BudgetPOV is a proposed series on making ends meet in these troubled times (especially since the “ends” seem to be hacked off and cauterized).
This, the first article in the series, looks at ways to save on food costs. My main focus at this time is just making sure bellies are full on a reduced budget, because I am fully aware that it can be difficult to make sure meals have added nutrition or are organic when your budget gets smaller (or when your family, bless you, is getting bigger). But I will have a few tips on eating nutritiously as well.
I have set up an email address to receive suggestions: [email protected] I will also send out updates to those who request it.
We face challenging times. One of the most challenging (although that list is long and hard to prioritize) is making sure you family has food on the table.
Please understand that this article will be far from exhaustive. I doubt PlanetPOV has enough disk space to contain all the “tips and tricks” for feeding your family on a budget. However, check out the comments below, as many of our members definitely have ideas on the subject.
Also, I do not quote prices very often. When I do mention a cost, you will notice I am vague. There’s a reason: I don’t live where you do, I do not know the prices at your store, and I have no idea what stores you have nearby. Calmly asserting that Brand X chicken broth is on sale for 39 cents a can is arrogant and misleading, and it does not help your family at all.
It might sound odd that I am discussing this, but the truth is that many poor people are currently living in situations where they do not have adequate cooking facilities. For purposes of this article, let’s assume that “adequate cooking facilities” means that you can conveniently microwave, boil, fry, sautee, bake, and broil your food. That would require a microwave, at least one (preferably two) stove-top burners or hotplate, and oven.
Adequate food storage should mean that you have at least a few cubic feet of freezer space and I recommend at least 10 cubic feet of refrigerator space.
I know a lot of people who are lucky to have a microwave and a mini-fridge. According to what I see on the internet, you can consider a mini-fridge to have between 1.7 cubic feet (18.62 x 17.5 x 19.62 inches) and, on the “luxury” model, which has 4.6 cubic feet. Remember that freezer space on these are part of that cubic footage. Some of the larger models have separate doors for the freezer, but I have seen only one of these in actual use and they are hard to find in stores. Most of the smaller models barely fit one normal-sized ice cube tray (but some dollar stores have smaller size trays).
A few lucky souls are allowed to have a hotplate in their room or “apartment”. Quite a few landlords that operate so-called “boarding houses”, weekly motels, or just rent-a-closet buildings do not allow hotplates, private (i.e., not shared) microwaves, or other appliances.
If your landlord is one of these, the following suggestions are not for you. I could write an article on ways to hide or disguise your personal appliances from management, but that is not the scope of the current article.
First of all, there are no cheap alternatives to the lack of an oven. You can buy convection ovens at various stores (I just saw one for sale at Fred Meyer’s), but have never seen a working one at a thrift store. It’s possible that thrift stores might get some, but they would probably go so fast your chances of snagging it are remote.
A toaster oven can be used for small items. They are not big enough for a pizza, but they can and will do well with biscuits, pizza rolls, turnovers, calzones, baked cheese sandwiches (a personal favorite), etc. If it’s bigger than your two fists together, though, I wouldn’t recommend it. However, I do recommend a toaster oven rather than a toaster, because they are more versatile and will help to extend your food budget.
A slow cooker (also called crockpot) is always a good idea. I got a nice 5-quart one for dirt cheap at a discount grocery store, and it is in use at least three days out overy week. Soups and stews are easy to make, but you can also make casseroles, roasts, and even meatloaf in a slow cooker. Not only that, but if you have left-overs, the “Keep Warm” feature means you don’t have to worry about storing leftovers for at least 12 hours (I have safely kept food warm for 24 hours) after the meal is initially done.
One little item, and I often see them for a buck or two at thrift stores, is an item known as a “hot pot”. Usually made mostly from plastic, this is essentially a small (3-4 cup) kettle for bringing water to a boil quickly. College students love them, because they are usually not considered a violation of the “no hotplate” rule, and you can even make macaroni and cheese or ramen in them. If you get one, invest in some good scrub pads, as clean-up can be a bitch, especially if you forget to unplug it in time (these items have no on/off buttons, so please, dear gods, be careful!).
