How to Eat when it’s the Middle of the Month and All You Have Left is Twenty Dollars


Hungry? Broke? Try Ramen!

These days even working people often have more month left than money. I picked the figure of twenty dollars somewhat arbitrarily. It is enough to buy something, but not much. And two weeks can be a really long time. This food you can buy under these circumstances will keep you from real hunger, but it will not keep you really healthy over the long term unless supplemented with produce. If you have access to any kind of garden now is the time to make use of every scrap. The only protein in this diet comes from food combining and peanut butter and canned tuna from the optional category. This shopping guide is intended for one or two people. You will need to add ten dollars for each additional person to be fed.

I will now list the possible food selections. You will not be able to buy all of these things at the same time for twenty dollars, but you can pick and choose. If you have certain pantry items already it will make the choices a bit easier. I am assuming you have salt and pepper.

First of all, pick your store. Go to the biggest cheap food outlet you can find. Any place with a name like Food for Less or something similar is a good choice. If you have a Grocery Outlet go there. Places that favor food stamp recipients are your best choices, even if you are not on food stamps. If you know someone with a Costco card, you could get some things there, but you won’t necessarily be buying in bulk unless you want to eat the exact same thing every meal until more cash comes or you run out of your purchases. But if you can get a five pound sack of beans for the price of a two pound bag elsewhere that is a very good idea.

As for what to buy, the sack of beans is the first thing in the cart, followed by potatoes or rice in a four pound bag, two pounds of yellow onions and a two week supply of Ramen noodles, which should cost twenty-five cents a pack. These four items will use half your budget. After that there are choices to make. Here is a list of possible choices:

  • Peanut Butter in a small size
  • Tuna, the cheapest kind available
  • Saltines
  • Corn Meal
  • One dozen eggs, the least expensive ones
  • A small block of jack cheese
  • A little box of sugar or brown sugar
  • Hot cereal in bulk
  • Rolled oats in bulk
  • Powdered milk
  • One head of garlic
  • Cabbage
  • Green onions (scallions)
  • Tortillas
  • Margarine (or one stick butter)

These are suggestions of food items that are at the bottom of the scale. Just put them together like a puzzle till you run out of money. You may be able to get as many as five things on the list. If you buy bulk items you can get very small quantities of a greater variety. If you choose the cornmeal you also need the eggs and the sugar. Then you can make cornbread according to the directions on the box. Albers is good.

The eggs can also be hard boiled and deviled if you have any mustard already in the cupboard. The tuna can be eaten with the saltines, as can the peanut butter. You can also make a peanut sauce for the top ramen. I always throw away the flavor packets because they are full of chemicals. Instead you can drain the noodles and put a tiny bit of butter (or margarine) and some hot sauce on them, or thin out a spoonful of peanut butter with hot water and mix with the noodles for a Thai flavor. Top with diced scallions if you have them.

But the real backbone of the twenty dollar emergency food diet is the beans. The recipe is simple. Buy the freshest looking beans you can get. They dry up with age. Soak two cups for at least eight hours and throw away the soaking water. Sauté one onion in whatever fat you have available. Cooking oil, margarine, even lard will do. Put the soaked beans and the sautéed onion in a heavy pot and cover completely with water, about two inches over the level of the beans. DO NOT SALT. Not yet, it makes them tough. Cook on a low simmer till tender which will take a couple of hours on the stove top or all day on low in a slow cooker. At the end of cooking, add salt to taste and a little pepper, also the garlic if you have it and any other spices and herbs you have on hand, such as oregano or cumin. These beans will be your mainstay. Two cups of beans will yield five cups of cooked beans. You can eat them with rice, or with corn bread, or make a vegan shepherd’s pie by mashing some potatoes as a topper and browning in the oven. A bit of the Jack cheese is good on this if it made your short list.

This is not the last word on this subject. I will be writing more, including recipes to get you through the hard times. In the meantime, bon appetit, and don’t forget to slow down and enjoy your meal, however humble it may be.


Frugality 101-How do I Know What to Buy?

How do I Decide What to Buy?

