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?

Crockpot Deep-Dish Lasagna

Deep-Dish Lasagna in the CrockpotI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like pasta and cheese. This is one of my favorite recipes to satisfy said craving because it can feed me and my hubby for days. This recipe provides about 8 servings, 12 if you stretch it with salad and garlic bread.

I also really love this recipe because it takes 15 minutes of prep and it’s in my Crockpot cooking, and then it’s done in 4 hours. And in the summer this is a godsend because baking a lasagna would make my house downright sweltering. Like obscenely hot as in I can’t be inside until the sun goes down.

So if you need to feed a crowd, have a tiny kitchen, no access to an oven, don’t want to heat your house up to make comfort food, or otherwise just want easy delicious pasta and cheese this is the recipe for you!

Crockpot Deep-Dish Lasagna

This fills a 7.5qt Crockpot about 2 inches from the top. It feeds 8 people comfortably.

Thick & Chunky Marinara SauceYou Will Need:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil or bacon grease
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan/Romano cheese blend
  • 16 ounces ricotta or cottage cheese
  • 1/2 batch thick and chunky marinara sauce
  • 12 lasagna noodles, uncooked
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese (~8 ounces)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley

Making the Delicious Food:

Grease your Crockpot with a light coating of olive oil or bacon grease.

In a small bowl combine egg, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, Parmesan/Romano and ricotta. Mix until fluffy and thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Cover the bottom with two cups of sauce. Top with 3 noodles, broken to fit. Then 1/3 the ricotta mixture spread across the top (it doesn’t need to be perfect the other toppings will squish it all together). Top with 1 cup shredded mozzarella. Repeat this layering of sauce, noodles, ricotta and mozzarella 3 times.

Now top with one last layer of sauce, noodles and only mozzarella for the top layer. Sprinkle with dried parsley so it looks pretty.

Cook on high 4 hours.

Serve warm with garlic bread and an Italian salad for maximum pleasure and budget.

Costs $10.40 – $1.30/serving OR $0.87/serving if stretched with salad and bread.

Thick and Chunky Marinara for the Freezer

Thick & Chunky Marinara SauceOne of my favorite things to prep on Saturday’s is a marinara sauce. We eat a lot of pasta here and this saves me a ton of time and dishes for busy weeknights. It takes up very little room in the freezer, since it’s not a complete meal. And I have the comfort of knowing I’m providing nutritious, home-cooked, healthy food for my family.

This sauce is primarily used for spaghetti marinara and lasagna. However it makes a good chili-mac, zucchini Parmesan, eggplant Parmesan and most everything else you might serve with a beef and tomato sauce.

Thick and Chunky Marinara

This makes about 20 cups of sauce, ~5 quarts.

You will need:

  • 2 gallon-sized freezer Ziploc bags or 5 quart sized mason jars.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil or bacon grease
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 lbs. lean ground beef
  • 1 lbs. mild Italian sausage (I like the New Yorker’s brand)
  • 3 tbsp Italian seasoning blend
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cans diced tomatoes
  • 30 ounces tomato sauce
  • pinch of sugar

Making the Delicious Food:

In a heavy-bottomed, large saucepan heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion, ground beef, Italian sausage, Italian seasoning blend, crushed red pepper flakes, pepper and salt. Saute until onions are translucent and meat is thoroughly browned.

Toss in the garlic and saute until fragrant.

Reduce heat to medium. Add diced tomatoes and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Now add tomato sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours, depending on how much time you have and how rich you like your sauce.

Once sauce is done remove from heat and allow to cool. Portion between containers and freeze.

This recipe costs: $10.05. That’s $0.50/serving!

One Pot Smokey Sausage and Cheddar Pasta

One pot dishes are my favorite thing right now. I live in a budget-friendly apartment. I like it here. However my kitchen is very tiny. I have a 12 inch sink. A 10 inch toaster oven. 1 working range burner. Virtually no counter space. And the pies de la resistance? Only one outlet that can’t run two appliances at the same time without flipping a breaker.

So one-pot dinners have saved my life when it comes to feeding bigger groups of people healthy, home-cooked, budget friendly meals.

It helps that I like carbs. And cheese. Anything with white carbs and cheese is my friend. I would happily live off of baked ziti and take-out pizza for the rest of my life if I wasn’t afraid it would kill me.