One item that can, potentially, save money and increase nutrition, is a breadmaker, usually at thrift stores for about $10. I wish I still had one. You can make very inexpensive bread, while maintaining good nutrition, while out looking for work or waving a sign at an intersection, because it mixes the ingredients (you have to measure the ingredients yourself), lets the dough rise, and bakes the bread for you, usually all within 4 to 6 hours. I believe all models have an automatic shut-off function; at least I have never seen one that does not. I have made my own recipes (that I never did write down) just by using recipes from breadmaker recipe books (usually 25 or 50 cents at thrift stores) and substituting a few ingredients. I actually made “wheat bread” by grinding up unsweetened puffed-wheat cereal and substituting that for wheat germ.
See my note in Recipes, below, however.
If you see a one-cup coffee warmer at a thrift store, by the way, don’t waste your money. It will not get any liquid hot enough, unless you enjoy tepid Cup-A-Soup (and it won’t mix completely). There was a version which was essentially a heating element on a handle, which you placed inside the cup of liquid, but the idea of combining electricity with liquid in that close proximity bothers me, and I have seen enough injuries from mishandling soldering irons (which the thing was, essentially).
An alternative (and a bit safer) to hotplates is an electric skillet. I have seen these for sale at thrift stores for as low as $1.50 and as high as $5. Not only can you fry in it, you can fix casseroles (especially the skillet-only casseroles from the box). I have seen some people put a metal grate into one and use it as a grill, but this can burn out the skillet as well as constitute a worse fire hazard.
Another god-send is a rice cooker. Rice cookers usually cook the rice within 30-40 minutes (giving you time for a rest, a shower, or even to concentrate on another part of the meal) and many come with a vegetable steamer basket. Here’s a tip: even canned vegetables can be steamed and the flavor cooks into the rice. However, some models of rice cookers do not turn off automatically; they let you know when it is (or should be) done and then stay on to keep it warm. Turn off the cooker as soon as it is done cooking, or your rice may burn.
I personally can not do without a coffee pot, and you can use one to heat water for tea, instant soups and broths, or even Theraflu.
Blenders can be nice to have, and some things are much easier to do with one. Same with an electric mixer. However, don’t bankrupt yourself. Just keep your eyes open for a working one at the thrift stores, when you have a couple bucks to spend (knock wood). But if someone in your family is too young for solid food or has teeth problems that make some foods hard to eat, a blender can help a lot.
I do not recommend using a propane camp stove indoors. Not only are the little propane canisters a huge drain on your finances (I have yet to see anyone allow them at canister-exchange businesses), but they are dangerous as hell inside. The propane fumes alone could kill you, and then there’s the open flame. Your family is worth more than that, and so are you.
For those of you lucky enough to still live in an actual house, you may be really special and have a fireplace (or you may be squatting someplace with one). As long as the chimney is unobstructed (please check), you can do most cooking in that. I am not qualified to speak on how to bake bread (or a frozen pizza) in a fireplace, you may want to look for suggestions on the internet.
For refrigerator space, you’re screwed. There are a few things you can do to jury-rig extra cold storage space, but they are either impractical or dangerous.
One creative but disturbing alternative was to put food in the water tank of a toilet. If you do this, invest in some zip-closure freezer storage bags. You want the plastic as thick as possible, so you might have to get these at a regular grocery store, as the dollar store version uses the same thickness of plastic as cheap sandwich bags. And for heaven’s sake, make sure the bag is closed completely. And remember, when you flush, you won’t have as much water as you did before (the food will displace water) and you may need to check to make sure the food doesn’t block the flush valve (the usually rubber flap that stops the water from rushing out of the tank all night).
