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?

What Our Baby Didn’t Need

What Our Baby Didn't Need

Parenting is probably the most sensitive subjects in our country and the most publicly judged. From what goes in their stomachs to how we decorate the nursery, every decision is criticized from even the most obscure angles. And when we start discussing what our sweet baby’s “need” it gets even more heated. You are taught to feel like less of a parent if you don’t provide everything for your child. That your little one will be at a disadvantage without light-up noisy toys or a mink changing table cover. But when it comes right down to it babies don’t care about these things. And more importantly – they don’t need them.

Now, by all means, if it’s important to you go for it. But don’t think less of yourself if you don’t. There are things babies do need. This post however is all of the things we didn’t buy in the first place for our Pudge, things that were gifted unnecessarily to us, and things we regretted buying.

Refusing to purchase things like this in the first place not only protects your financial security, it teaches your children a healthy relationship to material belongings, helps your family focus on experiences, and protects our planet from unnecessary consumption.

Diapering

  • Disposable diapers and wipes.
  • A diaper pail or liners.
  • Commercial diaper rash cream.
  • Baby powder. Use cornstarch instead.
  • Disposable cloth diaper liners (seriously defeats the purpose of cloth in the first place).
  • Changing table, pad and covers.
  • Portable changing wallet.

Bathing

  • Head shields.
  • Special bath toys.
  • Separate body wash and shampoo.
  • Bathrobe. Cute but not needed.
  • Special baby-sized towels. Save yourself some cash and get standard towels that will last several years.
  • Infant bath tub.
  • “Baby” wash cloths. Regular wash clothes or a soft loofah work fine.

Feeding

  • Nursing bras. I bought nursing tank tops for the same price and saved myself laundry and the cost of clothes I could even nurse in.
  • Pureed Baby foods. Check out Baby-Led Weaning instead.
  • Special baby snacks (stay away from yogurt drops – those things are loaded with added sugar!)
  • Special dishware for baby – I gave him a glass tea cup plate and tea spoon for silverware to practice with. But mostly he eats off a tray with his hands.
  • Bibs. We just got him naked for meals and wiped him down with a washcloth afterwards. The bib really didn’t protect any of his clothes.

Clothing

  • Sleep sacks. These can only be used at bedtime. Save yourself the work, money and time by getting footie pajamas instead. This way if you need to go anywhere you can easily strap your baby into a stroller or car seat without having to wake them up and change their clothes.
  • Shoes
  • Accessories

Gear

  • Bouncer/Rocker. Unnecessary and you can’t leave the room if your baby is in one (Babies have suffocated in them before – read the safety manual if you already have one. They’re really not that helpful).
  • Shopping cart cover
  • Jogging stroller
  • Special “diaper bag”. Get a regular bag that can be used for longer than 2 years of your life.
  • Bassinet. Just get the crib from the get-go. Get a convertible one, too.
  • Special infant car seat. A huge waste of money. Most parents use them longer than it’s safe too (my baby outgrew his by 4 months), and again you can’t leave the baby in them outside of the car so they don’t “help keep baby asleep” at all.
  • Play yard. Ours has been useful for when I’m vending at the farmer’s market but I never use it at home.

Bedtime

  • Crib mobile.
  • Crib bumper. Not safe until the baby is almost 9 months, at which point it’s not necessary.
  • Teething guards for the crib. Cribs have to meet strict safety standards – your baby won’t ingest anything dangerous.
  • Pillows. Babies can’t use them until about 9 months and the fire retardants in them make them undesirable even then. Your baby really won’t care.
  • Extra blankets (unless you don’t have easy access to a washing machine. Then you want LOTS of extras).
  • Crib skirt.
  • Noise machine. Put on the radio or a fan if it’s a big deal but we didn’t need to do anything special.

Playtime and Learning

  • Extra toys
  • Anything electronic or noisemaking. These things will just irritate you when you’ve had 3 hours of sleep and the same song has played 265 times over.
  • Exersaucer
  • Walker (my doctor actually told me these were dangerous)
  • Play gym

Safety and Healthcare

  • Gas drops

This is part three in raising a zero waste family.

Part One: The Zero Waste Baby

Part Two: What We Actually Needed for Baby

Part Three: What We Didn’t Need

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?

50% Project: November Review and December Planning

I’m doing the 50% Project. It starts today, with my most recent paycheck. And the goal is simple – save 50% of every penny that enters my wallet. Don’t let my expenses exceed my means.

So how will the project work? If you want to join in, here’s what I’m doing:

  1. Put away 50% of all income, whether it’s from work, gifts or tax returns.
  2. Make it as difficult as possible to spend the money you’re saving, so you’re less likely to spend it. This can be putting it in a locked savings account, or just giving it to a more responsible spouse to keep safe. Safety deposit boxes work well, and old fashioned piggy banks are good too.
  3. Keep track of how much money is coming in, how much is going out, and where it’s going.
  4. Every once in awhile I’ll post an update here on the blog of what I’ve managed to save, a glance at where my money went, and any suggestions I have or lessons I’ve learned.
  5. Doing Christmas for as little money as I can possibly manage. This year we didn’t have time to make gifts, so we set very low budgets and will be doing birth announcements for our Christmas cards. We will spend less than $300 for the entire holiday.
  6. Staying accountable – I promised my husband that I’m going to stick to this, and now I’m promising you.
  7. Stay positive – if I mess up, I’m not going to beat myself up. I’m going to keep moving forward, and so should you. Reflecting on mistakes helps me make better choices but ruminating on regrets is unproductive.

