Help a Reader — What to Do When Money is Beyond Tight?

by Katy on September 4, 2012 · 134 comments

One of the great things about The Non-Consumer Advocate is that it has evolved from a traditional blog to a genuine community. There are often conversations between readers within the comments section, that occur without any of my input.

And the conversations on The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook Group? They’re insanely fantastic, sometimes it’s all I can do to a word in edgewise! It’s pretty common for readers to pose questions about sustainability, gardening, simple living, how to get a particular used item or, you guessed it, money issues. And while I’m thinking through how to best answer the question, a dozen or more readers will jump in with really thoughtful answers that knock my socks off. I often get great ideas and inspiration from the group.

But sometimes, a reader will write a question that begs for a larger audience than the 2,728 current members, and I bring that question over to the main blog.

Today is one of those days, so please help Amy, who is asking for ideas on how to get by on a very small income:

I’ve been an on again off again frugal person with more on time than off. Currently I find myself in a situation of almost an impossibly TIGHT budget. I’m talking $100 a month for food and a few necessities for 2 people hopefully that will increase a bit after the first of the year. A little background, It’s just my hubby and I plus pets (2 small dogs and a very old cat) . About 6 years ago hubby was in an accident and suffered a brain injury which left him unable to work. We were doing okay with his WC income and SSD but then the Social Security people said they goofed up the math and overpaid him so for the next 2 years they are withholding his SSD to make up for the overpayment. It’s crazy and it frankly it makes my brain hurt to think about it. Anyway I’m here to learn and to share and maybe we’ll make it through this tight spot in better shape than we entered it.

Here, I’ll start:

Amy, first of all, I’m very sorry to hear about your husband, I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for you. My family has been in situations where our income hardly covered our expenses, (husband in school, me working part time with tiny children) but we always knew it was temporary.

Here are a few ideas to bring your expenses down:

  • Stop buying most anything disposable. This means paper towels, paper napkins, plastic silver wear, Kleenex.
  • Stop buying drinks when water will do. This means soda, juice, alcohol, and the like. Make coffee and tea at home, and keep a pitcher of tap water in the fridge, so there’s always a cool drink available. Make ice tea from tea bags instead of a mix. And it goes without saying, no bottled water.
  • Buy your food wherever is cheapest. This might mean fruit from one store and cereal from another. And certainly say goodbye to any brand loyalty. Buy whatever is on sale that week rather than having a set grocery list that doesn’t waver. This means only buy strawberries in early summer, pears in the fall and asparagus in the spring. Look into ethnic grocery stores, as they often provide great bargains. Also, take a look at dollar stores.
  • Eat less meat, and embrace the bean! Dried beans cooked in a slow cooker or a pressure cooker are the best protein bargain in town. Vegetarian chili, lentil soup, black bean burgers, rice and bean burritos and enchiladas are all tasty without sacrifice.
  • Study all of your set expenses. Are you paying extra for low deductible home owners insurance or add-ons on your phone line? Call your insurance agent and let them know if you’re driving less and ask about any new discounts. Call all the customer service numbers and negotiate lower rates. I have done this, and it’s easy! If you have a cell phone, then cancel your landline.
  • Get to know your library for what they offer beyond books. DVD’s, CD’s, audio books, whatever. And then, (this is important here) return everything on time.
  • Take advantage of all the free events that your city or town offers. Concerts, movies, museum nights, readings, lectures, dances performances, etc. There is no reason to sit at home just because you have no money.
  • If there’s something that you need, see if any of your friends or family have an extra one. Facebook is great for this. And if it’s something you just need to use rather than own, see if you can borrow it.

But sometimes employing frugal practices is simply not enough, and you need to be bringing in more money, in which case you should consider:

  • Selling unused items in your home. It doesn’t have be a priceless object, as unwatched DVD’s, books, electronics, furniture, clothing, video games, sporting equipment and kitchenware can also plump up your bank account. Try Craigslist, as it’s free without the annoyance of shipping. Plus, if your item doesn’t sell, you’re not out any money like if you would be if you’d used eBay.
  • Start using Swagbucks for your internet searches. This website gives out points (A.K.A. “Swagbucks”) for searching the web, which can then be used to buy different items, (although I always choose the Amazon gift cards.) You won’t get rich from this, but you might as well earn money something you’d be doing anyway.
  • However, be aware that your government benefits may cap the amount of income you can bring in, so be careful here.

Now your turn, What money saving/money earning advice do you have for Amy to help her through this difficult period of her life? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 133 comments… read them below or add one }

Katy September 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

I didn’t really address how to feed her pets, do any of you have any ideas?



tna September 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Coupons seem to be the best way to save on pet food. Buy the smallest bag allowed on the coupon to save the most. Petco has a P.A.L.s saving card but their prices are usually higher to begin with. You can google and find a coupon exchange in your area to get more pet food coupons.


tna September 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Oops….forgot about farmers coops and feed stores, sometimes their pet foods are cheaper.


Poor to Rich a Day at a Time September 4, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I feed my dog a homestyle diet that is as cheap a month as generic dog food that is horrid for pets. Oatmeal with an egg, and brewers yeast tablets in the morning. For lunch and dinners I cook up 2 chicken breasts in a 2 quart pot of water and add brown rice and either collard greens or green beans and if I have it sometimes an apple into it. I use fresh apple as treats or make my own treats cheaply that are again more healthy and my dog loves them better. The vet says she looks fantastic and is in great health! She did aweful on dry commercial dog foods. Anyways that 2 quart pan for one border collie gets put in a 5 gallon ice cream bucket and lasts 3 to 4 days at a time for lunch and dinner. If you research online the foods to stay away from and use the 40% protein, 30% grains and %30 veggies and fruits it is easy to give a cheap and healthy dinner to the dog and a small variety to change it up.

Whole wheat cereal is another meal she likes a lot where we buy whole wheat and crack it in the blender, cover to soak bring to boil, take off and let sit over night…… morning add more water to desired consistancy and cook about 10 minutes……..great for dog and delicous cheap hot cereal for people too! A 25 lb bag costs us 14 dollars at Walmarts and lasts MONTHS!


Shoshna September 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Try local pet stores if you choose the pricier pet food (I find they tend to be better for my pets health so fewer vet visits.) You may have to call around but my vet explained that since they get it directly from the company their is no middle man and they usually take coupons too!


Susan September 4, 2012 at 9:54 am

This is a really obvious one but plan menus. Food is expensive and buy exactly what you need…prepare a shopping list and stick to it. We have a limited income as well, so we do the usual stuff, do free stuff with the family (trips to the park, long walks by the canal), plan menus, watch our energy usage by hanging energy save bulbs, turning things off completely instead of standby, etc. I don’t know what else to suggest…


Susan September 4, 2012 at 9:58 am

*having energy saving light bulbs…my bad english! Shame on me! I wish Amy and her husband good luck…if I didn’t live in the UK, I’d invite them over for a meal to help out.


Laura in So Cal September 4, 2012 at 9:54 am

Amy should check her utility companies (Electricity, Natural Gas, Phone) for discounts due to low income. When my husband was on unemployment, we were able to get a 10-15% discount on our utilities and our land-line with just an on-line application and a phone call. Each utility called it something different so just check their websites or call customer service.


