Monday, January 11, 2010

Starving Artist? …Or Just Starving

Everyone has heard the phrase “starving artist”. But in today’s economy, more people than just artist are plain starving.

This year over the holidays, I found it heartbreaking when the news and radio stations did stories on the local shelters. Reports of all-time-low food supplies with all-time-high requests for help. But not only did this stretch to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and food banks. In my community alone, two animal shelters were completely out of dog food. I imagine the last present people gifted this year was another mouth to feed. I felt horrible and donated what I could spare, which wasn’t much. Maybe bought 50 lbs of dog food.

What’s more is that hard working American’s in the land of plenty with jobs are finding it hard to feed their families. The budget’s tight. Stress is high. And people are having to change the way they live.

I feel blessed. I haven’t felt the crunch like some have. My hubby has a good job even if I had to give mine up. Mind you, I had to stop working for health reason not because of the economy. But we still lost a complete salary. So, I’ve changed a few things; took the steps most people start out with. I’ve cut the extra $20 here and there to places like Netflix. We really didn’t do a good job of sending them back anyway. Plus we have HBO and since we’ve been a customer with DirecTV for like more than five years, they gave us a year of Showtime for free. (I think it was Showtime. I don’t watch much TV anyway. That’s hubby’s department.) I also cut car insurance we were paying on a car that is broke down right now. With no money to fix it, why pay for the insurance? I also cut the temperature by five degrees. It seemed really cold at first and everyone complained. But after about two weeks of it, I think we are adjusting. Trimming these small things seems to have added up to just over a hundred dollars. (Not including the electricity. The verdict or bill isn’t in on that one yet.) To some, that might not be much. To others it’s a lot. But the big savings…

Eating out.

When I worked, I was too tired to cook. My health just would not support me working and running a family. We ended up eating out a lot. Both my husband and I ate out for lunch every day. And dinner was either takeout or some overpriced, prepackaged, readymade meal. We bought a lot of throw in the microwave and if we didn’t get takeout everyone fixed their own prepackaged meal. I know we had to have spent at least five hundred dollars a month on takeout. And I’m only talking about fast food or the cafeteria at work, not high-end restaurants. One meal at Sonic for a family of four is around forty dollars. But I had the money to blow then and no energy to do anything else. The grocery bill was anywhere from one-fifty to two hundred a week.

Now I don’t have the money. So, I’ve been cooking for the last month. I set up a menu and spent as little as I could at the grocery. I went shopping for two weeks, and I spent a bit under two hundred. I’m feeding a family of four, three meals a day. That includes kids’ lunches at school and soft drinks for my hubby at work.

So, what are we eating? Well, it isn’t steak. But we are eating. If I make a dinner for five dollar, we have saved twenty-five to thirty-five dollars when compared to takeout. But what can you make for five dollars? Last night I made a casserole. Mum, yummy right? It wasn’t that bad. First I cooked up a pound of ground turkey. Yes, turkey. Check it out. It’s better for your health than beef and cheaper too. I can get a pound of turkey in the roll for under two dollars. Sometimes you can find it already seasoned like taco or Italian. Then I made a box of mac-n-cheese. It doesn’t have to be the fancy noodles. You can get the cheapest and still buy Kraft for under a dollar. Then I added a can of condensed soup about a dollar. Last night I used cream of mushroom, but I like broccoli cheese better for this or any kind of cheese soup. Then I added a can of corn (about seventy cents) and threw in a package of biscuits (about a dollar). The only name brand in this was the mac-n-cheese. You’ll never know the difference from name brand or store brand soup or corn. Now this comes in at about five to six dollars. But guess what? I added one can of peas last night at about seventy cents and stretched the meal so that there were leftovers for my husband to take to work for lunch. Instead of him buying a plate at work for five-fifty, he took seventy cents worth of leftovers. Now we’re talking a dinner for four and lunch for one; forty plus five-fifty of eating out verses six-seventy. A savings of thirty-eight dollars. And the kids didn’t even complain because they had mac-n-cheese.

Another thing I have discovered is frozen meatballs. They come in a bag and you can even get store brand. I throw eight per person in the oven and heat up some spaghetti sauce. Then cut some hoagies for meatball subs and add some cheese; sliced or shredded works fine. Serve with chips or a better bang for the buck is fries. The meatballs are about five dollars a bag, the bread two to two-fifty and the sauce anywhere from seventy cents to two dollars depending on what brand and size you get. The bonus here is that there are enough meatballs in the five dollar bag to make this twice, cutting the price to two-fifty for the meatballs per meal. Bread comes six hoagies to a bag, leaving two for nice sandwich lunches. And if you make a menu and time it right, you can buy a large can of sauce and split it between the subs and a spaghetti dinner, which is another cheap meal.

Tonight is the trusted pot of beans with cornbread and turkey sausage; which, by the way, flavors the beans better than ham anyway. I buy a lot of different types of dried beans and add some of each kind to mix them. Soak them over night and cook them on low the next day. I season with the link turkey sausage, Zatarain’s Creole season (there’s also one called Tony’s Creole, but I like Zatarain’s better), an onion or minced onions and turmeric. I like black, red, navy, kidney or most any been. Lima not so good. Lintels are the cheapest and I add them for filling. They don’t taste too great on their own, but with the other beans, you’ll never taste them. And they are the best bean for you.

Artists have been starving for years. So, I bet we have a lot of great tips to stretch the food budget. I’d love to hear more great tips from all of you.


1 comment:

  1. Smart, woman. It's amazing how much more ambition we have to cook dinner when we're home instead of at work, eh? When I come home from Teacher Stuntp-Doubling, I feel like Flat Stanley... and not so much like cooking. Especially if I've also got an editor's meeting or author chat that night, plus kids who need help with homework... yah. Easy to toss aside the money-saving good intentions. At least we live too far out of town to make eating out convenient. When I consider the 25 minute one way drive, it's usually easier to slap something in the toaster oven and save half the cost!