So if you like carbs and cheese this is for you. With added delicious vegetables and the smokey flavour of kielbasa to make it healthy, filling and rich. The pasta will melt and the cheese will ooze and everyone will want more.

Enjoy.

Smokey Sausage and Cheddar Pasta

Comfortably feeds four very-hungry teenagers. Costs $1.77/serving if you get organic kielbasa. Which is like $8+ saved compared to eating out!

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp bacon grease (or olive oil)
  • 1 sweet onion, diced (~1 cup’s worth)
  • 3 vine-ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely diced or juliened
  • 4 four-inch kielbasa links, sliced (~12oz.)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 16oz. macaroni
  • 1/2 tsp salt (more if you use olive oil)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes

The Delicious Food

In a heavy-bottomed soup pan warm oil over medium high heat. Add onions, tomatoes, bell pepper and kielbasa. Saute until onions are fragrant and translucent. Toss garlic in and saute another minute, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn.

Reduce heat to medium low. Add chicken broth, milk, pasta and salt. Bring to a low boil.

Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how al dente you like it..

Check pasta for desired consistency. If it’s good, stir in cheddar and pepper flakes.

Serve warm and enjoy.

15 Mini-Hustles for Quick Cash (Without Selling Body Parts)

Photo credit @ Chance Agrella

15 Mini-Hustles for Quick Cash

I’ve always been a really avid saver. I started saving for retirement when I was about 11. However, I also am prone to bad decisions and some serious bad luck. So two upside down loans for a job that didn’t pan out and being homeless for over two years left us in a precarious financial position. I have lots of debt, a car that needs over $1,000 in repairs and most recently my emergency savings was drained to $17. And I’m a stay at home parent right now for a pile of reasons.

It’s not all scary financial messes. My husband has a very good job with good benefits that pays weekly. I still have my retirement savings, virtually untouched. We have a very cheap apartment.

But it’s time to build that emergency savings back up, fix that car and tackle that debt. Here’s some of the strategies I’ll be trying. The goal? $1,000 in three months for my emergency savings. That’s $77 a week. Anything additional will go to fixing my car and then snowballing the debt I’ve accumulated.

  1. Part time Job – at just 4 hours/week you can gross $160 a month or more. Get a job with good benefits like Best Buy or Starbucks and you can score free coffee or Christmas discounts on electronics in addition to your paycheck.
  2. Sell extra kitchen gadgets. For me this was my coffee pot (I use my french press instead), the Juicer I hate using so I never use it, the obsolete bread machine I was given and too guilty to get rid of previously, and any extra plates and other serving ware (I have a tote of “party” dishes and then I keep 4 of everything in my cabinet). $40.
  3. Sell old baby stuff. I have a bassinet, old baby clothes, toys, an infant car seat cover and more. $100.
  4. Host a yardsale. For all of the other miscellaneous belongings I’ve gathered and no longer need/desire. $50.
  5. Swagbucks surveys, videos and other promos like coupons. I need to earn 35 points a day to net $10/month.
  6. Homemade dog treats. I did a trial run of this last month and easily profited $15/week.
  7. Sell Magic the Gathering Cards on Ebay. I did this a few years ago and made $2,000 in two months. It’s about time I gave it another swing. $25/month easy.
  8. Rent out my couch to a friend wanting to save some money. $100/month.
  9. Ibotta grocery rebates. Another money-maker I used to do that I can reliably make $10/month for groceries I was going to buy anyways.
  10. Personal Support Worker. I picked up a job as a caretaker at the local disability resources facility. I work 5 hours a week and I can bring my baby. $290/month.
  11. Babysitting for family and friends. $10/week.
  12. Rent out storage space in my house. $30/month.
  13. “Icecream Truck”. Buying bulk icecream and soda from the discount store, setting up with a cooler at the park on weekends and making easy cash. Plus I can bring the baby to the park to play. $25/week.
  14. Sell breast milk. I pump regularly and with proper handling and storage I could make some extra cash and help feed a hungry baby. $100/month.
  15. This blog. $15/month.

At the end of three months I should have $1,000 in my emergency savings, paid for all my car repairs and put an additional $555 against my debt (that will pay off my three smallest debts).

What side hustles have you tried to earn some extra cash?

