Na Na pinches her pennies

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Ten dollars a week for food

As the cost of food crept up over the last couple of years I eliminated one food after another as too high for my $20 a month budget.  Back in June 2017 I raised the amount to $10 a week after paying off a hospital bill.  Now that I’m feeding only myself and not a whole neighborhood I began to see new ways to get variety in my diet.  I thought I’d explain how I manage it for those who may be interested.

This budget is for food only.  No soap or deodorant or anything that’s not edible.  I have another budget for those.  Of course whether or not you could do the same budget depends on the cost of living for your area.  I’m sure there are many ways to save at the grocery.  This just happens to be the way I’m doing my own.

My sister in law buys me lunch three times a week for driving her car to wherever she needs to go.  We eat at family meal type restraunts.   I carry home half the meal to eat for supper.  This leaves only four days a week to prepare lunch and dinner meals for myself using food bank food and supplemented with the budget.

I discovered some real perks to cooking for one.  Of course there is less food to cook but I also get to cook exactly what I want without catering to someone else’s tastes or cravings or special diet requirements.  Not that I would want to but I could dance in my pyjamas while cooking the same meal for the third time in a row.  I can eat a bowl of cereal for dinner with no one watching or judging me for it.  I can experiment and try new ingredients and maybe learn a new skill or two.  And hey, if the meal turns out to be a big fail no one is glaring at me over their ruined meal.

When I started this whole cooking for one adventure I had to ask myself how I would eat healthy and frugally when everything appears to be packaged for a family of four.  Recipes are also written mostly for four people.  I had to face the fact shopping and cooking for one is an entirely different ball game than for two, or three, or four and more.  There are all sorts of challenges with equipping a kitchen, planning meals, grocery shopping, recipe scaling, and stocking a pantry for one person while doing it all with a tiny budget.

A few weeks ago I switched from large family sized cooking pots to smaller one or two person size.  This visually helped me cook smaller single person meals.  Its the same idea behind a large empty house that creates a desire to fill it.  A three quart pan looks very empty with only one cup of ingredients.  That big empty pot creates a desire to fill it.  I don’t mind eating leftovers once in awhile but three quarts of something doled out in one cup portions is way too many leftovers for my tastes.  Smaller pans look fuller because they hold smaller amounts.

My ten dollar budget is working; however, the food bank is giving less and the price of food is getting higher so my budget may need to be adjusted again at some point.   I eat the same portions of food as I always have but I no longer have a freezer filled with leftovers from cooking large batches.  That doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally cook enough for a second single meal to freeze for later.

Several months ago I noticed all the little single serve cans of vegetables showing up on store shelves.  At the time I dismissed them when I really should have seen the possibilities.  I hope I can explain this right.  The senior commodity program gives 4 cans of vegetables and 2 cans of fruit each month but there is no variety.  If we get corn its 4 cans of corn.  If we get beets its 4 cans of beets.  We usually get the very same vegetable and fruit several months in a row.

Not only that but the same people who run the mobile food bank program are now running the senior commodity program.  This means on food bank day we get the very same canned vegetables and fruit that we get from the commodity center.  Four more cans of corn or four more cans of beets and so forth.  If I want vegetable and fruit variety I have to buy it.  That’s where the smaller single serve cans of veggies and fruit help.

The smaller single serve size cans are great for adding a little variety now and then while staying within a ten dollar budget.  Last week I saw the single serve cans on sale for .39 each right next to the full size cans for $1.09 each.  The sale price was less than half the cost of the larger cans.  Instead of paying $4.36 for 4 larger cans I bought only four smaller cans for $1.56.  I should have bought more at that price but I had other things to buy.

When I was looking around for other ways to stay within my budget I took a renewed look at the bulk food isle.  I had always dismissed this isle as being only for the health food enthusiasts or big families who buy large amounts.  Bulk = large amount.  The ounce for ounce price of bulk food is usually a bit cheaper or at least the same as buying in family size packages for portioning into baggies for storage.