Katy September 4, 2012 at 9:56 am

Good idea, I wouldn’t have thought of that.



Lindsey September 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm

In my state, below a certain income level you get cell phone and service for $1 a month. Worth checking to see if your state has a similar program.

Also, don’t be ashamed to use a food bank. I have used them and, in richer times, donated to them. That is why they exist!

Good luck and hang in there.


Van September 4, 2012 at 9:56 am

Katy, about the pets: She should call all local animal shelters. When I volunteered at an animal shelter as a kid they had an ENORMOUS amount of donated food they couldn’t even use if they wanted to. They took care to feed their animals nutritive food and not the normal name brands like meow mix (!). Things may be different in this tight economy with budgets for nonprofits like that being cut, but still…worth a try.

You covered everything really well. I was definitely going to emphasize how important it is to sell stuff you’re not using around the house for extra bucks. I do this all the time: I never miss what I’ve sold even if I think I would. It’s a great way to edit the home and stretch my budget. I always ask friends for necessary items and extras before buying items. Big help!

Oh, I just noticed you didn’t mention extreme couponing: one could type that into youtube and watch for inspiration for hours. I don’t like to rely on this because the coupons are usually for processed foods or things I don’t need/want anyway but if I was desperate with a tight budget I’d definitely try coupons or even asking local churches for help.

Sorry to hear about your troubles, Amy. I hope some of the tips provided by Katy help.


Hannah September 4, 2012 at 9:58 am

Search for household goods. If there is a need for something in particular put a post up. It’s amazing how generous people are on there. I have in the past read a description on a post that described people having a hard time and I have bought things new just to give to them. I would even put a post up for animal food. You just never know what people have lying around their house that they don’t need any more.


Katy September 4, 2012 at 10:01 am

Ooh, great idea! I know when I had a cat die once, I was left with an almost full bag of cat food. I could have given it away, but instead I put on the the back porch, where raccoons ate it up immediately.



Lorraine September 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Also, check with your vet for anything he/she might be willing to give to your to help take care of any of your animals, but especially your old cat. Like Katy, when an animal dies, I donate any medicine and/or food back to the vet with specific instructions to give it to someone who needs a little assistance.


patti September 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

You can probably get some food items this way, too…. thinking apples this fall or nuts but maybe even canned goods, etc.


patti September 4, 2012 at 5:20 pm

There are other blogs online that offer recipes for a tight budget, one in particular is The Prudent Homemaker who feeds her family on .40 cents per person per day. Also I think I saw a $25/week food budget on Good Cheap Eats started when Jessica Fisher’s family wanted to get out of debt. She tells how they ate very frugally until they paid it off. Another great frugal blog is The Peaceful Mom (her family lives on $28,000 a year). Meal planning is key – and then sticking to a list when shopping. If you need one apple, don’t buy a bagful. If you need one onion, just buy one. I already mentioned looking on freecycle for food. And I’ve read where someone couponed their food for free or super cheap until they ate the whole month free. I know it wasn’t necessarily the best nutrition but sometimes you have to do it to survive. I also have checked out a library book about extremely frugal meals called Good Recipes for Hard Times by Louise Newton. It was an older book and I had to get it by interlibrary loan. I was unsure if you meant that you only have $100 a month for your food or for all of your expenses. I think you could swing that amount for a few months, especially if you carefully plan using all you have available in your pantry and freezer. My husband and I eat on $200 a month normally and that includes lots of extras… but we do not have pets to feed and we do grow our vegetables. Good luck!!


Megg September 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm

She needs to be careful when introducing new food, however because her pets could get sick (not like, die sick, but ill) with the food change. I’m all for asking for food on freecycle though!


Linda from Mass September 4, 2012 at 10:03 am


I am so sorry you are going through this!

$25 per week is not a lot for food but I really think you can do this and still eat really well. As Katy said, embrace beans and rice. Also, potatoes and whichever veggies and fruits are on sale. I am fortunate that I have a local restaurant supply that sells produce really cheap. But there may be one near you also.

Use up every bit of food you buy. When you get chicken on sale (I never buy it over $.99/lb), then roast it on a Sunday with potato and veggies. The leftovers can be used for chicken pot pie and then the bones for chicken soup. Embrace the leftovers and use up everything.
If anyone has extra garden produce (my in laws were giving away tomatoes and zuccini), take them and make them into a meal.

Check your reduced rack at the supermarket you shop. I normally find bread and gourmet bagels for $.50 a package. I have found canned veggies reduced, etc.

Also, ask around for anyone who you know that gets a Sunday paper and does not use their coupon inserts. This can help you get free and very reduced prices for meats and other products. You can find out the weekly deal/coupon matchups in your local area by searching the internet for coupon sites. A lot of people think that it takes many hours a week to save big but with just 1/2 hour-1 hour per week, you can cut your food bill by $10-$20 each week.

Finally, try for any items that you may need. People are always giving things away or asking for specific items that they need on Freecylce.

I hope this helps and good luck.


Anne September 4, 2012 at 10:08 am

A couple of things in the blog caught my eye. If she really is feeding two people and some animals on $100 a month, she may need to cut out all internet fees. It’s pretty pricey if you are down to that little of an income. Also I would cut out coffee and tea. Can you really afford those on $25 a week for groceries?

Hopefully there is a food bank in her area. I don’t believe anyone mentioned that. All her other material needs are pretty secondary to feeding themselves.


Katy September 4, 2012 at 10:19 am

You can get a box of 100 tea bags at the Dollar Tree store, so tea is always a possibility!



Coral Clarke September 11, 2023 at 7:01 pm

Portion control is important, we have become accustomed to much larger servings than is necessary for good health, particularly protein. Sem freezing boneless steak allows you to cut it super thin, great for stir fries etc, a few ounces stirred into rice, pasta, noodles etc feels like a lot more! Cut 2 sausages into slim pennies , stir through a bottle of the cheapest bottled passata, serve with any carb.Pancakes are super cheap, and feel like a party, thin the batter for crepes. Check out the cleaning products you have now, most are much more multipurpose than the manufacturers would like us to know, and I never use more than 50% of the recommended amount of household/ personal cleaning products.Slice intentionally, a diagonally cut baguette slice looks so much more! Set the table as nicely as you can, and know that many of us here will be thinking of you( and cursing the fools who created this mess!) Let family and friends know that consumable gifts would be great for Christmas, as you’re decluttering( if you feel uncomfortable, although it’s not warranted) Give gifts of service, baby sitting , pet minding , mending, IT cleanups, so many things many of us would love to be given!


Megg September 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Tea and coffee really isn’t THAT expensive when you make it at home, and a pound of coffee (for me, anyway) lasts a while! Especially if she has some at home already. That is, if tea and/or coffee is something she values and enjoys. Otherwise yeah, totally go without!


