Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Walmart, Water, and Inflation

We tend to keep a few gallons of distilled water on hand for things like the coffee-maker and similar uses, but I think we may just have given up on buying the gallon jugs of distilled water for good: the price is ridiculous!

Thankfully I do not "need" distilled water for my gluten-free recipes or drinking water, as we have seen the price rise from a low of two gallons for 99-cents just 2 or 3 years back, to 68-cents/gallon last year, and now to a new unbelievable high of 88-cents per gallon (and, this is all comparisons of WalMart prices). OUCH!

This last move from 68-to-88 cents/gallon represents an annual inflation rate of 30-percent! Or, the move from 50-cents to 88-cents, though over a few years, represents compound annual inflation of 20-percent (for 3 years). And yet, the government publishes CPI (Consumer Price Index) information claiming there is zero inflation (actually, they claimed it was negative inflation the past year). Part of that "zero inflation" bunk is due to how they keep excluding the "volatile food and energy" category, which affects a lot of us substantially, from the CPI, so that we (i.e., the government) can paint a rosy picture of negligible inflation to match the negligible (or negative) wage growth.

Perhaps I should have posted this gluten-free blog entry over on my other Financial and Technology Blog instead, but I find that this food and energy inflation directly affects my gluten-free life as I watch prices soar on most everything in my diet, while the government proclaims flat-line inflation. This is exactly why we tend to bake and cook nearly all our own foods -- we do not often purchase pre-made gluten-free items, aside from gluten-free snack foods and gluten-free beer that I should perhaps cut back on anyhow; lol. And, we also grow a lot of our own vegetables already; something that we need to ramp up even further in the coming years to keep costs down.

All of this would be less upsetting if there was some way to earn a return (on investments) that could equal the inflation in daily products. But, the same government CPI number that says we have essentially-zero inflation is also used to ensure the government pays you zero on investments in their own debt-instruments too: e.g., "I-Bonds" (i.e., inflation protected bonds), which are now quite literally paying ZERO because the supposed inflation rate the last 6-12 months was negative. Good luck making up for that distilled-water price-increase with I-Bond "earnings"! And, we all know what savings-rates and CD-rates in the bank are like... surely nothing near 20% annual to match my distilled-water price increase! Arghghgh!

The bottom line: there must be some significant supply/demand imbalance going on somewhere in the "food chain" (or water chain) to justify these prices. I realize energy prices directly affect the manufacture (i.e., distillation) of water, but 20% increase every year?? I want to source as much of my own gluten-free diet products as possible, but just in case I decide I want some affordable distilled water to go with what we grow, cook, and bake, I need to find a good affordable solar-powered water-distillation unit or some such thing. :)


Sarah said...

I believe it's due to the market and consumers being so accepting of the water prices. The "powers that be" tell us that most water is undrinkable unless processed in some way. We will pay what they charge because we believe what they tell us. I reality, many forms of processed water are little better, and in some cases no better, than water right out of the tap (assuming it hasn't been clorinated or floridated).
It reminds me of the ridiculous prices companies charge for the fact that they lable a product as "gluten free". Gluten free seems to be a bit of a trend right now, so even something that is nothing but rice ground into course flour can cost upwards of $4 for a small box. They market is as hot rice cereal, but it's really nothing more than rice flour packaged as something more spectacular.

Dushka said...

Why not get a filter, like Britta?

Mike Eberhart said...

I think you have some really good points. I personally drink "tap water" (or did, when we were located in where city water was). Now my "tap water" is well water, which actually goes through all sorts of filtration steps to cut the iron levels down and so on, and it it good (tasting) filtered water in my opinion.

The main reason I use distilled on occasion is to make sure that when it is run through things like coffee makers, that it leaves no residue (i.e., minerals) behind to clog up the machine. I actually think my well water has less residue than the city water did, and it can be determined easily just by boiling off a quart on the stove and seeing what is left behind in a pan. I have decided it is good enough for the coffee maker, and the fact is, with a coffee maker (cheap type) being only $15 or so, if I happen to plug one up after a few years, I can buy a new maker cheaper than all the distilled water I would have used.

I also agree with you on the gluten-free pricing insanity, especially things like rice flour that you mentioned... a 50# bag of rice, milled into 50 pounds of gluten-free rice flour, is like alchemy (turning rice into gold!). :)

Thanks for commenting.

Dushka, yes a filter can do a lot of the job... our well water has 3 filtration steps actually: particulate filter, carbon filters, and then a softening / iron-removing stage (I think that is what all the parts do). And, the result is rather good. I tried some Britta filters years ago when someone gave us a few, and I really could not tell enough difference (over our city tap water) to justify buying any. But, our water was decent to begin with I guess.

Lars said...

I get charged for 9000 gallons ($120) of water minimum per 3 months. Since I use under that it ticks me off. My water is high in iron and calcium here but the brita on tap water filter makes it taste fine to me.

The sinks and kettles get coated with terrible amounts of ugly calcium in no time.

I have however read articles that hard water does not cause kidney stones any more than soft water does.

I also wonder if the iron is absorbed in our intestines easily from water.