Friday, November 5, 2010

Really Cheap Meat

The other day I tried that turkey meat they sell in a frozen roll to make a meatloaf. I haven't used it before because it so cheap and I know not the best quality. It sells for $1.59 at one store I go to and is less than that at another. The meatloaf was okay - not great but certainly eatable. I'll try another roll in chili next time. The new butcher at the store where I used to find a lot of meat specials doesn't offer much anymore and I have to come up with another cheap way to add some meat to our meals.

Yesterday I scored a deal on a dozen eggs for 50 cents and a gallon of milk for half price. I put it in the freezer to guarantee we'll have milk at the end of the month, which sometimes we run out of.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cheaps Eats

A very frugal dinner that I am grateful we even had the fixings for:

Ramen Noodle soup with grilled cheese sandwiches (last of the bread without any mold), canned Mandarin oranges.

I was behind a woman at ALDI with her cart overflowing and couldn't wait to see what her total cost was - only $103.00. She had enough to feed an army. Being able to go into ALDI and spending $100.00 remains my #1 fantasy. Continue to obsess about food. New fantasy involves eating at a buffet or all-you-can-eat place and I used to despise them. Now the thought of being able to stuff myself to abandon holds some appeal. Maybe that is how those restaurants started, when the economy was down and there were a lot of hungry people around.

I stood behind the woman with one item - a package of margarine for 60 cents which I needed to make the grilled cheese.

Ironic that I received a letter campaign plea to donate to a boxed Thanksgiving food drive when we are so in need ourselves. Maybe I'll call the number and ask how we can receive a box ourselves!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pedicures and Shoes

Yes, it is official now - I have gone over a year without a pedicure! I didn't think I'd make it through the summer but I just kept my toe nails short and no one ever pointed at my feet or made fun of them. There were a few times that I looked at other women's polished toes and feet a little envious. I was surprised to find myself admiring black and dark blue polish colors. I guess the important thing to note here is that I survived not having what was once a regular part of my beauty routine. Not that I didn't miss it - I did. But $25.00 buys a bag of groceries and food has become more important to me than my vanity. Thank goodness, the weather is getting cooler and it is time to start wearing closed-toe shoes again.

Over two years now without buying one item of clothing, jewelry, shoes, bra, panties, perfume, etc. for myself. I think women do need little pretties in their lives but I get a small amount of pleasure every day I'm still able to keep using what I already own. Little luxuries perk up our lives and make us feel good about ourselves. So I'm not against treating myself to luxuries when I can afford them. Just now I can't.

While I'm on the subject of pedicures and feet I should mention that my sons have duck taped their shoes together. A couple of summers ago my youngest went through the whole baseball season with a duck taped pair of spikes. He did it to help save the money. The day the season ended, I so gladly tossed those cleats into the trash!

Even now, my oldest showed me how his bottom sole is uplifted and there is a hole along the side of his shoe. I saw some decent looking tennis shoes at WalMart for $12.00 but he refuses to wear those. We wants sports/running shoes that you get at Sport's Authority for $70.00. So I guess he can break out the duck tape if he needs to because we don't have that kind of money right now for shoes.

Not to say that there aren't shoes everywhere I look on the floor in our home - I'm always tripping over them and they look wearable to me. And then we have football, baseball. indoor, outdoor track and volleyball shoes in the mix too.

I'll provide a shoe update in the coming months in regard to my oldest son wanting an expensive pairs of sports shoes and not agreeing to considering the WalMart ones. Maybe I'll force him to take a look at them. This summer, my youngest was a dear and wore a pair of canvas slip-on shoes from Payless Shoes that only cost me $12.00!

To conclude however, pretty lame of me lamenting not being able to afford a pedicure when my sons have used duck tape on their shoes. I have nothing to complain about!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tuna Helper

Son -"Mom, what's for dinner?"

Me -"We don't have much here... I can make Tuna Helper."

Son -"It's better than nothing."

Food Pantry Fixin's were very slim this week. Between the two pantries I go to I received five boxes of Tuna Helper but no cans of tuna! I had one can left of my own that I could use. Added to that we had the one can of vegetables I received from this week's pantry visits - a can of cut green beans. Again, between both pantries, I only received one can of vegetables! We had toast with our meal - a nice loaf of wheat whole grain bread, which along with a loaf of raisin bread were the best items I took home from the pantries.