Linda in Indiana September 4, 2012 at 10:09 am

Amy, first keep your spirits up…that is the best defense against what you are going through…so don’t be afraid to let people know that you are open to their help or their caring! Sounds like you are doing a great job at being a very good wife! Katy, you did an excellent job of listing things to help. Dave Ramsey has some very good ideas…Amy, you might borrow his book. You might check with a butcher of locker for free bones for your dogs. Also, let it be known that you accept other people’s excess garden produce, etc. You would be surprised what some people grow and want to share with someone that actually appreciates receiving it. And if you need it, don’t be too proud to go to a food pantry. I contribute to those for the benefit of someone like yourself and your husband. And if down the road, things are abundant, then remember to give back. Can you find time to do things for others in return for something from their pantry? That wouldn’t incur and income that would hurt you against your benefits. Maybe you could babysit or pet-sit for so many dollars worth of groceries or a grocery gift card. I would borrow books from the library to help me be as creative as possible with the cheapest food possible. Have you checked with any groceries about getting their produce that would be thrown out? Some places still do that and you can trim through the funky stuff and still salvage good, wholesome food. Also try to do that at a produce stand, etc. It is getting to be fall, but next spring try to plant a container garden if you don’t have other available garden space. You would be surprised how much you can grow that way. I would start by putting the word out that you are open to trading services for food, etc or are open to receiving food. You can do that without losing any dignity. Lots of people will buy a new box of cereal and not like it and throw it away. You could mention that you would be willing to take things they purchased and decided they didn’t want. Good luck, Amy! I know you will hang in there and come out a real winner!


Lorraine September 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Yes – check out local food pantries. That’s what they are for. This is only a temporary situation for you. Things will improve with time and you will be able to give back.


WeaverRose September 4, 2012 at 10:16 am

You may have already done this but it may be worthwhile to talk to a lawyer who is expert in Social Security Disability. I’ve know several people who have had their applications for SSD denied several times only to finally be approved with expert help. Maybe the SSA has made a mistake in their calculations that could help.

Also, use food pantries. And your husband’s health situation and income may help your family qualify for food stamps or other aid. This is how we take care of each other when the need arises so take what you need.


Elaine in Ark September 4, 2012 at 10:28 am

SSD applications are routinely denied the first time around. My sister’s doctor told her that they’re hoping people will be discouraged and not re-apply. Don’t give up! Have your doctor’s office help you and keep applying until you get it.

Definitely check food pantries. My church donates to 2 other churches in the area who run food pantries. They will treat you with dignity and respect and give you as much as they can.


Elaine in Ark September 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

Great ideas above!

I have a question, though:

Katy said “Call all the customer service numbers and negotiate lower rates. I have done this, and it’s easy!”

Please, please, please – what exactly do you say? And what do you say when they tell you no?

I’m one of those people who need a script to get started.



Katy September 4, 2012 at 10:26 am

You can just say you’re going over your bills and was wondering if there’s any way to lower your costs. I did this with my cable, and they took it down $10 a month and gave me free Showtime for six months while apologizing that there wasn’t more they could do. Be nice to the person and patient. No one wants to do a favor for a jerk.

I wrote this column about lowing credit card interest rates in 2008:

My, how time flies.



Karen September 4, 2012 at 10:30 am

Most of us have a bit of gold and silver jewelery lying around, and there are a lot of places to sell precious metals now. Even copper and brass translate into cash.

As Katy says, you’ll save a ton of money if you stop eating any processed food, and you’ll be healthier too!

Good luck with it. It’s tough to be without money, but it can be an adventure as well. Do you sew? Craft? How about an Etsy store? 😀


Rosie September 4, 2012 at 10:32 am

I def. second the food pantry idea– I work once a month at the local food pantry, and in addition to food for humans, we often get pet food to give out.
Hmm… you might also contact your vet to see if they ever have leftover food from boarding animals. Sometimes people board their pets at the vet’s office (along with leaving a container of food) and then forget to bring the leftovers of the pet food home with the animal. Maybe they would save it for you? Also, you could try emailing diff. pet food companies and ask for sample bags and such. Hang in there– good luck!


Kate September 4, 2012 at 10:35 am

I don’t think anyone has mentioned this, so I’ll just add that if you are part of a faith community, they might be able to help. I know that many churches have systems set up for when members are in need and if nothing else, the ministers usually at least have a list of services that are offered in the community – whom to call and where to go for assistance.


Karen K September 4, 2012 at 10:52 am

Not sure where you live, but Bountiful Baskets offers a HUGE basket of produce for $16.50/week and you only sign up for the weeks you want. Check their website to see if they have a sight near you. It is the single biggest thing I do to keep our food budget down. If you have a food co-op in your area, look to see if you can volunteer there – usually for an hour or two a week of your time you can get a 10-20% discount on the shelf prices. I also buy certain things in bulk – like oatmeal. I can get a 25lb bag for $14 but it lasts us for several months…a big expenditure all at once, but we eat from it several times a week and in the long haul, saves a lot money. Good luck!


Danyel September 4, 2012 at 10:57 am

In case it hasn’t been mentioned, there’s a company called task rabbit where you sign up to complete small tasks done for other people and get paid for it. It’s can be picking up groceries or dog walking. Which reminds me, there is a website called where you can post an ad to be a dog walker. Lastly, there is a program I participated in CA and New England and probably in other areas as well. In NE it’s called SERVE.

Willingness to volunteer at least 2 hours of community service every month
Ability to pay $15-16 in cash or Food Stamps for a basic package of groceries


$Regular package of frozen meats and fresh fruits and vegetables — $15 and 2 hours of volunteer service
$Vegetarian package — $16 and 2 hours of volunteer service
$Meat-only add-on package — $9 and purchase of Regular or Vegetarian package


Breanna September 4, 2012 at 10:59 am

I didn’t see anyone mention ethnic markets, but here in my (tiny tiny) town the best price in a regular supermarket for, for instance, tomatoes is 88 cents a pound. The Hispanic market has them for 39 cents a pound. Check it out–it might be the difference between being about to afford produce and not.

Look into respite care services in your area if you need them–very often senior citizen’s centers can steer you in the right direction. Often respite care is done by volunteers. You may also check associations for individuals with brain injuries: They will often have local chapters and support groups, and you will get some good advice from people who have been there.

Maybe there is someone you know who can be there for your husband if you need to get away a couple days a week for a job? It doesn’t have to be that you pay them money–maybe there is something you can barter?

Everything else I got would just be repeating what other folks have said.


Linda in Indiana September 4, 2012 at 11:02 am

There is a ministry here in IN that is called Angel Food Ministries. I am not sure of the current price for box of lots of variety of food and no strings attached. You might be interested in that. Had forgotten to mention.


Denise September 4, 2012 at 11:03 am

I coupon, but what I love even more than coupons is the discounts on perishables near their dates. I know one grocery store near us marks down their meat after closing, so the newly marked down meat is availabe when they first open. Another grocery store near us takes care of it in the early/mid morning hours. So it’s available 9 to 10 am ish. Deli items often get marked down in the evening. You can get meat, bread, dairy, and some produce that way. Stalk the grocery stores near you, ask staff when they do mark downs and be ready to snap up the good stuff.


Emily September 4, 2012 at 11:05 am (part of Ebay) is excellent for selling DVDs, video games, and books. There’s no fee like with Ebay, and it suggests pricing for you based on other sellers with the same items. Just price your items 50 cents less than everyone else and they’ll start flying off your shelves.