What do I hope to accomplish with this project?

  1. Move into our own apartment.
  2. Credit scores over 600.
  3. Trade in our current car for a safer one.
  4. Have an emergency savings of $1000
  5. Pay off our debt.
  6. Develop self-discipline and better money-managing skills.
  7. Learn to live minimally.
  8. Be financially independent of others (not needing to rely on help from family or welfare).

But it’s Christmas.

I am very aware that it’s December, the hardest month for almost anyone to save. But I also believe that it’s the perfect time to test this, to try and stretch the limits of our self-control and practice delayed-gratification. For more information on a minimalist Christmas, I highly suggest this post over at Zen Habits. Christmas doesn’t have to cost you.

I wish all of you luck with your own financial journeys; thanks for sticking around to read about mine.

I’m going to be straight up here, partially to help dispel a lot of the misperceptions and stigma surrounding poverty, but also because I believe by being honest about my husband and I’s journey I can help you and learn myself.

We’re poor. Like, we would have starved to death years ago without public assistance, poor. So while other bloggers might do the “SNAP Project” – that’s been our life. And it’s actually how we both grew up, too. But we have no intentions of staying this way – we’ve bounced on and off the system as our life circumstances have changed. But the goal has always been stability. Self-sufficiency. We could definitely be in worse situations, too.

So whether you’re trying to escape poverty, survive a family disaster such as job loss or illness, or just want to save money so you can do awesome shit with your life, this project might help you. Please feel free to share any suggestions you might have.

We are starting out fresh again this month, just in time for Christmas. My husband just landed a new job after being unemployed for almost two months. I’m 39 weeks pregnant. We have an older, high-needs dog. We don’t use our credit card – we’re trying to pay it off. We currently stay for free in the bedroom of my husband’s uncle’s house, with their family of four people and four fur babies. We’ve been homeless for over a year, off and on unemployed for various reasons for 18 months, and our credit reports look pretty bad.

Every family’s needs are different. Every lifestyle is different. The transparency here is meant to serve as inspiration and encouragement.

Budget

(In order of priority)

$400 – Groceries/Food

$100 – Work uniform for new job PAID

$85 – Storage Shed (This has all our belongings and all of my husband’s mother’s belongings) PAID

$196 – Phone bill

$160 – Gasoline

$289 – Car Payment PAID

$100 – Auto Insurance Premium PAID

$31 – Credit Card Minimum

$15 – Web Hosting Service

$100 – Household expenses/Personal Care/Baby needs

$40 – Oil Change (Required by our loan agreement)

$150 – Christmas

$50 – My birthday

$25 – Date night

$400 – Brakes

$7 – Crunchyroll subscription

$35 – Birth certificate (the hospital no longer provides these – we have to order it from the state)

Expected Income

$588 – Cash Assistance for November and December RECEIVED

$357 – SNAP (Can only be spent on food) RECEIVED

$275 – Daycare Wages for November

$250 – Toys R Us Wages for December (Joseph’s new job – we don’t actually know how much to expect so we’ll see)

Account Remainders

$87.99 – Checking Account

$682 – Fall Term FAFSA

$120 – Cash

Frugal Accomplishments for November

  • My husband finally quit smoking!! This was something he promised me he would do before our son was born, and I’m so grateful he was able to do it. He started smoking when he was 10 and he didn’t want our son to go down the same path.
  • Pre-Baby Meal Prepping: Stocked our freezer with 11 dinners, which is enough to feed us for a month (we share cooking duties with the house) and stocked our cupboards with a week of easy foods for after baby. And saved $50!!
  • Ibotta rebates earned – $23.50
  • Started couponing again.
  • Packed lunches from home for the majority of the school days.
  • Under spent gas budget – saved $30 by the end of the month.
  • We budgeted $13 for most of the people on our Christmas list – and only spent about $8 on most of them but still got awesome gifts.
  • Took the city bus or carpooled multiple times.
  • Bought Halloween candy the first of November, on discount, with coupons. Over $100 worth of candy for less than $40.
  • Switched to making my coffee at home.
  • Moved in with family – this saved us $800+ a month in camping fees from staying in our trailer.
  • Almost all the baby things we needed were either acquired for free or as gifts. We spent less than $150 on baby items – and most of that was on the Co-Sleeper Pack n Play and the diaper pail.

Lessons Learned

  • Went back to the cash envelope system because the debit cards were getting overdrawn too easily and the credit card that we aren’t supposed to be using got taken out a few too many times.
  • Black Friday is a giant scam. I’m glad I didn’t actually do any in-store shopping – I did it all on online and it saved me from impulse purchases and overspending on the items I was intending to purchase.

Savings Account Balance:

$5.00