Another way, and possibly impractical, is a cooler with ice. If you live in a place, such as a weekly motel, that has an ice machine, you’re in luck. Most such places do not have this option, however (or worse yet, require putting in money to dispense ice). I strongly recommend putting the ice in zip-closure freezer bags (mentioned above) to prevent your food from getting waterlogged as the ice melts. Few people can eat soggy bread or waterlogged apples. Be careful with your cooler, especially if you are just using a cheap Styrofoam cooler.
The most expensive item, and quite complicated, is the cooler that comes with a built-in refrigeration unit. However, these are built to be plugged into the car-lighter of a vehicle or RV. Some electronics stores do have a small gadget that you can plug these into, that then plug into the wall outlet. However, this requires a huge outlay of cash (you could spend at least your month’s grocery budget on this).
My partner and I were lucky to have a very permissive landlord, and he allowed us to move a full-size refrigerator into the studio we were renting. We also lucked out on finding an economy-sized refrigerator for dirt cheap ($60) off Craigslist. Be careful, though, if this is an alternative for you to pursue, as there are scammers on Craigslist that will sell you useless, broken appliances.
One more note: if you are living in a vehicle, a tent out in the woods, or squatting in structure with no utilities, you may want to get that cooler and that camp stove. Some states have become paranoid about campfires, due to drought and wildfires. Try to be safe, save your life and the lives of countless others as well.
No matter what your cooking facilities, though, you can still extend your budget.
I used to say that one of the bad things about being single is that you have to eat your mistakes. I suspect that is why a lot of my single friends have dogs. But there’s no way to get a refund on food you already cooked.
But when your food budget does not stretch far enough to feed your family, the mistakes are too expensive to just throw away.
But I do encourage you to experiment a little. Substitute ingredients when you can, to save refrigerator space and money.
For example, we all know how hard it is to keep milk around when you are scraping pennies off the bottom of your shoes. Did you know you can use chicken broth instead of milk in instant mashed potatoes? Not only did you just get added protein and vitamins, but you didn’t have to use milk! And broth comes in a can! Or you can use chicken bouillon!
Speaking of bullion, never underestimate the importance of flavor, especially if you are not the only person in the home. You know how hard it is to make the food stretch to feed everyone, but those that are not actually cooking the food might have a skewed perspective. Make it taste a little better, and they won’t mind so much.
So spend a couple bucks a month, at least, on spices and flavorings. And a half teaspoon of salt can bring those flavors out a little more.
Beware salt substitutes, especially if people in your family are on medication or have allergies to peanuts. Besides, salt substitute are often more expensive than salt.
Look at ways to combine ingredients to be filling, tasty, and nutritious. Remember that combining things can often make them more nutritious, such as beans and rice; beans and rice, cooked together, have more protein than they do when cooked separately (whether this is true with canned beans I am not sure, but it makes a handy excuse).
If you get given something at a food bank, don’t dismiss it. We have used cranberry sauce as jelly on sandwiches (and I am still tempted to try cooking chicken it in the slow-cooker). We have used canned chicken in soups. You can make salmon cakes from canned salmon in a skillet (however, some brands leave the bones in, happy hunting!). Peas can be used to make pea soup. A friend of mine was given a box of pre-made pie crust; he cut it into squares and triangles, fried it up, and sprinkled it with cinnamon and sugar – instant treat!
You can turn chocolate chips into a chocolate dip for fruit (or those pie crust treats) in the microwave, just add a little water and be a little patient. There is no reason that you can not do the same with peanut butter chips or butterscotch chips; just don’t do it with candy-coated chips or toffee chips, it won’t turn out the way you think.
The main things to remember is to figure out how certain foods are made, traditionally. My discovery with chocolate chips was because I had seen a show on how they make chocolate glaze for candies and cakes.
Then take a look around the shelves at grocery stores. Look what flavors they are combining. I have a recipe for lemon-ginger chicken soup that I created after I saw a lemon-ginger tea at the store and thought how great that would be with chicken.