If you have books that aren’t worth much monetarily, you can list them on When a book of yours is requested, you mail it to the person. Then you earn a credit that you can use to request a book. These points can also be transferred to the similar DVD and CD swamp websites.

And definitely sell anything and everything that you don’t need/use/want on Craigslist. Price items to move and be willing to negotiate.

If you do any online shopping, sign up for Ebates or ShopAtHome (my preference). Depending on the site, you get cash back for a certain percentage of how much you spent. Usually 2%-15%.


Katy September 4, 2012 at 11:25 am

Mailing books out costs money, so Paperbackswap is only good if you’re not counting your pennies. I tried it once and hated it I can get any book I want to read from the library and do not need to own them.



Lorraine September 4, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I had a similar experience with Paperbackswap – I listed the requisite 10 books, then had to mail them (which added up) – then couldn’t find anything worth owning.


Emily September 4, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Agreed that the book selection isn’t so hot, but there are much more solid DVD options. I’ve signed up mostly to get books out of my house and get them to someone who wants them, but you’re right that it does come at a small cost.

Also, just generally speaking, I think that when you’re on a tight budget, it really helps to get stuff out of the house that you don’t want or need, even if you end up giving some of it away (Goodwill, etc). Living in a clutter-free environment goes a lot way towards preventing bringing more items that you don’t want or need into your life.


Megg September 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Same with Bookmooch! Seemed like a good idea at the time…but then I didn’t have a used bookstore close either, like I do now.


Jen September 5, 2012 at 9:34 am

Paperback Swap works for me–I live in a small town with a very limited library and inter-library loan costs more per book than mailing for PBS. I don’t keep a lot of the books although I have received a few I really enjoyed in pristine condition so after reading them carefully I’ve used them for gifts. $3 is well within my budget for a gift!


Sophie B September 4, 2012 at 11:12 am

Angel Food Ministries unfortunately was closed down due to fraud in 2011.

Another line of thought would be to approach the Social Security Admin with a hardship claim. SSA may determine that you cannot afford to repay the overpayment if your income is only SSI or if you can show that all of your income is needed to meet ordinary living expenses. You have to be able to prove to SSA that the overpayment was not your fault and you cannot afford to repay the money owed to the SSA. This is done by filing a SSA Form 632-BK. You can also ask that they stop taking out the over payment until it is resolved.


Linda in Indiana September 4, 2012 at 11:28 am

Had no idea that Angel Food Ministries was closed down. My bad!


Ruthie September 4, 2012 at 11:35 am

When we first got married we lived on that much, but it was tight! We ate very few fresh fruits and veggies and focused mostly on home baking, pasta, potatoes, white and brown rice, corn tortillas, peanut butter and beans. We got by an lost a bit of weight, actually!

Try to eat the cheapest option possible for your needs from the food pyramid. Apples, bananas, canned pineapple, raisins, and 100% orange juice (frozen concentrate) are usually cheaper than grapes, mangoes and raspberries. Calculate the amount you will pay for a serving of fruit and don’t go over that.

Eat only the amount you need. Sounds silly, but we measured out servings of pasta, rice, and peanut butter to make sure we weren’t eating too much. If we knew we only needed 2 – 3 servings of dairy per day, we didn’t go over that.

Keep it SIMPLE, but flavorful. Spices are cheap (especially if you buy them at the dollar store or Walgreens) but can make a homemade beans taste delicious.

Here are some of my favorite super cheap dinners, add canned or frozen or cheaply purchased veggies:
Refried beans and corn tortillas
Hash browned potatoes with black beans and onions
Black beans with brown rice
Brown rice or noodles with peanut sauce (made with peanut butter, garlic powder, ginger powder, soy sauce and vinegar)
Black beans with Spanish rice and corn tortillas
Bean soup with cornmeal dumplings
Baked potatoes or mashed potatoes with various toppings
Spaghetti with inexpensive spaghetti sauce and TVP (textured vegetable protein — inexpensive meat substitute found at health food stores)
Curried chickpeas and rice
Bean patties like falafel or bean burgers
Tamale pie or enchiladas
Meatless chili made with beans and TVP and homemade cornbread

Etc, etc!


tna September 4, 2012 at 11:50 am

Some inexpensive protein sources are canned salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Aldi stores will usuall have cheaper produce if you have one in your area. Google recipes, some sites let you put in ingredients on hand and pop out a recipe to fit. If you have a friend who has a membership at a Sam’s or Costco they could pick up some things for you or take you along. I always find chicken and hamburger, onions and some other products much cheaper at those big box stores. Buying your staples from bins in stores is usually cheaper than prepackaged…things like rice, flour, beans, cereal, and spices. Also, I walk a lot and have been amazed at the food you can glean just growing wild…. greens and garlic in spring, berries and fruits in summer, persimmons and nuts in the fall….I’ve noticed many people have fruit trees in their yard that they never pick the fruits from, it never hurts to knock on a door and ask if they might let you pick some. I probably save the most money on food by freezing foods I buy cheaper in large quantities, baking from scratch, and drinking water and sun tea.
You can save a lot on cleaning supplies by using less and more natural. You can find recipes for making your own laundry detergent online. Baking soda is a versatile cleaner, also Comet cleanser and it’s generic brands are cheap. I use less laundry detergent than called for and get my clothes just as clean. I use a bar of soap and a wet wash cloth to clean counters and spots on walls and even floors. Lots of people use the no-poo shampoo method and it works for them. You can find recipes and methods online. Personally I buy the huge pump bottle of shampoo at the big box store and it usually lasts us a year or two for an 8 dollar bottle. I also buy bar soap at a big box store and find it cheaper, or I use coupons at a discount or dollar store. I buy a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and use a single drop on my tooth brush to brush my teeth.


EcoCatLady September 4, 2012 at 11:51 am

First of all I just want to say to Amy that I am so so sorry that you’re going through all of this… and the words that pop into my mind regarding that Social Security situation aren’t even fit to be printed!

That being said, I’ve lived in extreme situations money-wise, although for me it was a conscious choice. There are lots of great suggestions here so I’ll just add a few more. (Brevity is not my forte though, so I apologize if I ramble too long.)

First I’d suggest taking a step back and looking at the big picture of your financial situation. Start with the biggest expenses and see if there are any ways to reduce those. Like: If you have a mortgage, is it worth trying to refinance to lower your monthly payment? Is moving to a cheaper place an option? Do you have an extra room or basement that you could rent out? Do you have a big car payment – could you trade down to a used car that wouldn’t have a payment? I know big decisions like that may seem like more than you can think about at the moment, but even a small change in the big picture department can often do more for your bottom line than infinite frugality on smaller ticket stuff.

Then go over all of your regular monthly expenses with a fine toothed comb and see if anything can be reduced. Are you carrying comprehensive auto insurance on a car that’s more than 12 years old? Are you paying a few bucks here and there for services that you aren’t really using? Look at the itemized expenses on every bill and you may be surprised to find that there are things they just automatically stick in there that you don’t use or need… like are you paying for long distance service on a landline when you get it free with a cell phone? Or are you paying for a landline when you could get by with just a cell?Even if you can only shave off a few dollars here and there, it can all add up to a meaningful savings, especially when money is really tight.

