Really Broke but Really Hungry (AKA How to Still Eat Well When Money is Tight)

Photo by Most of you reading this probably shop on a budget. You probably spend a good amount of time trying to shrink that budget as much as possible and stretch the money you do spend as far as you can.

Various periods of my life have left me with very little money and lots of people to feed, usually unexpectedly. And while I build up my home “stockpile” every week, little by little, there have been times where I didn’t have the luxury of a full pantry to ride me through these unexpected hungry stomachs.

I want to start by saying that the biggest thing you can do to save money on food is to spend more time – more time planning, shopping, prepping and cooking.

Here’s a sample meal plan from when I was really broke. My husband and I ate off $100/month. I cooked all of our food from scratch while working full time. But the most important part? We still ate healthy food.

Another thing I want to say when you need to stretch your budget. Stretch your meals with cheap carbohydrates – double the pasta in a recipe, serve bread on the side, add stewed beans to everything you can stomach, double your serving of rice, etc. Then stretch them even further with cheap vegetables and fruit – anything under $1/pound will work. Right now for me that’s bananas, Fuji apples, watermelon, lettuce heads, bell pepper, cucumber, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onions, radishes and zucchini. To succesfully stretch, serve small amounts of everything. If you want seconds, you get more side dishes rather than the main entree.

To give your budget an even bigger boost, drink water and cut all other beverages out of your diet. If you desperately need a caffeine fix, black tea is cheaper than coffee. Don’t eat dessert – look at it like a fitness challenge instead of a budget.

We did not use coupons because the cheapest foods never even get them – fresh produce, whole grains, meat, etc. When things were tight, and we qualified, however there is no shame in taking advantage of Fresh Food programs (they get donations from grocery stores of items that would otherwise be thrown away), food banks, church relief programs and other services as you can find them. Check with your local DHS for a list of services and programs. Also, depending on your area, you can forage. I once got 15 lbs. of plums off a tree in front of a laundromat. Dandelion greens are good – just make sure you don’t get anything sprayed. And when in absolute desperation, just eat rice, beans and Top Ramen. I know, it’s not healthy, but sometimes it comes down to just getting the calories you need.

To save as much time as possible, make it less stressful, and to help you stick to the meal plan you should also meal prep as much as possible. Slice your cucumbers, peppers, carrots, etc. as soon as you get home from the market/store. Cook your ground beef on Sunday and freeze it. Roast and shred your chicken, beef and pork, too. Soak and cook your beans. Bake your bread, fry tortillas, cook rice, boil eggs, soak the oats. Do it all in advance when you can. Then store properly and pull out what you need, when you need it.

The $100/Month Meal Plan

This will feed two people for a month at $100.

Week One:

Breakfast – 2 fried eggs, 2 slices of homemade bread, 1 banana.
Lunch – PB & banana sandwich with watermelon and cucumber slices.
Dinner – Roasted chicken and carrots with bread, rice, and stewed beans; Southwest chicken and rice bowls with corn, roasted peppers, black beans and homemade tortillas on the side; White chicken chili with tortillas; Leftovers; Roast beef sandwiches with salad; Beef stew with bread and salad.
Snacks – Popcorn, bread and butter, sliced veggies, apples, bananas.

Week Two:

Breakfast – Oatmeal with sugar and milk, 2 slices of homemade bread.
Lunch – Chili macaroni with apples.
Dinner – Beef pot pie with bread and salad; Leftovers; Pork pot roast with bread and salad; BBQ pork sandwiches with roasted peppers, onions, baked beans and rice; Pozole with homemade tortillas, rice, and re-fried beans; Leftovers; Roast chicken with potatoes, carrots, onion and zucchini.
Snacks – Popcorn, bread and butter, sliced veggies, apples, bananas.