There are many people that want or need to be frugal, but when faced with actual buying decisions they become overwhelmed and either do nothing or end up with the wrong thing. It would be nice if there were an easy formula, but there is not, and there can’t be. There are just too many variables. Luckily, however, there are systems that can be used to make the process simpler. The basic frugal equation is to satisfy a need or want by obtaining the highest acceptable quality for the least loss of resources.

The first question is whether this is a need or a want that you are seeking to fill. If it is a want, the process is as follows: Ask yourself what it is exactly that you are trying to achieve. If you think you want to go to Europe, for example, is it a desire for more excitement, or intellectual curiosity, or because you have friends there that you would like to see? How strong is the desire? And can it be satisfied any other way?

If the desire is strong and there is no substitute than you have identified one of your big dreams. That is a very good thing. It doesn’t guarantee success, but at least your compass is working. But, you might discover that it is not Europe per se that you crave, but the culture that exists there, at least in your imagination. This desire might be filled by a trip to a museum. Whenever you get the urge to shop, try this exercise. You may be very surprised at the results.

There are items that are in a gray area. You might “need” something for your work, but it doesn’t rise to the level of a true need as defined below. I had this problem recently with equipment I use as a writer. My computer is acting up, but I had no camera except the one on my phone. I didn’t need either item in the sense that my life couldn’t go forward without them. But, to do my job I did need both items. In the end I bought the camera, but am still using the errant computer. The reasoning is that I had nothing that fulfilled the function of a camera at the level required, while the computer still did what it was intended to do even if it is old and slow.

Once you understand what the true want is, and have decided to fulfill it, the next step is to apply the frugal equation of value for outlay. First-is there a non-monetary way to get what you want? Trade or gift economy? Can you get it used? If not, what is the likely best price available? I ended up buying a new camera at a deep discount. The price difference between the new entry level Nikon and a much fancier used one was not that great, and I didn’t feel I needed all the extra horsepower. I valued the warranty more. Sometimes the new thing is the best buy. But, nine times out of ten it will be the used item that is the best. The one thing that can’t be glossed over is the work. If you don’t dig around and ask questions you end up making an impulsive buying decision, and those are rarely frugal. Luckily, because this is a want and not a need, time is on your side.

Strangely, the fulfillment of needs is actually more complicated. There are only a few actual needs. The survival needs are clean air, potable water, a sanitary facility to get rid of wastes, food, some sort of body covering against the weather, shelter from sun, wind and water, and some kind of field medicine and first aid. But in our society, I must also include transportation, communication, clothing that is acceptable to the situation, and actual medical care.

The first question is whether these needs require a shopping solution or can be met in other ways. Can you trade, or do it yourself? Food, for example, is an easily DIY, easily barterable commodity, especially if you have a garden or livestock. Clothing can be made, traded, or obtained on the gift economy in a clothing exchange.

But, some things really do have to be purchased. Communication in our times relies on either phone or email, both of which involve interfacing with large companies. The answer to this problem will likely require a great deal of research. It is not often that I recommend pure price buying, but this is one of them. All phone companies are difficult to deal with, often sell less than optimal products and services, and charge outrageous fees. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, for internet service providers. And, as large communications companies continue to merge, this will only get worse. The only thing to do is be very careful, understand the true costs, and try not to get roped into long contracts. If you have been diligent in connecting yourself to a local community you may be able to by-pass all this and get by with a land-line at the lowest level of service use the library and yahoo mail for internet service. Or, better yet, go back to snail mail and personal visits. If you can do that you have come a very long way to reclaiming a gracious life.

As for transportation, I have already covered the possibilities in another post. Suffice it to say that you are blessed if you live in an area that is walkable and has good public transportation.

The other things on the list of true needs are more problematic, particularly the medical care. Even if you have the actual cash to make a health insurance payment there is no guarantee that the company will honor the contract after they have taken your money. I have written about this before. Healthy habits, a little knowledge of herbal and alternative medicines, and perhaps some barter are the main lines of defense. If you need some kind of regular prescription medicine things get much trickier. As long as no political solution to this problem is reached it is a street fight out there. There are clinics, but if you are truly at survival level you may not be able to eat and get your meds. I would recommend going to the soup kitchen and food bank, but spending the cash on the clinic.