Someone mentioned programs available to reduce your utility bills, but there are also programs that will provide you with things like free insulation, weather proofing services and even new energy efficient appliances and furnaces if you meet income qualification levels – I believe even renters can qualify. Check with your local utility company because that can save you big bucks on your monthly bill.

In terms of the pets, you might also check to see if there is a low cost veterinary service in your area. Here in Denver there is a clinic run by MaxFund that provides low cost medical care for animals if you meet income requirements.

In terms of food, there have been many great suggestions here. I used to participate in an organization called SHARE which was run by Catholic Charities (I’m not Catholic – and anyone was welcome to participate.) This was 20 years ago, but I know the organization is still around although it’s run locally so you’d need to Google it and see if there’s one available in your state. Basically you had to do 2 hours of community service per month, and then you got a big box of groceries for $10. But for people whose life situations made even the community service difficult, they had volunteers who would do extra community service for folks who couldn’t. Anyhow, it was a great program and one worth looking into – there were no income requirements to participate.

You also might want to check into programs run through CSA (community supported agriculture) farms. In the CSA farm model, people don’t pay for food per se, instead they buy “shares” in the farm and each share gets a weekly distribution of the harvest. I’ve participated in several different ones over the years, and they all had a certain number of shares that were set aside for lower income folks. Some required a certain number of volunteer hours in lieu of payment, and others were just given away – so it’s worth checking into. This is probably the wrong time of year, but over the winter would be the perfect time to research it as most of them require you to join in the early spring.

OK, I’ll stop blathering now. Best of luck to you Amy, and please know that we’re all pulling for you!


Andrea September 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I’d also recommend that she call her local United Way. They may have resources and ideas there that we may not have even thought of, including assistance with reducing utility bills. Good luck!


Sarah September 4, 2012 at 12:22 pm

For feeding pets, maybe try talking to their vet? A vet might be able to give some free samples, or direct them to a good wholesaler if they need a specific kind of food.


Krystal September 4, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Hi Amy-

First of all, I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I have two younger brothers who have autism, and I understand how frustrating it can be to deal with Social Security department–this has happened to my family before and it wasn’t easy.

In response to your pets, feel free to give them scraps that are okayed by their vet and aren’t toxic. We often half our dog’s food with left over rice and vegetables. It seems like everyone has an abundance of summer squash right now, hopefully you are able to locate some and boil a bit up to mix with food–big money saver.

Also, in college, our local Haggen grocery stores would give out milk within 5 days of expiration. I’m pretty sure several college students didn’t pay for milk in that town. If a local store has a rule like that, and you are up to it, you could actually camp out around midnight and when the day changes, ask if you can pick up the milk.

Best wishes Amy–we’re all thinking of you!


Breanna September 4, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Oh, one other thing springs to mind — I’m an RN and I used to work for a group of six doctors that shared office space. They get samples of prescription drugs from the reps that the companies send out–my doctors gave the samples to the patients that needed them, instead of them having to pay for the medication at a pharmacy. It’s worth checking if your doctor has samples of any medications; even if it’s only a month’s worth of pills, the $$ you’d save would come in handy.


Breanna September 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Obviously my suggestion applies to medication you have a valid prescription for…reading over it I sound like I didn’t sleep last night. 😉


Sharon September 4, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I second the notion of getting legal counsel on the repayment issue. It is ridiculous to totally take away 100% of your benefit for TWO YEARS due to an error on THEIR part! Even the Internal Revenue will negotiate a repayment schedule – so even if it is a lesser amount of repayment over a longer period time, you may have a little more wiggle room. Hang in there!


Mary Kate September 4, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I suspect that Amy would qualify for SNAP (Food Stamps), as someone already mentioned. Ditto on checking out food pantries. Maybe Amy could generate extra income by buying items for resale on Amazon or eBay. Check out this blogger who does that:

One time I read a blog post on micro jobs, here is the link:

Good luck, I am so sorry for the screw up. You sound like such a decent person, I am so sorry for the trials you are going through.


Carla September 4, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I missed the Food Stamps comment earlier but am glad to see another poster mention it. Our adult daughter is divorced and has three children to feed about half the time. Although she has been at poverty level (she’s a college student) for a few years now she just signed up and was thrilled at how much money she suddenly has to spend on food. I have no idea what regulations are, but certainly this is worth a try.


Rebecca B. A. R. September 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Unfortunately, they may not qualify for food stamps, b/c they do not have children, but she should definitely check into it, just in case her state have different rules then mine (Ohio).


Katy September 4, 2012 at 9:06 pm

WIC (Women, infants & children) is for people with children. Food stamps, (A.K.A. “Snap Benefits”) are for everyone.



Trish September 4, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Dear Amy,

As a disabled veteran, and a laid off worker (no unemployment) I feel your pain, and sympathize. May I suggest, as someone above has, finding a nearby church that has a food kitchen, where you can go weekly and are given groceries. My parents work at their Catholic church’s food kitchen, and all you need is ID and a copy of your utility bill to prove you live in the city you are getting food in. Next, see if there is a St. Vincent DePaul branch in your area. Not the Thrift Store, but the church office type. They will pay utility bills for you, when you prove a need, which you have. I know this, as my father was a volunteer for St. V’s for years, as the treasurer, he did the book-keeping. They are very kind, and are there to help, and it is not demeaning to ask for help, especially when the Lord is providing it. Next, when you shop, as everyone says, meal planning is good, but use those weekly flyers. Plan your meals around the best sales, especially BOGO at publix, and Winn Dixie, or the stores in your area. Lead Loss ads are there to get you in, but if you only shop the sale, you actually do save money, if it is food you eat, and wont waste. We are on my husbands income now only, and are paying for college for my daughter, helping his daughter with car payments, and sending money each month to my parents, whose SSN does not cover my mom’s huge drug bills. I grew up poor with 6 mouths to feed on my father’s self employed insurance salesman income. It can be done! Have faith, in the Lord and in your self. He never gives us more than we can handle. I hope I am not being preachy, I just want you to know, there are a lot of us out there living low, and we want to help, and want you to make it. We will be praying for you both.


Susan September 4, 2012 at 1:21 pm

An idea for your pets:
My friend recently told me that the big box pet store in our area ( i can’t remember if its petsmart or petco) routinely dumps out all sorts of food and pet toys and other supplies that are perfectly good, unopened, etc. Sometimes its seasonal, or maybe something got spilled on the outside of the package making it unsellable. At any rate, she can score on enough food for her 3 dogs and 2 cats to rarely have to buy it. So if you are willing to drive by the back of the store every couple of days and peek in the dumpster, you might be able to cover your pet food expenses for a while.

If you are not OK with dumpster diving, I would talk to your vet about posting a flyer for pet sitting in their office. That would be an easy way to earn a few extra bucks, or better yet straight up barter food for pet sitting. They also might let you put up a flyer asking for people’s extra pet food that they don’t need (i.e. if their pet was allergic to one or wouldn’t eat a certain brand of food and its just sitting around. I think many pet owners go through at one point or another.)

Our local humane shelter actually set up a food pantry for pets at one time (not sure if its still operating) so its worth checking out in your area to see if there’s something similar.