It is funny, but this is one of the exact meals I'd make anyway, regardless of our living under financial distress - Tuna Helper, beans (although usually frozen) and toast. I've been making it for years.

Anyway, the point of this post is that food pantries serve a short-term purpose, to get a family or individual through a month or two of crisis. They're not set up to provide for people who can't find work and need to rely on them for months at a time.

For one thing, the food provided is not nutritious, fresh or enough of a variety. It is the same limited selection of food each visit - rice, pasta, mac n' cheese, soup (tomato and chicken noodle), a small can of spaghetti sauce, pancake mix and peanut butter and jelly. You can only eat so much of those items without never ever wanting to look at another box of mac n' cheese!

The only way I continue to be able to come up with halfway decent meals is relying on the ethnic grocery store that I found sells big assorted packages of slightly bruised fruit for either 99 cents or $1.29. But it is hit or miss going in there. I wanted bananas yesterday, which they didn't have. But they did have a great package of smaller and fresh apples that I snapped up, perfect for the boys' lunches.

Sadly, they got a new butcher at the other grocery store I go to for 99 cent meat specials and he has cut down on the offerings there. I am still able to find a few once in awhile but not to the extent that I used to. He will give me a discount if I find a package of meat that is up for code that day, but again it is a hit or miss process. Some days I'm lucky and strike some deals, most other days I'm not.

Last night, I made a big pot of vegetarian chili soup from two dry mixes from ALDI. I served it over spaghetti AND rice topped with cheddar cheese (from a prior pantry visit). There is a ton left for this weekend! Filling and tasty. The same ethnic grocery store also sells special bakery items for $1.29 a package and I've been able to get some donuts and cookies for the boys, which is a nice treat. The donuts I got with the apples had Halloween sprinkles on them, and my younger son is very fond of that type. Nice to get something seasonal and fun.

I just continue to find that so much of my focus revolves around food and my fantasy wish is to be able to go into ALDI and spend $100.00 without having to count up all the items in my head. The way I shop now is to go in more frequently to try and find deals - it takes up extra time and energy to have to hunt down milk deals or to scope around in the sale bins.

I have to keep telling myself that we do have food and with my resourcefulness, probably eating better than others. But it is a daily challenge and worrisome. And I don't like that my thoughts are so consumed and focused on food all the time. I do start to crave things and obsess about meals and that can't be good. There are other things I'd rather be concentrating on.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Double Edged Sword

I try to be grateful when I visit the food pantry but there are times that I leave discouraged because the pickings are so slim. It is clear that the food given is only meant to supplement one's groceries or pantry staples. But that is a problem when you don't have the money to shop for milk, meat, eggs, cheese and fresh fruits and vegetables. So you get some spaghetti noodles but don't have sauce or meat to go with it. Likewise, a package of hamburger helper. The items you walk out with are supplemental and not worth much on their own. Thank goodness we have not yet reached the point of having to eat a can of black beans on their own for a meal.

Here is the list of items from today's excursion to one of the local food pantries. By this time of the month my refrigerator is bare but I do have pantry items remaining such as spaghetti sauce, although it is canned and God awful - the worst I've ever tasted. Luckily, I have a few dollars left from the sale of some gold jewelry that I took to the pawn shop so I will be able to add to these items ground turkey, turkey sausage and turkey burger patties, all purchased at the end of code date and with coupons besides so I am paying at most for a package of meat, $1.50. I will go to the ethnic grocery store for a few packages of fresh fruit that they sell in packages for $1.29. This should hold us until I can write a check at the grocery store for some real food, Sept. 28th. That is two days before payday so the check shouldn't bounce and we'll have better food in the house.

