Are you living your life, perhaps noticing rising costs but still spending? Or perhaps you’re making more conscious choices about what you need versus what you want? Maybe you have stopped eating out and are now working on a strict shopping list and budget when you get to the market? While some are being forced to make choices between what they need today and what they must go without.
Everyone is experiencing today’s 4-decade high inflation in different ways. Princeton Perspectives surveyed 85 locals, and 61% shared that today’s inflation is affecting the decisions they’re making this summer in their day-to-day lives. If you were an adult back in 1981, you may remember a time like this, but for others, this may be a first.
Housing Initiatives of Princeton helps low-income families avoid homelessness, and for their clientele, today’s economy is having a huge impact.
“If you are part of the ‘working poor’ the hit is huge – everything costs more, and you haven’t gotten a pay increase to mitigate. These are families where there was no stretch in the budget to begin with,” shared someone close to the organization.
Some people have a little stretch and are not limiting themselves when it comes to food or gas but nearly 30% of respondents shared that they are holding back on extras like new clothes, shopping or vacations.
“Inflation has helped highlight the difference between wants and needs and, like many people, we’ve been shopping more carefully, passing up expensive coffee drinks and eating out a little less often – although we still want to support our local restaurants, stores and shops,” one local shared.
“I have not necessarily changed my spending habits to any significant degree because you have to have the things you have to have,” shared a Princeton resident. “However, for those of us in Princeton who are not wealthy, the fact that even if only temporarily, the high costs for everyday items adds stress and dispirits our quality of life, our comfort level, and the way we interact with others on a daily basis. This I believe is true even if we don’t realize it.”
So, how can one make the best of things despite the current situation? Thankfully, there are options nearby to help you get the things you need for less, or possibly even enjoy the day or evening at no cost at all.
THE BLISS OF SUMMER PRODUCE
Let’s start with food, since this is a necessity. Nearly 30% of those we surveyed shared that they are conscious about prices while buying things like groceries but aren’t limiting themselves.
“Watching for sales and using coupons. Stocking up on sale items,” is how one respondent shared they are getting through these times, while another admitted “I am limiting the type and amount of food I purchase and feed my family.”
Local supermarkets are doing their best to keep prices down, despite rising transportation costs and more, but your weekly trip for groceries is likely adding up. That’s why summer is a great time to live in the Garden State! You can cut out the middleman, fill up your salad bowls and fruit plates with in-season treats, enjoy farm-fresh dairy and more all within a short drive from home.
Princeton is lucky to be located in the midst of several farms, some that offer their own farm stands and others that take their weekly crop and sell it to you at organized markets. Though not a comprehensive list, there are several farms nearby you could pop into for on-site shopping. By purchasing what’s in season, and not necessarily what you typically buy week-to-week, you can experience something new and save a little money in the meantime. Buying seconds (the not-so-pretty produce) and shopping just before closing can also help you score great items for less. A few farm markets in the area include:
Great Meadow Farm on Princeton Pike, which farms with organic practices, sells its fresh produce and creations to the public Wednesdays through Saturdays at the farm.
Cherry Grove Farm south on 206, a sustainable dairy farm and creamery, that offers cheeses and meats in their store, is open daily through December. You can also take a moment to watch how the cheese is made, or picnic on some goodies amidst the flower gardens.
Terhune Orchards farm store is open year-round in Lawrenceville, selling not only fruits and vegetables but also baked goods, their fresh apple cider and their homemade wines. Make it a day by exploring the farm, picking your own in-season fruits and more.
Blue Moon Acres sells organic produce (microgreens, rice and other produce) and other locally made foods at its pop-up market on the Pennington farm every Friday.
Every Thursday, the Dinky Train Station lot off Alexander Road becomes home to the Princeton Farmers Market from 10am-2pm. There you can find a collection of 20 vendors, coming from up to an hour away. Fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and flowers, baked goods, nuts, granola, olive oil and homemade items are amongst what you’ll find walking through. Started in 2009, the location shifted this summer due to the Witherspoon Street construction project, but the few hundred people that stop by are appreciating local, healthy foods and supporting local farmers. Some vendors take credit card, but also Snap Cards are accepted, and they double it, up to $10.
“It’s just nice to come out in the sunshine, see all the local vendors and to know your farmer, to know how the stuff you’re eating is grown,” explains Natalie Fiorino, Market Manager of Princeton Farmers Market. “When you go there, you only get things that are in season. It’s a nice vibe, something nice to do.”
Additionally, Trenton Farmers Market (located in Lawrence) boasts 40 vendors which sell the traditional produce, meats and poultry but also on-site prepared foods, seafood and other snacks. You can shop there Wednesdays through Sundays. West Windsor Community Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday morning at the Princeton Junction Train station and also features locally grown oats, pastured pork, eggs and many other options to round out a meal.
TAKE YOUR FOOD AND HEAD TO THE SHORE
Summertime is high time for picnicking at the beach. If you get your food from a farm market, pack it up and go, you can have healthy, fresh options on the sand. Unlike during the height of the pandemic, beach entry fees are back at many locations, but you can make this a less expensive outing if you plan ahead and go to the right spot.