DUH!  I don’t know why I hadn’t I thought of this before.  No one is required to buy a large quantity.  I could buy a mini amount if I want.   Mini portions to go with my mini-pans cooking.  Say for example I plan to make a single person meatloaf this week.  I don’t need to pay for a whole box of oatmeal when all I need is 1/4 cup for that one meal.  Buying mini-bulk means less waste because boxed food doesn’t set on a pantry shelf until too old to use.  Mini-bulk buying saves pantry space and allows me variety without the large package costs.  If I want to make chicken barley soup there is no need to buy family sized packages of soup base and pearl barley.  I could buy just the amount called for in a recipe.

I haven’t seen bulk spices in this store yet.  Oh my, the possibilities when it does get installed.  I often home can in small batches the produce I find in the discount bins.  I never knew what I would be canning so I always kept spices and flavorings around for just in case.  Many times I bought and used only enough for one canning batch.  The rest sat in the cabinet until way too old to use and got tossed.  A bulk food spice isle means I could purchase just what I need for one small batch of canning with no waste.

I continued looking for other small amount buying possibilities.  I walked right past the deli counter but turned around to go back.  I had always dismissed the deli as too expensive for sandwich meat.  However if I buy only a couple thin slices for one sandwich it might work.  It would be less out of pocket than paying the higher price of a whole bubble pack.  That’s when I had another DUH moment.  My brain told me to treat the deli isle as my own personal leftovers isle.   What?  LOL I think of some of the most comical things sometimes.  Ok, I’ll stop laughing while I explain.

You know how we all stick those small bits of leftover meat and/or veggies into the freezer to use in other meals?   Well heck, why couldn’t I let the store be the one to keep small bits and pieces of meat fresh for me.  For example; I like a version of beef stew made with leftover beef roast.  What if I bought only a small 1/4 pound of deli roast beef to make homemade beef stew?  Yes, of course I could buy a beef roast to cook and portion it to freeze but have you seen the price of beef lately?  I only have ten dollars.  I could cook a deli leftover beef stew and still stay on budget.

This deli-leftovers idea had me thinking of other meals.  I could buy 1/4 pound of ham to flavor greens or a 1/4 pound of roast turkey to make a pot pie.  As I left the deli isle I spotted the whole roasted chickens.  Wow!  When did they become $12 each?  The last time I looked they were selling for $5.   The deli clerk told me those get marked down 50% for quick sale late in the evening.  One discounted chicken could be portioned and frozen for several meals.  That’s an idea for the future.

I walked to the produce section to see what there was in the discount bin.  The produce section of the grocery is my downfall.  Its like Disneyland to me.  Its bright and colorful and everything looks so good!  I want to buy everything however I must limit myself to buying only what I can afford and only what I’m sure I can eat or preserve quickly.  I take advantage of the discounted produce bin whenever possible because I know that I can freeze it, dehydrate it, or can it for use later.  For example bell peppers may be on sale at 10 for $10 but a discounted bag of four is only one dollar.  Apples may be $2.99 a pound but there might be 6 in a bag for a dollar in the discount bin.  I don’t mind a blemish or two.  If the discount bargain is a really good one I use bill money to buy more.  Being especially careful to subtract from the next grocery trip to put back the bill money borrowed.

I very rarely need to buy onions or potatoes because I get them from the mobile food bank so often.  If I had to buy them I would buy a smaller amount at the per pound price.  Let’s say potatoes are $4 for a ten pound bag and singles are $1 a pound.  I could get two small single potatoes for one dollar instead of using nearly half my food budget for a whole bag.  The same goes for onions.

Well this post has gotten rather long.  I’ve explained the basics of how I’ve changed my budget and how I plan to stay with it.  At least for awhile.  I really hope it works because I sure get tired of eating onions, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage day after day.  This is not a budget for creating a prepper style pantry or for feeding a large family.  It’s a simple budget for one person for one week of food bank food recipes needing extra ingredients.  Strange how life or fate seems to force us onto a different path which often works better.  A little over two years ago I never would have thought I’d be living in a different house and cooking for only myself.

I hope I haven’t bored anyone and that you too see new possibilities for staying within your grocery budget.  Thank you for taking the time to read.

8 comments on “Ten dollars a week for food

  1. Helen
    September 4, 2018

    I’m really impressed by your ability to improvise and change to fit your circumstances. Your example is so encouraging!


    • Anita
      September 5, 2018

      Thank you Helen. That’s what keeps me writing my blog.