Bread Items
- Package of 4 Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (The local Starbucks donates its bakery items at or near code and going to this pantry on Monday is a perk to be able to pick up a Starbucks treat. I remember the distant days when I'd often pop into a Starbucks for a hot tea and pastry. Now the only way we enjoy these treats is one some are available at the pantry. But it is still a treat!
- Starbucks Apple Fritter - I ate this for breakfast and was in heaven!
- 2 Starbucks brownies which I took for the boys.
- 2 large bakery loaves of garlic bread. I'd hoped for a loaf of sandwich bread to make the boys' school lunches but there weren't any today - just rolls, and Italian bread.
- Starbucks chocolate cookies (6)

Fresh Items
- 2 lb. chunk of cheddar cheese - no expiration date but it looks ok.
- 1 lb. chub of processed ground turkey - no expiration date. I've never used this turkey before always getting the freshly ground but I suppose I can try it with a meat loaf and see how it turns out.
- 3 small baking potatoes, not the most fresh but I'll bake them and smother with sour cream.
- 3 Blueberry Yoplait yogurts with expiration of 9/5. I am not sure how safe these are to eat. I suppose I can eat them but I'm not keen on giving them to the boys. When I buy dairy it is always the day of the code expiration and not after so this worried me a little.

Pantry Items
- 1 lb. spaghetti noodles
- Riceland Long Grain Brown Rice, no expiration date
- Rice-A-Roni Spanish Rice, expiration date 4/25/10
- Box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
- Box of no name brand Mac & Cheese
- Old El Paso hard taco shells
- 1 lb. bag white long grain enriched rice
- Small box Ritz crackers, exp. 8/31/10 - every patron gets a treat of cookies or something and this was ours
- Quaker Cinnamon Oatmeal Squares cereal
- Sun Dried Tomato flavor mashed potato mix
- Herbs de Provence mashed potato mix
- Package of Chili seasoning mix

- Dark Red Kidney beans (dented and rusted top, dirty/greasy label)
- Campbell's Chunky Clam Chowder soup
- no label, 2 cans diced carrots
- sweet applesauce, exp. 2/9/09 - this would have been so nice to get because usually the applesauce is unsweetened and I don't think I'm going to use it a year past the coded date
- Dark Chocolate Peanut Spread, exp. 5/28/10
- 5 oz. can Chicken of the Sea tuna
- Rotel diced tomatoes & green chilies
- Sloppy Joe sauce
- Black beans
- 2 cans Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup
- Off brand fruit cocktail
- 24 oz. can of beef stew - we don't eat beef so I redonate this
- individual can of Carnation Instant Breakfast, vanilla flavor

- 46 oz. Indian Summer Apple Juice
- 3 tubs of 2 QT. lemonade drink mix

- 3 bars of hotel bath soap
- Aim toothpaste
- VO5 Shampoo - discontinued scent so there is no matching conditioner

So looking over this list of food items, I figure if this were it, all we had to eat, I'd be able to come up with only a few meals and provided that I could get milk, eggs, and regular bread.

Breakfasts = oatmeal squares cereal, pumpkin muffins, home cooked rice pudding & fruit cocktail

Lunches = Mac & cheese, soup w/cheese and crackers, grilled cheeses if I can get load bread

Dinners = Meat load made with the turkey, carrots and baked potatoes
Tuna helper and spaghetti if I could obtain spaghetti sauce, and noodles
Chili and tacos if I could get more ground turkey

Basically the pantry provided enough food for a week of breakfasts if milk could be obtained.
About half a week of lunches, and again only if a loaf of bread could be obtained.
And one dinner, with supplemental meat needed to create three more meals.

Eyeballing the list of food items I estimate the worth of items to be about $50.00 give or take a few dollars. To be able to use it in order to eat for the week I would have to add about $20.00 to pick up extra meat, bread, eggs, milk, noodles, spaghetti sauce and a few other items for lunches and dinners. That is assuming I can find 99 cent meat deals and includes no fresh fruit or vegetables.

Again, I try to be grateful for whatever food I receive but some of it is not what I would ever purchase on my own and there is a sense of feeling degraded at having to take castoffs and expired items. I just will throw them out - they shouldn't even be given away. Some weeks back I got a package of biscuit mix from 2004!

But anyway, it would be far better if there could be some sort of system that allows a store gift card to be presented for $50.00 so I could pick out items my family actually eats. And would allow for the purchase of necessary fresh food items.