It may seem odd that needs are more difficult than wants to analyze, but it makes sense, really. If you have a want that can’t be satisfied, it may bruise your ego. If you have an unfulfilled basic need, your life may be on the line.

So, What if the Worst has Happened?

Lost in the Woods

You’ve been laid off, or the foreclosure notice just arrived? As bad as those things are, they are not the worst. The worst is the ninety-ninth week of unemployment, or the day when all options for negotiation with the bank are exhausted. This article will not be dealing with the technical aspects of these situations, but with the need to start making other plans. And the sooner you get started the better.

In order to create your plan you first need to know exactly where you are right now. Starting with exactly how much liquid cash you have. What do you own that you can sell? There can’t be any sacred cows. Of course you get to decide what goes first, but this is about survival. If you have any big fancy assets such as a new car you may need to downgrade. Think about the maintenance costs. The faster and more effectively you work to get back on your feet, the more you get to keep. Three years ago, when I fell out of the money plane without a parachute, I sold all my furniture and a library of 5000 books before the freefall ended. But it was the Nikon that hurt the most.

Then, list all your expenses. Every one of them. This list will not remain static, because you will be dumping everything that is not essential, and downgrading the rest. That means getting the smallest cell phone plan, and the cheapest satellite package. You will live without 500 channels. If you are in a Mercedes you may need to get into an older but still adequate Honda. Include the maintenance cost where applicable. The things you actually need are as follows- shelter, food and clean water, some kind of communication device so possible employers/clients can reach you, some form of transportation plus the fuel and insurance required to run it, and clothing, which you already own. And, some very inexpensive form of entertainment. I recommend Netflix.

The inventory doesn’t stop there. Next, what can you do? Things that don’t involve being hired again in your same field anytime soon. Do you have any abandoned hobbies that are useful? Think only of skills that people will actually pay for. Can you cut hair? Fix a computer? Clean a house? Make a flyer, or put an ad on Craigslist. If your skill requires a license, (like haircutting in most states) just use word of mouth.

My first choice was to start a professional organizing business. I actually didn’t get laid off; I had always been in small business, most recently a construction firm. But when my husband, the contractor, got sick and then died, I found myself broke and homeless. So, I launched Creating Order, got the cards, and hit the networking clubs. Little did I know that the beginning of the economic crash was in motion. Or that it would take several years before I could get enough business to hold on by my fingernails. I ended up cleaning houses for some time. Cleaning houses can be demeaning, and is physically painful if you are over fifty. But, it kept me going.

Finally, do you have any social capital, otherwise known as friends? Make a list of everyone that is favorably inclined towards you. Call them all. Go have coffee and tell them the absolute truth about your situation. If they are in the same boat you can work together. If they are better off they may be able to help in some way. When I hit bottom my friends, both rich and poor, saved my life. Some hired me. Some sent me work. Other times, when nothing was going right they fed me and put enough gas in my car to get to the next job. This is no time to be proud. You would do the same if things were reversed.

If you are losing your home, you need to act quickly. Look into renting a room in a house. That is the cheapest solution to housing and not just for kids anymore. If you have a family then that might not be practical. But you could rent a house and then rent out a room for the income. That way you choose the housemate.

When you have finished your inventory you will know where you stand, and how much money you need on a monthly basis to stay afloat. How fast you recover depends on how you adapt, and how well rounded you were before this happened. If you were so focused on the one thing that you were being paid for that you only know how to do that, and had no time to make friends or keep up with your old ones, the landing will be pretty hard. But if you have actually been living a balanced life all along it will be much easier and faster. But, whatever your situation, if you follow these steps, keep moving, and live frugally, your economic life will turn around. When it does you will find yourself in a very different place from where your journey began. And that may not be all bad. I wish you the very best along the way. Just keep reading, I am writing this for you.

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