Week Three:

Breakfast – Pancakes from scratch with peanut butter and 1 banana.
Lunch – Grilled cheese with roasted onions and peppers.
Dinner – Garlic chicken pasta with bread and salad; Chicken and rice soup with bread and salad; Leftovers; Carne Asada with tortillas, rice, re-fried beans, roasted peppers and onions; Shredded beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes, gravy, caramelized onions, and baked beans; Beef and barley soup with bread and salad; Leftovers; Pork and vegetable stir fry over rice with stewed beans.
Snacks – Popcorn, bread and butter, sliced veggies, apples, bananas.

Week Four:

Breakfast – Rice pudding with bread.
Lunch – Egg salad sandwiches with sliced watermelon and cucumber.
Dinner – Shredded pork burritos with beans, rice, homemade tortillas, roasted peppers and onions; Pork and potato stew with bread and salad; Leftovers; Roasted chicken with rice, stewed beans, and roasted zucchini; Chicken spaghetti with garlic bread and salad; Lemon chicken over rice; Leftovers.
Snacks – Popcorn, bread and butter, sliced veggies, apples, bananas.

How have you survived a tight budget?

$75 Meal Plan #5 – Sugar Free Edition

A meal plan, if it’s going to work, isn’t broken down into weekly measured portions and their associated costs. It’s a mix of this week’s purchases, what’s in your pantry, gifts and ground-scores.

So, following this format, I’m pitching in my budget. I spend $50-$75 a week on me and my husband. I’m currently breastfeeding so I eat twice as much as I previously did.

But we have no other sources of food beyond our budget. No garden, herbs in the window sill – nothing. I use coupons sparingly – the store ad for wherever I’m shopping, the occasional newspaper and coupons.com. When I get the mood I also use Ibotta, Grocery 51 and MobiSave. But these aren’t included in my grocery budget; they pay for date night.

THIS WEEK WE BOUGHT:

 Bananas, eggs, russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, 1 romaine head, milk, sugar free salad dressing, 3lbs. apples, honey, angel hair pasta, 8oz salad shrimp, 1 cabbage head, red onion, celery, 2 lbs. Bag of carrots, 1 corned beef roast, 8oz. saltwater salmon, asparagus, cilantro, 2 tomatoes.

BREAKFAST OPTIONS:

Fruit

Oatmeal with honey

Banana Peanut Butter Smoothies

Scrambled eggs and hashbrowns

Baked sweet potato

LUNCH OPTIONS:

Burritos

Tuna salad

Leftovers

SNACK OPTIONS:

Popcorn

Fresh fruit

Vegetables

Boiled eggs

Pickles

Tea

Coffee

DINNER MENU:

Thursday  – creamy garlic chicken with rice.

Friday – shrimp pasta.

Saturday – chicken stir fry.

Sunday – corned beef with cabbage and potatoes.

Monday – southwest chicken salad.

Tuesday – grilled salmon with asparagus and quinoa.

Wednesday – corned beef hash (using leftover corned beef).

MEAL PREPPING I DID THIS WEEK:

These foods were prepared over the course of the weekend. Some was stashed away for later and some was consumed this week.

  • Crockpot beans
  • Boiled eggs
  • Baked sweet potatoes
  • Chopped cabbage in thin slices.
  • Shredded 2 carrots; roughly chopped 1; sliced 4 into sticks.
  • Diced small red onion.
  • Diced 5 sweet onions.
  • Quartered 1 yellow onion.
  • Cubed 2 lbs. Chicken breasts
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Celery sticks
  • Minced cilantro
  • Diced tomato

THIS WEEK’S TOTAL SPENT: 

How do you spend your grocery budget?

Bachelorette Party – Clean, Sober and Cheap

I recently helped plan the bachelorette party for my sister in law. We were faced with a challenge though – our party had to be kid-friendly, dairy free, low budget, and sober. The bride to be didn’t drink alcohol or consume dairy products, we were all broke and there was going to be about 6 kids under the age of 5 present. 

Our party started at 5, lasting about 3 hours. We had awesome music playing on the laptop as guests arrived. We picked three games, and one back up in case something went wrong. If its a long party, you might do more. There’s a list of my favorite games below.