    September 3, 2018

    For a change from small cans, would it help to get packages of plain frozen veggies? Then you could pour out what you needed, if the $/ ounce was about the same…


    • Anita
      September 3, 2018

      Uh DUH, I hadn’t thought of that. Great suggestion. I’ll check on that next time I’m in the store. Thanks.


  3. Sue
    September 3, 2018

    Wow! Great ideas and inspiration. I am going to check out the bulk bins and also see if there is a discount area for fresh fruits and veggies. Some new things to try out. Thank you, thank you!


    • Anita
      September 3, 2018

      Some stores have stopped putting the discount produce in one single area choosing to leave it with the not discounted ones. Thank YOU Sue. It feels good when I’ve excited someone about possibilities.


  4. Linda in NE
    September 3, 2018

    You are certainly good at figuring out new ways of making what you have work for you. $10 a week for groceries would be a starvation diet around here. Prices are high in a small town with one grocery store and the mobile food bank makes stops in towns that are a 50 mi. round trip away. The sale ad for our local store is both sides of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. In other words, not much marked down and most of it is processed junk food. Again, the bigger stores are at least a 50 mi. round trip away though their marked down ads are four pages of regular newspaper size paper. It’s about $40-$50 or so a week for just my husband & me even though we always have a big garden & fruit trees that I can & freeze a lot from. He also hunts & fishes so there is fish & deer in the freezer.

    I know you probably explained it, but why did you used to cook for a whole neighborhood? Doesn’t make sense when you weren’t exactly wealthy yourself.


    • Anita
      September 3, 2018

      A short version. My old house was paid for so no house payment. I had quilting income and I was very good at finding discount bin bargains. I lived in what is called a food dessert filled with low income people. There was lots of crime. In the old neighborhood there was a mobile (outdoor) food bank six days a week. My neighbors convinced me to go with them so I could give them mine. They were depending on food stamps but I wasn’t. I felt sorry for them so I did go for awhile until it backfired on me. As an empty nester I was the only one with a really large freezer and an extra room for storing food. Or so they said. I ended up being a sort of neighborhood food storage house. They went to get food and brought it to me to store for them. Anybody who needed food when the food stamps ran out knew I had lots and lots of it.

      I was also the only one who had ideas for HOW to use the unusual items we got. I made things like mock apple pie with zucchini and homemade ketchup from tomato soups. I would cook things so others could taste how good it was and also gave them the recipes which they never used. I didn’t mind because the food was free and it just kept coming. I was the only one who knew how to home can too. I canned and dehydrated and froze just about everything. They used to call me the ghetto Martha Stewart.

      My frustration started when the neighbors became dependent on me in the same way they depended on government assistance and food stamps. I was also feeling overwhelmed with all the food in my house. One day I counted 38 jars of peanut butter. I called everyone in the neighborhood and said come get whatever you want because ALL OF IT is leaving here this week. I emptied all the canning jars of food except what I needed for myself. No way was I giving away my jars. My daughter took the freezer and what food she wanted. Everything not taken was hauled to a soup kitchen.

      I then went to the food bank once a week keeping only what I needed for myself and for canning. But I was still overwhelmed with the amount of food. I did continue cooking large meals to feed everyone and holiday meals too because it kept me from feeling lonely. All they had to do was bring a plate to get it filled. Even after I stopped storing food the neighbors would come borrowing which somehow never got paid back. I called them the begging neighbors.

      Not long after that I retired from quilting for a living and had the opportunity to move to this new house in a new neighborhood. I was happy as could be with a grocery a short walk from my new house. That store closed its doors one month later and went much farther away putting me back into a food dessert. My mortgage takes over half my income. The rest covers home insurance, home taxes, phone, utilities, water, medicines, and things like that leaving very little for food.

      I don’t want you to think I’m going hungry because I’m definitely not. I’m very good at making do with what I get. My friends used to tease me and say I could make a meal out of chicken bones and cracker crumbs. LOL I probably could. I have skills to keep me from doing without or going hungry. I may not have the luxuries so many feel necessary but I have enough for myself and I’m happy. I write my blog for those who might be newly poor or simply struggling to survive. By showing my struggles and the solutions I come up with maybe others will be encouraged that it can be done.

      Ok, not so short an answer but it covers a lot. My brother fishes and gives me some. I don’t know anyone who hunts or anyone with fruit trees. That would really be a luxury to me.


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