Another idea to reduce food costs:
Put an ad on Freecycle or Craigslist that you will take any extra garden produce. Freeze and store what you can’t immediately eat. has lots of info on how to safely freeze all kinds of produce.


Cheapchick September 4, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Join freecycle or a barter group. Sometimes you can barter items you no longer need for fresh produce or other items you might need. Start couponing and signing up for freebies for products you know and use. In the USA coupons are plentiful as well as freebies which might just make the difference in her tight budget. All the best to her


Jennifer September 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Let your need be known.

If you were an acquaintance of mine, I would CERTAINLY invite you and your spouse over for dinner on a night I was making a larger meal. We LOVE having company over, and a few extra potatoes and carrots in a pot of soup are a small price to pay for good company!!!

(Obviously this doesn’t directly address the issue of frugality, but in a country where so much food goes to waste, know that there is plenty of food to be had without spending a penny!)


Trish September 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm

this is such a good idea. I often have lots of extra produce in my garden and look around for people to share it with. among other things. In fact I often give a young friend of mine stuff she can sell on craigs list just because I don’t want to be bothered with it (I live in a really rural area and she doesn’t). and I have some cans of dog food in my pantry that were for an elderly dog who died – none of the other dogs need it and I would be delighted to give it to someone in need.


Another Rebecca September 4, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Do you have any place for a garden? Even a few containers to grow lettuce and tomatoes can be a big help, or a neighbor with some free space. Eat what you grow and can or freeze extra.

I would also put a note out on CL that you are a local family in need and see if anyone has some fruit trees or gardens with extra produce. I often glean from trees in the area after getting the OK from the owners. Lots of times homeowners have fruit or nut trees in their yards and get overwhelmed with the clean up of all the produce. I take it off their hands for free and they get a cleaned up yard.


Lou Rodriguez September 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Gosh, I’m not even going to pretend I can add something to this other than sharing my experiences and adding a positive message.

After making 6 figures, then having my businesses come crashing with the housing bust, and then surviving credit and financial devastation, for several years my family and I were forced to turn to government assistance to get by; yes, that meant food-stamps. Something I never thought I would ever have to do.

I thought we had it tough food shopping with $688 dollars a month but this story let’s me know that when you think you have it tough, there’s always someone else who has it tougher!

Maybe if we all took up a collection, say $5 dollars a piece, we could send Amy gift cards for grocery shopping and supplies. Count me in if you do.

Finally, I like to applaud Amy for reaching out and sharing her story. Maybe as a community, we can band together and help her out!


Lorraine September 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I like Lou’s idea. I’m in for $5.00 too. Hang in there Amy…


Trish September 4, 2012 at 3:50 pm

me too


Alison September 4, 2012 at 4:26 pm

me too


Pamela September 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I’m in.


c September 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I donate to my food bank, when I can. If you come up short at the end of the week (or the month), please consider a trip to your local food bank. The folks are great, and they are there just for this sort of situation. I hope that my food/money donations go to someone like you and your husband. When things are a little easier for you both, you can always give back, or volunteer, if that is a possibility. Best of luck!


Tina September 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm

* This might be a good time of year to check freecycle to glean some fruits/veggies to eat and/or freeze

* bananas can be frozen when they start to brown

* lots of produce will freeze well (stone fruits, berries, etc… if you can find any free or cheap)

* add rice to stretch items (burritos are a good one)

* swagbucks is easy and you can earn points for amazon gift cards (which you could use for food)

* watch for grocery sales (a thrifty mom is a good site for deals)

* call cable/internet/phone and see if you can get any cheaper rates.

Good luck. Hope things improve soon.


Lorraine September 4, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I’ve made short comments above on some of the amazing suggestions. But mostly remember, this is temporary and you will make it through this.

My only other suggestion is to read or reread The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. She has a lot of great, inexpensive recipes, wonderful ideas for getting by on less, and its enjoyable reading. If you don’t have it, I’m sure they have it (or can get it) at your library.

Take care.


Poor to Rich a Day at a Time September 4, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Amy , hugs through difficult times and I relate very much, I am considered Extreme Poverty and my family lives off of $1200 to $1500 a month depending on the month for a family of 5, a dog and a cat. I average $200 to $300 a month for groceries and you definatly must be creative. I do keep a blog to help others be able to manage the beyond tight budgets as off and on I have had to my whole life. It can be done and I know you can do it! A $100 for 2 people is quite a bit if you come at it from a creative stand point……….it will also depend on how picky of eaters are in your household. I do not have food stamps, or go to food banks, but we eat well and mostly delicous food ( unless you ask my youngest who only eats ramen, fried chicken or pizza!)

Think Stir fry’s and casseroles as a little meat goes a long ways in them! Also use beans in place of meat for bean salads, homemade refried beans, soups etc.

In your position with just 2 of you, I most likely would use cloth instead of toilet paper.

What is broken and made of metal that may be turned into a metal recylcing station for cash? Cords work too for insulated copper! Copper is the scrap metalers Gold!

Can you dumpster dive or forage anything?

Can you hold a large garage or yard sale?

Can you get rid of your car and commute other ways such as public transportaion or biking?

I am sure as I have not read all the comments there are many great suggestions here but in the end know you are not alone, and we know you can do it 🙂


Nicoleandmaggie September 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm
Kathy September 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Google S.H.A.R.E., self help and resource exchange, to see if they are in your area. It is a non government program works on volunteerism/community service for food you can order. There are several types of “boxes” you can order. This link is an example from the state I live in:


Poor to Rich a Day at a Time September 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm

I always found S.H.A.R.E to be pricey compared to what you can purchase on your own, but that may depend on what area you live in as well I am sure.


Tara Morrison September 4, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I have a great book called Eat Well For .99 a meal. Some of the recipes are over the top for me…I will not be brewing wheat coffee any time soon buy there are great ideas also the Hillbilly housewife has some emergency menus that are super cheap. We went one year with almost no income and had to tighten our belts. Ways I did this were growing vegetables or buying loss leaders, not eating meat, never eating out unless someone else was treating, learning to cut my family’s hair, improving my sewing skills, turning our thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer, line drying clothes, using only vinegar to clean, making laundry and dish detergent, driving as little as possible and cutting back back on services and raising all of our insurance deductibles. There are also some great food pantries out there that you could supplement your groceries with. Good Luck!


Liz September 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Yep, some others have mentioned it….dumpster diving. No shame in it – I’d do it if it wasn’t illegal in Canada. Check your local laws first. I used to work at a grocery store that threw away bags and bags of perfectly good food. Think of it as helping the environment. Wild foraging is another option. Lots of info on this online. You could also grow your own food – try freecycle for seeds. Good luck.


mary martha September 4, 2012 at 6:33 pm

I don’t have much to add but… please consider contacting your local Catholic Charities and St. Vincent DePaul. You do NOT have to be Catholic to receive help from these Catholic organizations and they do want to help.

If you do not want to ask for charity… how about volunteering? When I was unemployed and had very little money I volunteered at a few locations where I was able to eat while I volunteered. At least three nights a week I served meals to the homeless… and I ate dinner with them. Friends thought I was a saint but to be honest I needed those free meals myself. The managers of the shelter loved that I was dependable and willing to work they didn’t blink at me sitting down with the clients to break bread.