Our party was at dinner time so we served pizza and drinks (soda and juice), getting a dairy free pizza from Papa Murphy’s. Surprisingly delicious and soooo convenient. Other good options would be BBQ chicken sandwiches in the crockpot, spaghetti or a burrito bar.

We couldnt afford decorations. Spending about $10 at the dollar store we put together party favors with candy and cute bows. Looking to go zero waste? Get cute coffee mugs and buy bulk candy to put inside – or bulk coffee.

All you other party planners might flinch at the idea of no decorations. But they weren’t necessary – they produce waste and cost money. And none of the guests even notoced. You dont need much for a kickass party!

Games

  • Flower arrangement contest /scavenger hunt in teams (fake or real flowers) – race to see which team finds all the flowers and puts them in the vase first.
  • Cold feet – fill a bowl with ice water and some costume jewelry rings. Tournament style – first person to fish out all the rings with their feet wins the round. Continue until you have a champion.
  • Pop! The Question – two teams. Attach two inflated balloons to everyones butt. No hands, no feet. The first team to pop everyone elses balloons wins.
  • Chocolate Unicorn – tournament style. Whoever stacks the most oreos on their forehead wins the round. No help, and you can’t hold the stack with your hands. Repeat until you have a champion.
  • Kiss the Bride – team pictionary, except the artist holds a tube of lipstick in their mouth to draw. No hands.
  • Junk in the trunk – teams or individual. Fill an empty tissue box with ping pong balls. Attach the box to your butt. First person to shake out all the balls wins. No hands!
  • Blind Love – blindfold one person. Have them do someone else’s makeup. Best makeup artist wins.

Ways to Save More Money

  • Have guests bring food and drinks.
  • Don’t provide prizes or party favors.

What’s your favorite party game?

Roasted Maple Pecan Granola

maple pecan granolaNote: This was originally posted in 2013 on the first website. This is still one of my favorite recipes, and yes, it was my first recipe ever published. That was the good old days when I was still learning how to cook – I couldn’t even make an omelet!

Hi, guys. Yesterday was awesome, in a crazy sort of way. This week I’ve made chicken noodle soup completely from scratch, and hot cocoa with whipped cream. Last night I turned out two different batches of granola, and some lovely yogurt.

I’ve got a treat for you today: my very first recipe (that I’ve shared with the public)! It’s based off of Alana‘s book The Homemade Pantry, but I’ve changed it around a bit. I highly recommend the book. It’s awesome.

This is a very sweet granola. If you want a little less sugar, just add about 1/2 cup less syrup. If you only have one rimmed baking sheet, halve this recipe and you’ll be fine. Also, given the amount of time this takes, I suggest making it in the morning, or leaving it to cool in the oven overnight.

Now for the granola…

You will need:

  • 10 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 rounded tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup (or more maple syrup)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (the real stuff is best)

Prepwork:

Preheat oven to 250 F. Put oven racks in top 2/3 of oven. Chop nuts.  

Mix:

Combine the oats, pecans, salt and cinnamon in a really big bowl. Mix thoroughly. In a separate, 4-cup bowl whisk together oil, syrup and vanilla extract until uniform. Pour syrup mixture into the oats mixture, and stir until everything’s coated. Don’t leave any dry or wet pockets.  

Bake:

Line two (or one, if you’re doing half a batch) 18 x 13″ rimmed baking sheets with wax or parchment paper. Spread the granola evenly on the pans. Put the pans in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Take pans out, shuffle/stir granola, turn pan, and put back in oven for another 30 minutes. Take out the granola again, stir it, and put it back in the oven, but turn the oven off. Let granola cool for at least 6 hours or overnight in your oven (but leave the oven off).

Enjoy:

After your granola is done cooling, package some up and share it with your neighbors. Put the rest in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place. Raisins or chocolate chips can be added, if you like. Have it in your yogurt, or with milk. This makes a great breakfast cereal. 

What was your first original recipe?