When Your Food Budget Is Critical
by Gary Foreman
Low on dough? How can you get through the next month without starving your family? Takes these steps when your food budget is critical.
My problem is beyond frugal. I only have $100 to feed my family of three for the next month. And I’m not a great cook. What do you do when your food budget is critical? Can you help me to get through the month without starving my family?
Frugal Shopping Tips for When the Food Budget is Critical
Your problem may be beyond normal frugal living standards, but it’s not unsolvable. And, many common frugal shopping tips can help you keep your family from starving this month. Let’s examine a few.
Know What You have on Hand…
Begin by checking your existing inventory. You may not have a lot of food in the house, but you’ll want to use everything that you do have. It can help you avoid as many trips to the grocery store.
…and Learn Ways to Prepare It
If you’re not sure how to use some of the things on your pantry shelf, check out recipe sites. Most will allow you to put in ingredients and they’ll return a list of recipes that use them.
Don’t worry about not being an excellent chef. Recipes sites have articles and videos covering any cooking skill you’ll need.
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Find Additional Food Sources
Next, consider other sources for food besides the grocery store. Many are need based so you’ll have to admit that you want help. There’s no shame in that. Almost all of us have struggled at one time or another.
Find out about local food pantries. Most contain a variety of staples. If you don’t know of any in your community, check with a local church. They should be able to provide contact information.
Depending on your income level, government assistance might be available. SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), commonly called “food stamps,” is meant to help families who need help with groceries. You’ll find more information on their webpage.
Your Child’s School
Contact your children’s school. You’ll find lunch assistance programs available. An added bonus is that most school lunches are well balanced, which should make your job easier.
Will Work for Food
It’s also possible that you might be able to work for some food. That might sound strange, but it can’t hurt to ask at local fruit/veggie stands and farms. Also ask them what they do with produce that’s overripe and can’t be sold.
Master Meal Planning
One big key to your success is meal planning. You’ll want to select recipes that allow you to use whatever inventory you have and don’t require you to buy expensive ingredients. Stick to simple recipes.
Stay Away from Processed Foods
When you do go to the grocery store, stay away from processed foods. Whole potatoes are cheaper than the instant mashed ones. The closer foods are to their natural state the cheaper they will be.
Stick to the Basics
Basic food is relatively inexpensive, especially beans and starches. A five-pound bag of rice can be the basis for many meals for pennies. Sticking to the basics will stretch your food dollar.
Expect to have some meatless meals. Look for markdowns when you do buy meat. And only buy cuts that you can spread across multiple meals.
Buy Dry Beans…
Use beans to provide protein for your meals. Dry beans are inexpensive and not that hard to cook. Check the web for “how to” videos.
…and In-Season Veggies
Take advantage of in-season vegetables. They provide good nutrition. Often they’re flavorful. And, if they’re locally grown, they can be found very cheaply.
Make Soups and Salads
Blend in some soup or salad meals. A head of lettuce along with a tomato and a bit of salad dressing makes an acceptable meal when paired with an inexpensive soup.
Make sure that nothing you buy goes to waste. Whether it’s the last few pieces of meat or a half of a potato, make sure you use it before it spoils.
When the food budget is critical, you’re facing a tough challenge, but not an impossible one. For the next month, your menu options may be limited, but your family need not go hungry. You’ll pick up some frugal living skills that will continue to save you money.
Reviewed July 2021
About the Author
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. You can read Gary's full bio here. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews.
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