Coral Clarke September 11, 2023 at 7:14 pm

This is a great idea for many reasons, a major one is knowing you are part of the solution for others, while you are having problems yourself.Life can be very circular, sometimes you are the giver, sometimes the recipient! I’m living solo at 75, in Brisbane, Australia, and have refugee friends, who I remind of this! When I had fractures in my lower back they were wonderful, cleaning, shopping, picking up library books, a lovely young Somali man who had arrived , complete with mop and bucket, said to me, “ It’s my turn to help now!”.Allow others to help you!


Mary T September 4, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Amy, Please know you are not alone in this type of struggle!! Many of us are right there with you. I’m very thankful for blogs such as this to help us out! My family has been hit hard in these times also – so much so that I lost my car. I read all the comments and you have been blessed with such wonderful suggestions!! Going to write some of these down for future reference. I found a job working from home since I could no longer go out and look for work. If you would be interested in hearing about it please let me know. It’s helping me get back on my feet. This is legitimate and I am really making money. Anyone with a computer can do this. I’m not recruiting anyone – just wanted you to know there is something legitimate available if you’re interested! Blessing to you, Amy and anyone else in this type of situation.


Melissa September 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I have a friend looking for work, but due to some recent health problems, is unable to get a conventional job. I was wondering if you could send me more information about what you do from home as it might be an option for her as well.
Thanks so much,


Megg September 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Rather than buying fresh veggies, get frozen ones. They’re picked right when they’re ripe (rather than fresh ones which are picked early and ripen along the way) so they have all their nutrients, plus they’re cheaper than fresh.


Coral Clarke September 11, 2023 at 7:16 pm

Plus no waste, no prep.! Where I live, mixed peas, corn and carrots are usually cheapest , and even a handful adds colour to a dush


Samantha Fox September 4, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Check your utility bills! I had my landline phone with one company and my internet and mobile phone with another and got charged a line rental for both (approximately $20-$30 a month each), so I went with one provider for all three services (we ended up using a VOIP landline phone which cut costs down again) and saved $30 a month. Also I turn every thing off at the powerpoints, just keeping appliances on standby drains so much power! I’m from Australia and not sure about how it works in the US, but I hope it helps! Good luck Amy 🙂


Rachel Gillespie September 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Amy, please double check with Social Security. Maybe they’ve made a mistake about having made a mistake.


Shoshna September 4, 2012 at 7:38 pm

Like others have said go grocery shopping with a list but I would also add go only once a month! My husband and I went from $300 a month to around $175 for groceries. Probably just eliminating a lot of impulse purchases.

Clean your house with vinegar and ammonia instead of commercial cleaning products (google for uses and recipes).

Last but not least, around where I live there’s a program where you can get a fresh food box just for a few hours of volunteering a month. For the life of me I can’t think of what it’s call but I know it’s out there!


Katy September 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I shop completely differently than you. I buy what I need as I need it. That way I can buy one tomato and one avocado for the meals that I’m preparing. (Can you tell it was burrito night at my house?) However, I can walk to my grocery store. Also, if I buy treats, they are immediately inhaled by the teenage tribe eaten, so it’s better to buy them a bit at a time. And when I have less in the fridge, I use it up and am less likely to waste it.



Kate in NY September 6, 2012 at 7:28 am

Oy – teenagers! You are so right about this one! I have also taken to stopping by the grocery store several times a week (always when it is on the way to something else, of course) – mostly to buy the items I know will disappear instantaneously once spotted by my 4 teens/tweens. But I came up with a good way to outsmart even the most dedicated of teenaged food hunters. My husband likes to have a few pieces of chocolate at the end of his day, but it for years it kept on “mysteriously vanishing” despite repeated threats/requests/posted notices, etc. So now I wrap the contraband items in aluminum foil (re-used, of course), put them in a ziplock bag, write “Roast Pork Loin Leftovers” or “Bones for Stock” on the outside, and store them in the freezer or fridge. My husband enjoys his chocolate every evening, and the kids have NO FREAKING CLUE. Hahahhaha! Parents-1. Teens-0.


Emily September 4, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Two more ideas:

If you have the time and there’s a rescue group in your area, perhaps you could volunteer occasionally in exchange for food/supplies? Our pets are adopted from a rescue, and after my husband did a little volunteer design work for them, the organization’s leaders were more than generous with food (that we didn’t ask for) as a thank you for his service.

If you have any clothes that you aren’t wearing that are in good shape (children’s or adult’s), find a resale shop in your area. Not a consignment store that pays you when the item sells, but a place that pays you upfront. Plato’s Closet is a national chain, but most sizable cities have local options.


Rebecca B. A. R. September 4, 2012 at 8:40 pm

With both the cat and the dogs, if they do end up having tummy trouble from changes in food, adding a small scoop of pure pumpkin from a can (not the kind with spices in it) to their food can help out tremendously. I work at a local pet supply store that sells the very high grade foods, and our owner recommends using pumpkin to people for their pets all the time.


Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares September 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm

Speaking of pumpkin:

Look for free food. A pumpkin after Halloween is trash to everyone else, but to the thrifty person, it is free food. When you see one by the curb, pick it up, bake it, scoop the pulp, and freeze. The seeds are good for roasting, too. I usually post on Facebook after Halloween that I’ll take any reject pumpkins from people who live nearby. You can also eat dandelions from places that aren’t sprayed, and I’m definitely not too proud to stick my head into a grocery store Dumpster to see what food they’re throwing away–if you can find a good one that produces consistently, you could practically never buy food again. And you’d be amazed by how good some of the things that end up in the Dumpster are.


Shelly September 4, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I am so sorry to her you are going through this hard time right now. I don’t know if you have a close out grocery store in your area. We had a new one open up by our home last year and it has really helped me to stretch our grocery budget. I get most of my fruits and vegetables at his store along with other food items at good prices. So you may want to check to see if you have one in our area. I also buy basic ingredients and cook from scratch.
The suggestion on not buying paper products is a good suggestion. I recently starting using rags made from cut up t-shirts instead of paper towels and this has saved us each month. We also switched to cloth napkins.
We also saw a savings in our electric bill by unplugging appliances when not I use. We use the power strips to turn them off but you could just unplug them at the wall if you don’t have power strips. I think we noticed a savings of $6-7 a month with just 5 items unplugged.


Ginger September 5, 2012 at 1:13 am

Local Food Bank! Sometimes you may feel terrible to ask for a helping hand but remember that’s what it’s there for.. TO HELP those that need it. If you have the time and want to volunteer at the local food bank then by all means do so and that way when you need that ” help” from them you will feel like you contributed. If you can’t give the time then don’t worry about it. Don’t feel bad about needing help. The foodbank (volunteers) won’t judge you. They genuinely care. Use it, my friend. It can help offset your grocery needs greatly and along with being frugal in what you purchase it may just get you through this very rough time.(along with determination).


Lightlycrunchy September 5, 2012 at 1:18 am

I love this post, Katy! Everyone needs to know that they can face a financial crisi at any time, but survive it. We had one a year and a half ago when my husband was laid off, but thankfully he found work again quickly. While in transition, though, we employed all of your tactics, as well as going over our fixed expenses. I managed to get a better deal with our phones, Internet, house and car insurance. It only took a phone call and asking for a better rate or package in each case.

