Here is my family in 1997. I was 12.5 years old in the picture. And this was either months before or just after my mom and dad’s divorce. (I forget the month/year it happened but I swear it was in 1997). Family history in a nutshell: Mom married dad when I was 4, in 1988. She struggled financially to stay home with us kids while he worked Pizza Hut/McDonalds/Grocery stores/taxi. He bounced from job to job, and as they had more kids, my mom started to work nights while he worked days.
They divorced when I was 12-13ish and mom worked full time as a CNA with 5 kids at home. From the moment I was born until I was in high school, my mom struggled to get off food stamps, but never refused the help when she needed it.
Bottom line: She was a pro at frugal, healthy living.
I had a ton of interest in hearing my mom’s story and tips. So she graciously agreed to share. These are only 13, she has a ton of other ideas. I might have to make her a regular contributor.
1. Never eat out – When I was raising my kids, it was expensive to feed everyone at a restaurant. You can save so much money and control the ingredients you use when you only eat at home.
2. Live by the penny on a budget – When you live paycheck to paycheck, you have to count every single penny. Not just every dime. And when you can see where your money is going, you can make changes easier. No splurges, no cokes on the way home. Count every single penny.
3. Accept free produce from gardens and food pantries – I never said no. Ever. If someone at church had a garden I mentioned that if they had a surplus I’d be interested in taking it off their hands. No, don’t beg, but make friends that have gardens. I always had my “feelers” out – and always searched for places that had fresh vegetables for free or super duper cheap.
4. Never say no – I went to the Breadbasket (the food pantry Annie is trying to win the money for), church pantries, WIC, foodstamps, and anything else I heard about. I was always searching for ways to supplement my groceries with healthy options. I accepted the healthy options from the food pantries – bread, noodles, canned/frozen vegetables – and used my foodstamps for the fresh vegetables and fruits.
5. Shop at bread store - The Wonder bread store sold surplus bread at a super discounted rate. I loaded my 4 kids in the car – hot day or not – and shopped there in addition to the other stores. I was on foodstamps and I couldn’t afford not to. When you only have $300 to spend on food and the breadstore is there you have to go there and buy it. You have no choice.
6. Shopped at Aldi’s – I shopped at 2-3 different grocery stores, including Aldi’s. I learned what stores sold the foods I needed at the lowest prices and shopped from store to store. Yes, it was emotionally exhausting taking my 4 kids to 3 different stores in a day – but I learned to be organized and shop at one a day.
7. Freeze milk, bread and other extras – I remember WIC gave me more milk than my family drank in one week. So I froze the milk we didn’t drink and saved it for the time when we would need it. Same with bread and leftover meals.
8. Waste not want not – I never wasted food. It was a punishable offense to throw food away. I always used every single bit of leftovers in another casserole or dish. I kept as close an eye on my food as I did on my budget.
9. Make once-a-month meals and freeze them – This I did before the divorce. When I had 5 kids and worked full time I missed this money-saving activity. My friends and I got together and spent all day in the kitchen making 30 days worth of meals and froze them. Then, all month, we only had to shop for perishables. This took extreme penny pinching to start off with since I had to buy the full month’s food up front. It was super tough. But it saved us so much money!
10. Grow your own food – After the divorce, I lived in a house with a yard. On my days off I was outside, working my garden. I might have grown more if I didn’t work so much, but those cucumbers and tomatoes were the most delicious things! And oh the Rhubarb! (Rhubarb is the easiest thing to grow in the world.) You can even grow tomatoes in your windowsill.
11. Take advantage of commodities – These are government surplus foods for low income people. I remember getting real butter, cheese, beans & rice, and more. The line for the commodities at the food pantry was super long during a super hot day, but worth every minute I waited.
12. Heartland Shares – CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) – Another program I found was a coop-type program I joined. For a fixed amount each month (and they didn’t take foodstamps so I went without a lot of things to afford this) you got fresh fruits, veggies, and different meats. You didn’t get a choice of what you got, but fresh was important to me.
13. Get creative with homemade dinners – I made lots of fried Rice, homemade skillet dinners (I’d be creative and spice it up), homemade desserts with fresh apples & oatmeal. Cooking from scratch is cheaper, fresher, doesn’t have additives, kept my kids healthier. You guys today have the internet and blogs – you can easily get information for creative, frugal, healthy meals.
Thank you Mom!! What do you think? Have anything to add to this list? And do you have any questions for her? She will answer them, I know it!
If you have any questions about what #Surviveon35 is, you can read this post by the sponsor, Anytime Fitness. Please follow me on twitter @MamaDweeb and cheer me on as I try to raise the money for the Manhattan KS Breadbasket. I will especially need you to comment and tell your friends to comment on my post on Wednesday. Thank you for your support!