Monday, March 14, 2011

Guest Post: Food Budget Crunch by Gary Foreman

Today we here at The Tasty Cheapskate are pleased to welcome our first ever guest blogger, Gary Foreman

Gary is the editor of The Dollar The Dollar Stretcher came into my life over a year ago and I was surprised at the number of fresh, helpful, and down to earth insights it provided about living on the cheap (especially as opposed to those goofy "tips" articles that show up on the Yahoo homepage sometimes--you know, the ones that promise "Ten Ways to Cheapen Your Life" and then recommend that you ask your maid to come only twice a week or that you postpone your trip to Aruba). For more information about living on a bare bones budget, click here. 

Food Budget Crunch

Dear Gary,
We're in a mess. I have a family of 4 to feed and only have $80 for the month. Can you provide any help?
Scared and Hungry

More and more people are facing the same problem that SAH has. How to feed their families on a tiny grocery budget. And, although it isn't easy, it can be done.
Start with what resources you already have available to you. What's already in your cupboard? Perhaps it isn't much, but everything that's edible helps.

Find any other sources for food that might be available to you. Don't be too proud to ask for help. There's a reason most places have a food pantry. Many churches and synagogues also have pantries. If you don't know how to find one, call a local church and ask them. Often they'll have a contact list for various agencies that can help people in need.

Check out Angel Food Ministry. They're able to provide a box of food worth approximately $65 for $30. There is no qualification required. Check their site to see if there's a location near you.

"Food Stamps" (or it's formal designation Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) is there to help families who need food assistance. Over 40 million people receive SNAP aid each month. You can find out more at the government website.

If your children are in school find out what lunch assistance is available. Knowing that they're eating well at noon will make your life a little easier.

You might also be able to trade some manual labor for food. Check with local farmers or fruit/vegetable stands.

Once you know what resources are available to you it's time to think about what to buy. You'll want to shop the perimeter of the store. The cheapest foods (and often the healthiest) are usually found along the side and back walls of the grocery store. Avoid all the prepackaged and processed foods.

Rice, potatoes, pasta and flour are all relatively inexpensive and filling.  Use these items as the foundation of your meals. They're easy to cook and can be used in a variety of ways. For centuries they've been the main part of the working person's diet.

Every meal does not have to include meat. In fact, you'll need to resign yourself to the fact that meat will be an occasional treat during the month. Ask the grocery butcher when they mark down meat that's near it's expiration date for clearance. That's your best bet for affordable meats.

Study depression era strategies. Basic, filling foods fixed in an engaging manner. One example is Clara Cannucciari. She's a great grandmother who has a video series showing depression cooking. You can find one of her videos here. See if your local library has older cookbooks. Or cookbooks with traditional recipes.

In season vegetables offer nutrition and add flavor to your meals. Add them to potatoes, rice or pasta to create variety and interest to your meals.

Beans are an excellent, inexpensive source of protein. Not only are they cheap, they come in a variety of flavors. Buy them raw or dried and prepare them yourself. You can find instructions on the web or most cookbooks.

Also remember that soups offer a low cost meal. Start with whatever veggies you have and add potatoes, rice or noodles.

When you have very few dollars to spend, it's important to make your purchases count. So know how you'll use something before you buy it. Waste is not an option with a really tight food budget.

The task may seem very difficult, but be encouraged that others before you have successfully fed their families on a very tight budget. I'm sure that you can do it, too.

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