, saving considerable money.
  • Go straight to the source. If trucks are being blockaded at the Canadian border or delayed across America, and container ships languishing in port waters offshore, you may still be able to buy direct from the source if you usually go to grocery stores and such. I have had good success finding specialty items readily available and shipped direct from the source. It won’t work for many items manufactured and shipped from overseas because most of those items come to our shores in giant containers shipped but even so, some items do get flown. Plus, domestically the post office and various delivery vendors such as Fed-X and UPS are working late into the night to bring you your stuff. It never hurts to look online is what I am saying. I found chili crisps, a spicy specialty item that ships mostly from not-so-friendly China these days, online and available from that online service-that-shall-not-be-named. The large jar, reasonably priced, arrived within a few days, and I am still using the condiment weekly in my Asian dishes.
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