We are going to be moving to Quartzsite next Tuesday, so one of the things I have been doing is stocking up on supplies. One of the biggest disadvantages of boondocking is it generally means you are further away from larger towns and their good, cheap shopping. For example, I was in the Sierra National Forest from May to the beginning of October, and the nearest big town was Fresno, CA which was 50 miles away. But it wasn’t just the distance that was a problem, it was also the type of driving. There is an elevation gain of almost 6000 feet and much of it is very curvy, winding mountain roads so you get very poor gas mileage. Even worse, gas costs much more up in the mountains so I was paying $4.69 a gallon, and getting 10 mpg, a very bad combination.
If you have ever spent much time in remote mountain or desert tourist towns, you know their prices are tremendously higher than the big city, usually at least double. So, if a can of corn cost 70 cents at Walmart, it would cost $1.50 in Shaver Lake or Quartzsite, or maybe even more. A can of chili might cost $3.00. The only exception was perishables like meat and produce; they are more, but not tremendously more. In Shaver Lake hamburger was $3.99 a pound which is more than WalMart, but not a lot more. Dairy products, on the other hand, were much more, for example a gallon of milk might be $5-6.00 and eggs were $3.00 a dozen.
Some people get very angry at the store with the high prices, but I never do. I understand that 1) they pay much more to transport it out to the middle of nowhere, 2) they buy in such small quantities that they don’t get a discount, and 3) they are only busy in the brief tourist season, so they have to make most of their money in a few months. I know the owner of one of the local markets in Shaver Lake, and I know she drives her van down to Fresno once or twice a week and buys all the supplies she has to sell at retail prices and then drives back up the mountain. So she has to pay for lots of gas, a day of labor for herself and maintenance on the van. Then after Labor Day most of her customers disappear but she has to keep her store open for the rest of the year. So I understand the high prices and don’t begrudge them. They are literally “Ma and Pa” stores owned by people who are just trying to eke out a living in a beautiful place they love.
The bottom line is that before I head out to boondock, I stock-up on all the staples I can afford. Then, while I am at the remote location, I only need to buy perishable foods (bread, fruit-vegetables, meat) that I can’t stock up on. That has worked really well for me so I am doing the same thing now before I head over to Quartzsite. I want to have at least a month of two of basics on hand when I get there. There is a grocery chain out west called Winco (it is an employee owned chain and the name stands for Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California, Oregon—the places they have stores) that has the best prices I’ve ever found. They don’t have any stores in Arizona so I am especially stocking up while I am near one of them.
Since many of you are planning on being at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, or boondock in the desert, I thought I would tell you about how I am stocking up for Quartzsite. The town itself has several small markets, but they are all very expensive. The nearest WalMart is in Parker, AZ which about is 40 miles away. The nearest town of any size is Blythe, CA which is about 22 miles away. It doesn’t have a WalMart, but it does have a Kmart and a Smart and Final, which generally has good prices. It also has a local Mexican store that has very good meat at reasonable prices. If I need hardware, there is a good hardware store in Qzt, or a well-stocked Ace hardware in Blythe.
Let’s do some math. Here is a typical weekly shopping list for perishables for me and how much extra I will pay by shopping in Quartzsite:
- Bread: $2.00 extra
- Eggs: $1.00 extra
- Milk: $2.00 extra
- Fruit/Vegetables: $1.00 extra
Total: I spent an extra $6.00 by shopping in Quartzsite instead of a less expensive place. Now let’s do the math of how much money I will spend to save that $6.00. Blythe is the closest town and it is 44 miles away round trip. If I am getting 15 miles per gallon I will burn 3 gallons of gas and if gas is $3.50 a gallon I will spend $10.50 on gas to save $6.00 in groceries. It doesn’t make sense to make that trip unless several people go together and split the cost of gas.
So the more shopping I do now, the more money I keep in my pocket when I get to Quartzsite. $100 spent now will keep me from spending $300 dollars for the same groceries in Quartzsite. Here are some of the things I have stocked up on and how much I have on hand:
- Dog Food: Very expensive in small towns-30 cans and 50 pounds of dry dog food.
- Diet Cola: I’m an addict so I am going with 30 days supply
- Canned Goods: About 8 cans each of chunky soup, chili, vegetables, beans, canned chicken, 15 cans of tuna fish (50 cents at Winco),
- Spices: 60 day supply
- Paper Goods: 12 pack of toilet paper and 6 pack of paper towel
- Pasta, Rice, Beans: 60 day supply
- Treats: I’ve got a big sweet tooth, so I keep plenty on hand.
- Cereal: Milk is so expensive where I camp that I started using Nido powdered milk with a 30 day supply of cold cereal.
- Garbage Bags for Toilet: 60 day supply
Many of us who are boondockers get paid once at the first of the month, so generally we stock up on food then anyway. I just try to have some extra money on hand to buy more staples when I know I am moving to a new location. In the next few months I will spend less on food because I stocked up, so I must have the discipline to set the money I save aside so I can have it when I do my next big grocery shopping. Another big problem is finding room for all these extra foodstuffs. With a van and a trailer, I have plenty of room, but you may find lack of room limits you. One solution I used when I was in my tiny truck camper was to put the extra foods in plastic Totes and leave it outside in the totes. That worked really well, no rain or vermin ever got inside them. My second year as a campground host in the Sierra NF I had four Rubbermaid totes full of food I stashed in the woods outside my camp site. It lasted me the whole 6 months I was there and saved me a great deal of money.
So there you have it, my strategy for spending the least amount I can on groceries as a boondocker. Hopefully you can use some of these tips to live cheaper. Bob