Another great place to get ideas are recipe books. Those small, handy books that used to be sold next to the cash register at grocery stores can be found at thrift stores for small change. Larger books, such as “700 meals for under Three Dollars” are okay, too, but usually cost a bit more (and may not be very cost-effective for you). You can also find one of kind recipes, on occasion, in recipe books made and sold with appliances, which often wind up at thrift stores. I have found recipes for bread made with cream cheese, a beef-mushroom-barley soup, and others, that I have never seen anywhere else. Old calendars are good for this too, my partner found the recipe for salmon cakes, an authentic Dutch recipe from the Old Country, on one.
A few stores also have racks of free cards with recipes on them, as well as interesting (and very important) cooking tips. Nobody is going to blink twice if you take one of each recipe for reference. Even if you can’t afford lamb, that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt the recipe for something else. I know a guy who adapted a fancy lamb recipe to eggplant, using his store of spices and odd items he got at a food bank (and his kids never suspected that it was good for them; his seven year old scolded him for spending too much on dinner).
There is not space here to list specific recipes, but if you email me at the address at the top of the article, I am more than happy to send you those I have and those shared by others.
Food Banks and Coops
Search around your community for food banks. Don’t settle for just one (especially if it is far for you to travel). Usually communities have a few. Some charities will try to scare you with ramifications of being found using more than one, but I know of no charity, currently, that actually checks. Back in the 90’s it was more common, as charities communicated through common programs like Continuum of Care, but I have not seen such in use lately.
One place to start is Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/ They are a network of food banks across the United States, and have a locator for food banks near you. Be warned however, they are not the final authority. When we went looking for a food bank, the website directed us to a place ten miles away, but we later discovered two more within three miles.
Some states now have hotlines to find services. In California, it is 211. I believe (but may be wrong) that Nevada has discontinued this service (since the initial announcement of that budget cut, there has been a lot of complaints, but no further news that I could find). You may want to ask around.
You can also search for these agencies and charities (while they may not have the services, most of them will help you find services if they know you and your family are in need): Catholic Charities, Community Action Agency, Jewish Family Services, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA/YWCA, your local Episcopal diocese, other churches, your local welfare office (usually they keep a list to hand out to people), unemployment offices, etc. These resources will lead you to others.
And people often exchange word of these resources in line at food banks and “soup kitchens”.
Find out where the food bank is. Find out what time they open their doors, and get there early (lines usually start anywhere from 1 to 2 hours beforehand, especially for programs only open one day a week). Find out what information they need, and take it with you (we have a file folder of our information)! If you can, take a box with you, as these programs are often short on boxes (we use a large milk crate, which is reusable, I have seen people use large coolers, laundry baskets, wheeled carts, etc.).
And while you are there, inquire about volunteering. If you and your family help out a little, you’re helping a lot of people in the same circumstances as you. This can lead to job leads, resource referrals, or just a little extra food (not very often though). And it teaches both your family and other families a valuable lesson.
Take your patience and your tolerance with you. Do not assume that someone else is scamming the system or isn’t worthy. I formed an instant friendship with an older woman one day, who appeared to be a retired college professor (not that retirees don’t need the help). It turns out that she was also collecting food boxes for five other retirees that were shut-ins. She tried to give me some of her food in return for carrying the boxes to her car, but I refused.
Some food banks will give you as much day-old bread or baked goods as you can carry. Don’t go overboard with this. Take only as much as you can eat before it goes bad (usually about a week, sometimes less), leave the rest for others.
You may run into “food distribution co-ops”. These are programs which pool money to buy large quantities of food, and then sell it to others at a large discount. Often they often receive donated food, which they distribute for free. My partner and I spent $25 at one of these co-ops (they also take food stamps, legally) and received more than $100 in food, including produce (most of which was relatively fresh) and some odds and ends (such as bake-yourself items like cookie dough and frozen unbaked biscuits). These programs are self-perpetuating: the more they sell, the more they can buy to benefit more needy people. They also usually have no limit on how often you receive food or how much you can spend.
Let me first point out that there is nothing noble about starving your family to satisfy some deep-seated need to proof you are a good provider. There’s nothing noble about starving yourself either.