$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?

Winter Root Beef Stew (in the Crockpot)

If you’ve been reading for long you know I have a passion for teaching sustainability – be that on the farm or a city apartment, every system should be sustainable if not self sufficient.

I did not grow up with that lifestyle. I’ve had to learn the hard way, one lesson at a time. One of my more recent adventures has been learning to cook seasonally – and with local ingredients.

This is my new favorite winter recipe. You can even get locally brewed (or homemade) hard cider.

Shopping locally and in season is more work. So to make it easier on you I’ve got a good recipe for you in winter and it’s super easy to make. And if you want it in the summer? Well it makes a good freezer meal too!

Feeds 4- 6 people

You Will Need:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 lbs. Beef roast, cubed
  • 4 medium yellow potatoes
  • 2 parsnips, chopped
  • 1 turnip, chopped
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can hard cider (I used Angry Orchard)
  • 4 – 6 cups beef broth (enough to cover)

Prepare

Put olive oil in the bottom of the crockpot. Then add garlic cloves and worcestershire. Place beef on top. Then add paprika, salt and pepper. Next the vegetables – potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery and onions.

Pour the cider in. Then add broth until all the vegetables are covered.

Cook

Cover the crockpot with lid. Set to cook on high for 6 to 8 hours. All the alcohol will have cooked out.

Serve

Serve hot, with crusty peasant bread and a leafy green salad for best deliciousness.

Freeze It

Put all ingredients except cider and broth in a 2 gallon freezer bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to prepare, dump still frozen in crockpot, top with cider and broth and cook high 8- 10 hours. It will be slightly mushier.

Budget Version

Omit cider. Replace broth with water. Double onion, carrot and celery. Omit parsnips and turnip. Add 1/2 cup applesauce.

I hope you e joy this recipe. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Chicken Pot Pie

I had serious doubts about this recipe at first. I was just throwing things together, trying to come up with something edible and packed full of veggies. And while this definitely isn’t a traditional pot pie, trust me – you’ll never go back to Marie Calendars again.

Makes 6 servings; 1 13×9 casserole dish

You Will Need:

  • 1 tbsp + Bacon grease (or butter)
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1.25 lbs chicken meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 tbsp + Poultry seasoning blend
  • Handful of celery leaves (or 2 ribs)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 3 cups  1/2 inch diced potatoes
  • 1 ear of corn kernels (or half a can)
  • 1 20oz can condensed cream of chicken
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 pie crust boxes (4 crusts)
  • Garlic salt

In a large pot melt 1 tbsp bacon grease over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic, stirring often, until translucent.

Add cubed chicken, poultry seasoning, celery innards, carrots and potatoes. Stir occassionally, until chicken is cooked all the way through.

Reduce to low heat. Add corn, cream of chicken, and salt and pepper to taste. Thoroughly combine.

Preheat oven to 400.

Grease 13×9 glass pan with bacon grease.

Use two crusts for the bottom – prick with a fork and bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce oven to 350.

Pour filling over baked crust. Top with remaining two crusts. Poke with a fork.

Sprinkle garlic salt and poultry seasoning over crust. Cover with tinfoil.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove tinfoil. Bake 10-15 minutes until crust is golden.

Serve warm and enjoy 🙂

Top 20 Dairy Free Recipes

Disclaimer: All off-site recipes linked to may not be mine, but I have personally tested and enjoyed the recipes myself. Some my husband even likes. 
After a month of “maternity leave” from the website, I’m back and with all sorts of new content for you guys. Keep an eye out for baby DIY projects, more freezer meals and breastfeeding-friendly recipes.
Speaking of breastfeeding recipes – we discovered in the first two weeks that my little Pudge is highly allergic to dairy. So I have had to remove dairy from my diet for the foreseeable future so that I can continue to provide him with the best nutrition.
And while I have a history of this lifestyle – I was actually vegan for four years – the transition to just dairy free is extremely easy. You probably already eat quite a few foods that meet the requirement and others that can be converted with little to no effort.
For a little inspiration and community support to all ya’ll lacto-avoiders out there, here’s my top 20 favorite dairy free recipes.

Dinner Recipes

Lunch Recipes

Breakfast Recipes

Dessert and Snack Recipes

What are your favorite dairy free recipes? Comment below!