You work hard for your money, so you want to get the most out of it. And, the less you make, the tighter your financial reins have to be. Thankfully, with some creative measures, you can stretch your dollars to at least eat well through the week — even on $100.
People living at the low-end of the wage scale understand that minimum wage is not a living wage. Federal regulations require that non-tip-earning workers get at least $7.25 per hour. That’s $1,256 a month or $15,080 per year, before taxes and without a vacation… and that’s if you work 40 hours a week, something minimum wage jobs don’t always offer.
A single person qualifies for food stamps (EBT) with a gross income of $1,287, and a net income of $990. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll get enough to make a difference. “Qualifying” just means you met the minimum standards. It could also mean you end up with something like $7 a month in food stamps — about enough for a cheap dinner. Still, it’s worth applying, because qualifying for EBT also means you automatically qualify for other forms of assistance if you ever need them. Whether you receive assistance or not, consider implementing some of the methods below so you can at least enjoy a decent diet through the week on $100 or less.
The Real Cost of Fast Food
The absolute last thing you want to do is start down the path of cheap fast food. Yes, you can get a basic burger, fries and beverage for about $3. But, this is also the fast track to serious medical issues and a poor state of mental health. At least watch Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me movie. The guy almost died from eating at McDonald’s for just one month. It’s important that your three-square meals a day are reasonably healthy.
Fatten Your Wallet with a Menu
If you’re serious about saving money with your food budget, it’s going to take some planning. But, if you do it right, you could find yourself enjoying a freshly marinated T-bone once a week. The key is to not just plan a menu, but to plan a menu that makes use of everything you have, and plays one meal off the other.
Plan around your main courses. Buy your meats in bulk and on sale so that you can get the most for your money, but use them wisely. Pasta, potatoes, and some vegetables are sometimes cheaper than meat, and make great fillers. That means a couple of pounds of ground beef can last you for a week. Just cook it all up in one day, and then bag it up to freeze for use in meals through the week. You can do the same with things like roast, chicken, and even eggs.
Make Your Own Fillers
How do you think fast food places can sell burgers so cheap? They use fillers in their meats, and you can too. Only, yours won’t be pink slime, but healthy foods. Add some black or red beans to your ground beef to make it go further and have more protein. Mix oatmeal or even rice in it when you make burgers so you can make twice as many. Add flour or potatoes to your eggs to make them fluffier and more filling.
Use Offered Savings
Sure, you can clip coupons, but don’t forget about points programs and rewards that stores offer. Some stores, like Family Dollar, allow you to select all the coupons you want to use from their site, and then take them off the total when you put your phone number in as you cash out.
You can even save money by using the right payment method. Use a debit card as “credit” if it offers a cashback bonus, or at least use another card that offers cash back or some kind of reward. You have to spend the money anyhow, so you may as well let your payment option work for you.
Be a Smart Shopper
Buying in bulk is almost always a good idea, but note the “almost” part. Pay attention to what you’re paying per unit. For instance, cheese is frequently sold in bulk packages, which seems like a great savings. But, most of the time if you compare the cost per slice between the bulk package and the smaller one, you’ll find that you’re actually paying more per slice with the bulk package. Just take your calculator with you and do the math yourself. Divide the total cost by the number of units (ounces, slices, etc.) to see what you’re paying per item before you make your selection.
Be an even smarter shopper by keeping to the perimeter or the store as much as you can. That’s where fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and breads are sold. There is a whole lot in the center that is not only a waste of money, but a waste of your time as well. Filling up on junk food means you’re actually going to eat more because you never have enough nutrients to feel full. Try sticking to the outside lanes and you’ll see that you end up with more of what you really need.
Plan for Leftovers
Always try to keep your pasta or potatoes, vegetables, and meats separate. That way, you can use them for other things later on. Plan for a leftover day when you just reheat all your leftovers. Or, freeze leftovers in small individual containers so you have something for lunch or a snack later in the week.
If you want to create a whole new meal with leftovers, make a stew, stir fry, or casserole. Get some broth and add your vegetables, meats, and leftover pasta or potatoes for stew. Do the same if you want to make a casserole, but try adding a bit of milk or cheese instead of broth. For a stir fry, just mix the foods that make sense and fry them up!
Get Back to Basics
Bar none, the best way to save money on food is to produce it yourself. This is true even if you get assistance, because EBT will pay for seeds, plants, and even trees… as long as they produce food. Start small and grow the foods you like. Once you get the hang of it, you can even start selling or swapping food from your garden and use it to help you pay for things like meats.
It’s not just about gardening, either. The more you grow or make yourself, the fewer foods you have to buy. For instance, flour can be a main ingredient in cake mixes, pancakes, noodles, breading, and many other things. It’s cheap, takes up very little space, and can stretch your grocery dollar further than you can imagine.
It’s easy to blow your monthly budget on dining out or buying what looks good at them time. The problem is that you’re spending more than you need to. And, if you’re already living on minimum wage, you know the struggle is real. These are just a few of the things you can do to make your groceries more financially friendly. If you have any tips to share, we’d love to hear from you. Just drop a line in the comments!