Most states (I actually don’t know of any that don’t, but the information can be in odd places) post the requirements for eligibility for food stamps and other services. They also post lists of the information needed, office hours, and other needful information. Get the information together, and get there early. If you can, do not take your kids. The office will be a madhouse, other people are in the same situation you are in. Don’t force your kids to go through several hours of that.
Expect to spend at least three hours there. Depending on your circumstances, income, and other factors, your state may award you emergency food stamps. You could walk out of the office with an EBT card with food stamps already on it.
Try to apply early in the week and early in the month, in case extra documentation is needed. You may need affidavits regarding homeless status or living conditions (such as inadequate cooking facilities, etc.). Some families need to submit affidavits certifying that all of the children reside in the home (or with the family, if homeless). These affidavits will need to be filled out and signed by a relative, friend, or other person that is aware of the situation (such as homeless shelter staff, employer, landlord, etc.).
And applying for food stamps can help you get other services, such as job search assistance, health care for children or disabled relatives in the household, assistance with rent and/or utilities, etc.
First and foremost, try not to get food out of dumpsters. It might look good, but you can never tell, even if the packaging seems to be intact and sealed. Some plastics degrade in sunlight or in the presence of other chemicals, some plastic wrap can actually allow mold to pass through unrestricted (like bread wrappers and cellophane on donuts. Metal can corrode, and bent cans can have microscopic cracks that allow food-borne bacteria quick and easy access (and cooking may not kill everything).
Also, stay away from fast food. A $3 burger, or even a $1 “value menu” burger, is not that cheap. It feeds one person. Three cans of beans, combined into one batch of chili, with spices, costs less than $3 and can feed at least two people for one meal.
I strongly recommend you look around your area for the following stores:
Discount grocery stores (often carry stock over-runs, generics, and discontinued brands or varieties): Grocery Outlet, Aldi’s, Sav-A-Lot (not the rebranded Albertson’s stores), Food 4 Less, Sak ‘n’ Save, etc.
Bulk stores (usually buy large quantities to save cost, often off off-brand or generic-brand groceries, as well as large selections of bulk foods): WinCo
Day-old bakeries: Hostess, Wonder
These stores specialize in carrying items as inexpensive as possible.
Do not buy food at dollar stores! Usually the same item is at the other stores for a lower price, from 10% to 50%, or more! And the quality is usually less!
Many people will chant the old saw “Comparison shopping saves you so much money!” That only counts if you have the time and money to spend on running between different stores. If you don’t have transportation, time, or money, this becomes a losing proposition fast. Instead, try hitting a different store each time for a short while, so that you can mentally take stock of the prices of items you commonly buy. Then, hit other stores every once in a while (every few months or so) in case price structures change or specific items are marked down.
Newspaper ads and circulars can be a clue as to which stores have lower prices. However, many stores are no longer advertising in newspapers, preferring to have their ads delivered to postal customers once a week as a bundle of ads. If you do not receive those ads, ask a friend who does to save them for you. A newspaper subscription is not going to be worth the expense, so save the money for something else. You can’t eat newspaper.
Also, many stores advertise what is on sale (and many of the items “on sale” actually aren’t) while jacking up the price on the items that you need, such as basic staples. While it is tempting to grab items that are on sale, I noticed a few years ago that some items are on sale every week, or every other week.
Some people insist that the Sunday paper is worth the expense, because of the coupon inserts. I disagree. Most of the coupons these days are for non-food items or for brands that usually priced way above your budget. And you can live without seeing six come-ons for custom check designs per week, trust me (there has been no reputable research into how many of those fly-by-night companies are just harvesting routing and account numbers and other information used by identity thieves – but it’s not zero).
Do not rush out to buy whatever is on sale. Buy what you need. I knew a guy who, every time he got the sale papers, rushed out to get the items listed on sale, whether or not he needed them or not. He wound up with two freezers of food that never got eaten, because he was buying the same items every week.
Stay away from name brands, unless the price is below every other brand (which happens once in a blue moon or during a closeout sale). Stay away from the ends of the aisle, where specials are advertised. Often the placement is to get you to buy the item without realizing that the store has other brands for less.