Beach tags this season range in price. Some of the most popular destinations from Princeton, such as along Long Beach Island and at Point Pleasant will cost you $10/day while Spring Lake and Lavalette are up to $12. Thanks to Gov. Phil Murphy’s decision to make NJ state parks, beaches, forests and recreational areas free again this summer, Island Beach State Park has no day rate. But you must head over early, once the parking lots are full, you can’t get in!
17% of respondents told Princeton Perspectives they are seeking out less expensive outings than they normally would. A great time to find other beaches that have no entry fee including Atlantic City, North Wildwood, Wildwood, Wildwood Crest, Sandy Hook, Strathmere and Corson’s Inlet State Park (though this one does not allow swimming).
If you like lake swimming, you can go for free to 9 state parks. Belleplain State Forest, Round Valley Recreation Area and Swartswood State Park are open daily, while Atsion Recreation Area, Cheesequake State Park, High Point State Park Hopatcong State Park, Parvin State Park and Wawayanda State Park are all closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Lifeguards are at the lakes usually daytime on Wednesday through Sunday.
You can also jump on your phone before you go and check out the Viply app. 24 New Jersey beaches have made it possible to purchase your beach badges in advance, avoiding lines and giving you the chance to see the prices on your mobile device before you arrive.
If the beach isn’t your thing, the summer weather creates other opportunities that can make for a memorable day without costing a thing.
Why not make it a Philly day? There are so many opportunities to learn about people and the past all around Independence Mall. After being closed for over two years due to the pandemic, the newly reimagined Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History reopened in May. You must register to visit Thursdays to Sundays, but the museum is offering free general admission to everyone! While in the area, take a walk past the Liberty Bell. This historic artifact can be seen at no cost, but you may have to wait your turn in line (so get there early). You can also enter Independence Hall (and get a guided tour) for free, but tickets are first-come first-served and only a limited number of tickets are given for each tour, so this also requires an early start (ticketing begins at 8:30am). For the summer, however, between 5-7pm there are no tickets required for the tour! Additionally, the nearby Philadelphia Art Museum is pay-what-you-wish the first Monday of the month and every Friday evening.
Back in NJ, the Hillsborough Promenade off Rt 206 will become home to the Hillsborough Rotary Fair every evening from August 16th-20th. Entry is free, leaving the cost up to you, whether you want to partake in the carnival games and rides. There will be an expo of local businesses and free fireworks on the 19th.
August 24th-28th you can travel over to the Hunterdon County 4H and Agricultural Fair at the county fairgrounds in Ringoes. The fair is free to enter (but you may want to carpool, as there will be a parking fee), and you can wander the grounds, see the animals and exhibits or enjoy the music and other performances. If you do want to go on rides, a wristband will be a charge.
If you prefer something a little more active, Mercer County Park Commission holds free outdoor walks, like Watson Woods Walking Club. Meet Wednesdays at 10am in the Tulpehaking Nature Center Parking Area at Roebling Park to explore the trails and observe seasonal changes.
Look up to the sky…on Tuesday August 23rd beginning at 11am, the performers for the Atlantic City Air Show will be rehearsing. Best viewing could be from one of the free beaches mentioned above or along the boardwalk, where you can see performers including the Full Throttle Formation Team, F-18 Super Hornet, and USAF Thunderbirds practicing their moves. Or head out for the full event on August 24th and keep a radio nearby tuned to 95.5 FM or 1040 AM to hear the commentary.
The Mercer County Park Commission will be offering free movies in the park beginning with Moana at the Mercer County Park Festival Grounds on August 20th. Movies will be held there on Aug. 27th and Sept. 17th as well, with Rosedale Park (Sept. 3), Thunder Stadium (Sept. 10th) and South Riverwalk Park (Sept. 24th) also hosting.
OTHER WAYS TO CUT BACK AND SAVE
Beyond food and daily activities, there are other things that people are thinking about this summer when it comes to finances. Some are putting off house renovations and other property improvement projects, while others are putting real estate purchases on hold until interest rates stabilize. The realities about money have led to new discussions.
“We have talked in the family that we need to ‘optimize’ our expenses, reducing or cutting out non-essentials,” shared one local that took our survey.
If you want to indulge but think now is not the right time for you, take a tip from one Princeton-area resident who shared, “I put things in online carts but don’t buy them: retail therapy without spending!”
We know these times can be tough, but hope you’re hanging in there and, with some of our advice above, can still enjoy the great food and activities our area has to offer. If you are finding it difficult to make ends meet, you can find a list of local support services here to get the assistance you need.
Lisa Jacknow spent years working in national and local news in and around New York City before moving to Princeton. Working as both a TV producer and news reporter, Lisa came to this area to focus on the local news of Mercer County at WZBN-TV. In recent years, she got immersed in the Princeton community by serving leadership roles at local schools in addition to volunteering for other local non-profits. In her free time, Lisa loves to spend time with her family, play tennis, sing and play the piano. A graduate of the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, Lisa was raised just north of Boston, Massachusetts but has lived in the tri-state area since college. She is excited to be Editor and head writer for Princeton Perspectives!