I don't have much experience to go on with food pantries. I imagine they are all strapped across the country right now. Are there ones out there that are better or worse? The folks going to this pantry mostly do not qualify for food stamps but they are certainly unable to feed their families and need assistance. I just wish that assistance was better coordinated for those who fall in the sphere of needing but not being able to receive any true benefits and are forced to accept and make due with these hand outs.

Once, as I left the pantry in the winter, a young woman looked over the groceries she was carrying out and commented, "It's not very much, is it?" I was relieved, because I had been feeling guilty for thinking the same and yet trying to be grateful and thankful at the same time.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I am obsessed with food. If a Genie popped out of a bottle right now, I would wish for a dinner at an all-you-can eat place for my sons and I, and the opportunity to go to ALDI and fill my grocery cart to the brim. At the buffet, I would stuff myself until my stomach hurt. At ALDI, I would select items without consulting the price and keeping that constant total in my head, having to stop when I reached my limit. I'm guessing the total cost of dinner to be about $30.00 and the full shopping cart, $70.00. Not a great deal in the grand scheme of things.

I go to our local grocery store on an almost daily basis to check the discounted meat and dairy at-code specials. If there isn't a 99 cent deal on a package of ground turkey or other meat, I leave empty-handed. But not before I have a chance to observe other people shopping and filling their carts. I look at what people are buying with a kind of sick fascination. I feel like a Peeping Tom as I contemplate the items in their carts. At the check-out, I wait to hear the final total on the purchases and get some of strange pleasure in hearing the really high totals over a hundred dollars. Oh, to be able to spend that amount on a cart full of groceries like I used to in the old days...

In a recent book I read, the main character decides what to fix as a light summer dinner coming up with egg salad and cucumber salad with iced tea. I drooled at that menu and added to it, a ripe, juicy tomato, maybe a fresh ear of corn. The seasonal fruits and vegetables are what I am missing most now. The thought of canned green beans leaves me cold. I think about frying up some new red potatoes and making a beet salad. To have to pass up the packages of blueberries and the nectarines almost makes me cry. I circle the produce section with my empty cart and watch the people select their tomatoes, strawberries and carrots.

I dream about going to one of our local farm stands and inhaling the smells of the produce. Or going into a bakery for the same sensations. I pass by a Dairy Queen and dream of an icy cold Blizzard or cone. This has been a Blizzard free summer. A pizza commercial airs and I dream of buying an entire pizza for each of us and not caring if there are any leftovers - a real fresh pizza, not the frozen ones I once in a while pick up as a treat. Once I even had the fantasy of getting a dozen Dunkin' Donuts and scarfing them down myself - and not worrying in the least about calories or high blood pressure.

My focus is on feeding my boys and doing the best for them. Sometimes that has meant that I've gone without or been the one eating a pb & j for dinner. I don't mind. It just has been catching up with me where I feel a bit hungry on some days and craving foods not in the pantry.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nothing Left to Cut

I have come across a couple of articles about people in debt and their plans for digging themselves out. The latest was in O Magazine with Suzy Orman as the financial advisor. One of the main advice given is to cut out all extras and luxuries. In this case, the family cut out vacations, cable, buying books and magazines. Other expenses that can go would be take-out dinners, pedicures/beauty appointments and trading in high end vehicles. In some of the articles I've read, the families seem to really struggle with all of this, especially losing the cable with the rationalization that if vacations have to be given up, at least cable should still be maintained.

I would like to read an article geared more to my current financial level. An unemployed, widowed mom trying to survive having already cut out all the extras. We haven't had cable or a vacation in six years. There haven't been new clothes or even Christmas gifts the past two years. So what do people like me cut out or cut back on when they've already cut everything to the bone? When I am using up my supply of hotel sample soaps because I can't affor my facial cleanser? That is the question I'd like to ask of Suzy Orman or Mary Hunt.

I find myself having a hard time relating to these families portrayed in these articles. They are not poor enough - there is still some disposable income available. And in the end they all are able to avoid bankruptcy. I want to read about a family that can't dig themselves out - that like me does laundry only two times a month because they can't afford the $3.00 a load cost. A family that like me has to supplement their food budget with castoffs from the food pantry.

Do you know why I think the financial advisors stay around from those of us hovering at the poverty level? Because there isn't any advice they can really give us - because we have sunk too low to be able to dig ourselves out.