Actually, let me amend that. Stay away from all displays. Concentrate on the fact that your family needs to eat, not get top-of-the-line name brands. The USDA has no “recommended daily allowance” of brand names, and the FDA still has not decided if name brands have any nutritional value anyway.
Fun fact: most generic brands are actually the exact same as the name brand, literally. Some name brands sell off their product in bulk, if they believe they have overstock or can’t sell as much as they produced, and the generic company is allowed to repackage it.
If your kids are stuck on a name brand (“I want Fruit Loops! I hate Fruitee Loopeez!”), buy one box, and refill it from the generic. If you do not take them with you to the store, they’ll never know, but they will tell their friends for years how their parent loved them so much they sacrificed everything to get their favorite cereal. And you can get a bag of cheap plastic toys for a dollar at the dollar stores – if it doesn’t match the box, just tell the kids it’s “one of the ultra-rare extra-special versions! You are sooo lucky!”
I personally believe that if a celebrity endorses it, it’s not worth the price. The celebrity is never going to date you or sleep over at your house, no matter how many you buy. I made the mistake of buying the Brad Pitt NASCAR Fruit Loops, and he still won’t return my calls.
If you have kids, keep them away from the free samples (which are getting pretty rare these days, actually). Free samples are an excellent marketing strategy, making the nay-sayer the big, bad meanie who won’t get their kids the new Tangerine-Sushi-Watermelon flavor of Jell-O. There are easier ways to embarrass yourself in public and give yourself a headache, try those instead.
I will be honest. You are going to be sacrificing a bit of quality and a bit of taste (your mileage may vary) in order to fill stomachs. You will not be having fine, richly bold and silk smooth coffee every morning.
It sucks. Admit it, deal with it, and get on with it.
I may get screams of outrage over this, but try to switch to instant soft drinks rather than soda. Soda and fruit juice are more expensive. I’m not saying don’t buy a bottle of juice for the kids, I’m saying replace soda with instant (brands such as Wylers and FlavorAid are even cheaper than KoolAid). As a kid, I thought we were special because we had green (lime) KoolAid (actually FlavorAid) and the other kids had never heard of it.
Try to buy grains. Pasta, rice, and bread will fill a belly faster. Do not buy white bread, no matter how cheap it is. The perception of white bread as better is a holdover from when mass-produced bread first came on the market: only rich people could afford to buy white bread. Today, most white bread has as little nutritional content as plaster of Paris (in fact, one highly-publicized brand of “fortified” white bread has the same exact chemical content as plaster of Paris!). And the fiber from whole wheat (even if it is over-processed wheat) is better for your kids.
I admit I have a slight prejudice against buying fresh produce. It doesn’t keep in the fridge long, even if you have space for it (onions, yams, potatoes, and bananas are an exception, as they are not refrigerated). But a small selection of fruit once a week is good for you and the family.
I prefer frozen veggies, but that comes down to space again. Frozen usually has most of the same fiber and nutrition of fresh, as it is flash frozen uncooked. You can “defrost” the frozen by putting it in a colander and running cold water over it. Never let frozen veggies defrost on the counter! It turns into a soggy mess that is as appetizing as if you boiled it for several hours.
But canned veggies will feed your family! There is nothing wrong with that.
Stay away from boxed “complete” dinners or frozen “complete” meals, the kind you cook in a skillet or casserole dish from the ingredients in the box or bag. They are not your friend. They want to steal your wallet and do disgusting, reprehensible things to it.
Hamburger Helper (and Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper) might seem like a deal, but are not. Stores often have their own brand of pasta- or rice-dishes-in-a-box which can be as much as one-quarter the price. While some of the more special varieties won’t be represented, such as bacon-cheeseburger-macaroni, you can fake it. Just crumble a slice or two of cooked bacon into macaroni and cheese and add hamburger. Much lower cost and nobody will tell the difference. Add a can of diced tomatoes (or stewed tomatoes you chop up yourself, although the cost is about the same) and your kids will think you are Wolfgang Puck. Just don’t get pretentious, I know where you came from.
We have added chicken to “parmesan pasta”, tuna to “Italian herb pasta”, hamburger to “Spanish rice”, and many more.
One again, I have to say, do not turn down a gift. We were given a small bottle of white wine once (a sample from a winery) and that added a little flavor to several dishes over the next month. If it is something your family really won’t like, pass it on to someone who wants it (we were also given a jar of whole garlic stuffed into green olives – a friend devoured them in five minutes).
If you prefer fresh produce (and there is nothing wrong with that!) I recommend locating a local Farmer’s Market. The money goes to the people growing the food (a revolutionary concept), and they often price below the national chains. But stay away from prepared foods. I have seen people flock to so-called Farmer’s Markets which were nothing but outdoor booths from up-scale “boutique” groceries and bakeries. The day I pay $8 a loaf for bread (I don’t care if it is hazelnut-chocolate), either shoot me or delete me from the Internet.
In some states, you can buy “take-and-bake” pizza, the pizzas you buy from the pizza place uncooked and take home to cook it, on food stamps. If you have the cooking facilities, this is okay for a treat, once a month or so, but I do not recommend it. Also, there are rumors, often repeated, that some of those places will cook the pizza for you, for no charge, after you pay for the pizza. I can not confirm this, as I have never seen this happen. Do not count on it, though.
I saw one restaurant/meat-market that was advertising that they would cook food for free, if the food was purchased from them. This was a small seafood market in Portland, Oregon (about 7 years ago). This was an attempt to increase exposure, word-of-mouth, and feel-good community sympathy. I have no idea how well that worked out for them, but that is not an option for you.
Frankly, seafood is not on the budget. Second, it doesn’t keep very well. Third, if you are waiting for pie-in-the-sky, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, your family will starve.
Pace yourself. Try to figure out how many meals you have on hand, and whether that will last as long as it needs to, until your next windfall of pocket change, your next miniscule paycheck, your next disbursement of food stamps, your next trip to the food bank.
Try to limit snacking. While some baked goods at the food bank may be suitable for snacks (such as coffee cake, doughnuts, etc.), do not get too used to it, because you can not count on that continuing. Concentrate on providing at least two meals a day for your family. Snacking sets up habits you may not be able to maintain.
I certainly do not want to rain on anybody’s parade, but telling yourself “this is only for a little while” is bullshit. This is going to continue for quite some time. Some people will never get out of this situation, unless our society takes a sudden 180 degree turn towards compassion in action.
Get used to this. Get used to visiting food banks. Don’t get used to food stamps, there’s no telling when those programs will get slashed to shreds. Don’t get used to hand-outs, either (and no, food stamps are not hand-outs). As more people fall into this situation, hand-outs will get much less and more rare.
I have seen charities stop programs for the hungry, the homeless, the unemployed, the destitute. They ran out of money and the donations were not keeping up with the expenses. I have witnessed free clinics, food banks, shelters, and “clothes closets” abruptly close, without warning (although a number of charities have tried to warn people).
I do not advocate committing crime to feed your family. Your family will not be fed if you go to jail or prison, and it is a lot more intelligent to expect to get caught than assume that you won’t. And as a poor person, you can count on getting a worse sentence than someone who has a job and a nice house. Even if you are only in jail for 3 months, how is your family going to survive for that long? Even if you are single, how is a recent jail term going to help your job prospects?
You may be forced to the point where you are catching squirrels in the park with your bare hands. You may need to learn what wild plants can be safely eaten, and which ones taste better and which ones have actual nutritional value.
Your family needs to be fed, and so do you.
I leave you with this excerpt from Queen of Sorcery, by David Eddings:
“How are things going in your village?” Detton asked.
“We’re hungry. The taxes took all our food.”
“Ours too. We’ve been eating boiled tree roots.”
“We haven’t tried that yet. We’re eating our shoes.”