Also, we started gardening and it has made a huge difference. It’s not something immediate, but if the financial crunch is going to be going on for a while, the long term payoff is large.

We love our library – great free entertainment. And the free concerts in the park make a nice night out, especially with some home baked treats and a thermos of tea or coffee to take along.


Lou Rodriguez September 5, 2012 at 3:27 am

And that should be the moral of this story Heidi; ANYONE can face financial difficulties at any time, for any reason but…you can definitely recover from it!

And communities like this are a big help as people share their stories and let others know they are not alone 🙂


Victoria@SnailpaceTransformations September 5, 2012 at 3:07 am

Use homemade cleaners. Barter talents.


chris September 5, 2012 at 3:34 am

i certainly would file an appeal to their decision; i did that with my dad when they tried the same thing and won; see if there’s a hardship clause on whatever type of assistance this is – 99% of those programs will not totally cut off benefits due to their mistake


Leni September 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I second this opinion. I’d also look for a disability attorney to represent you as it increases your odds of having a successful appeal. Some disability attorneys will handle a case for no money upfront if they think you’ll be successful, and accept a percentage of the money awarded as payment. If you plan to file an appeal, the sooner the better, as the settlement may be paid retroactively to the filing date.


CB September 5, 2012 at 5:58 am

You don’t mention anything about your income. I suggest that the answer to your problem is making sure the thou are earning enough. It’s not unrealistic that a family of two should be able to survive off of one income plus the reduced disability assistance.


CB September 5, 2012 at 6:01 am

The thou? What the heck?!? Ha ha, obviously I meant “that you.”


Katy September 5, 2012 at 6:16 am

S’alright. It comes off as Elizabethan frugality advice, which can be a brand new trend!




Mallery September 5, 2012 at 6:01 am

Combine shopping trips when ever possible. I’m amazed at how many people will run to the store every day not realizing the extra gas consumption. Also really think about every purchase you make. Ask yourself why you feel the need or want to buy it. If you are truly honest with yourself you will begin to see yourself in a whole new light.


emmer September 5, 2012 at 7:18 am

as you don’t say if you are working, i will assume not. perhaps you are needed to care for dh. be aware that sometimes spouses and relatives can be paid tocare for a relative. check with your county services. also consider doing something at home to earn money. daycare, perhaps, or something that utilizes skills you have. when my 3 kids were little and one income was not enough to allow me to stay home with them, i used my sewing skills to develop an alterations business and eventually learned custom sewing as well. along the way i did some daycare and became a foster parent to 2 girls. as we had a small acrage, we sold lamb every fall, pumpkins for halloween, and eggs from our hens. it wasn’t that i wanted these particular jobs, rather that it allowed me the most important thing–to be present for my
kids. most of these “jobs” were seasonal, not full time, but together they made enough $ to meet our needs.
another, perhaps needed choice is a second job, if you have a primary one, for the duration of the income decrease.
good luck to you.


Shannon September 5, 2012 at 8:49 am

Check out this website: She has some really great ideas there. We are beyond tight and it is amazing how far you can learn to stretch a dollar if you need to. Groceries is probably the easiest place you can cut back on. I’ve learned to make a lot of things I would have bought before: bread, yogurt, granola, pretty much homemade anything. I buy extras of things when they are rock bottom prices. We have a garden. And do accept help when offered. My dad has a brain injury — that is a tough one that not many people understand. I can feel for you!


Diedra B September 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Amazing website. Thanks for posting it!


Melanie September 5, 2012 at 8:50 am

Check your local food bank. I’m in the Phoenix area, and St. Mary’s food bank has a cash-and-carry store that will get you discounted groceries if you don’t qualify for the free boxes. Also check for local food gleaning organizations. In Arizona we have a group called the 3000 Club that operates Market on the Move events – they buy produce from distributors that wasn’t sold to stores and is close to going off, then sell it at their events for $10 for 60 pounds. Sure, you have to toss some of it, but if you process it right away, you have low-cost produce in your freezer or pantry. Good luck!


Katy September 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

One of my favorite Oregonian articles from a few years ago, where food writer Leslie Cole went food shopping with a food stamp benefit recipient:

It’s an awesome article, and I only just remembered it today.



Maren September 5, 2012 at 9:37 am

If you have Internet at home, you can call the company and find out about lower service tiers. They don’t usually advertise these, but for example we have Time Warner and the advertised Internet price is close to $50 per month, but you can pay less $ for less bandwith. We pay $30 and it is still plenty fast enough for me, and that includes watching Netflix.

Speaking of which, we got rid of TV service and just have Netflix streaming. We also get movies from the Library

Consider switching your cell phone from a major carrier to a pre-paid carrier such as Smart Talk, Virgin, or Page Plus. They actually have really good deals.

I’m not very good at cutting back on the grocery bill (I’m not much of a cook), so I look for other little things to cut back on.


Heather September 8, 2012 at 8:57 am

Maren is right. I used to call up Comcast and threaten to leave, and they dropped $10 off my bill for 6 months. It means you have to keep calling back and doing that. Or, you can talk to them about slow bandwidth. I forget how much cheaper that was for us, but my gamer husband doesn’t notice the change in speed. I have found it is still faster than my folk’s DSL.


Kandice September 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

I’ve got four suggestions:

1. If you cut your internet to save on that expense, you can still get internet access through your local public library.

2. Check out Mr. Money Mustache ( for ideas on how to save on utilities and fuel expenses (among other things).

3. Purchase gift cards for different stores at a discount using and Shipping is free and they offer discounts anywhere from 2% up to 15% on a variety of gift cards. This is an easy to way to get more bang for your buck. Availability of gift cards depends on their inventory, but we regularly get gift cards for Lowe’s, PetSmart, Target, CVS and Walmart.

4. To get free toiletries, follow and They show you how to shop combining coupons and store rewards to snag toiletries and some grocery items for FREE.


Sister X September 5, 2012 at 10:07 am

The Cheapskate Cook ( is another great resource about how to feed yourself and your family well on a very small budget. She and her husband went through a phase where $20 was all they had each week for groceries so she knows how to eat cheaply.
Ditching the car was super helpful for me and my husband. Where I work, parking is not free so between gas, paying for parking, and electricity to warm up the engine (I live in AK) we realized that walking to work rather than driving saves us about $500 per year. You might not have that option, but if you do it’s well worth it.
As for your pets, and this is tricky, how much do you feed them? Many people over-feed their pets and they’re obese. This means that they need more vet trips and shorter lifespans for the pets. It’s hard to trim portions (my cocker spaniel would weigh 80 pounds if I let her eat everything she wants!) but it is often in your pet’s best interest. Obviously I’m not suggesting that you starve your pets, but check online to see how much food they really need. It adds up when you only have to buy food once every 3 months instead of every other month.
I also supplement my dog’s food with easily digestible leftovers. If we make too many noodles for a dish, the extras go in the dog’s food. See which vegetables are ok for dogs and if you’re not going to eat them, don’t throw them out. Also, bone-in roasts have a dog treat built right in. They’ll get all the marrow which hasn’t been cooked out.
If you have family that fish, or just eat fish regularly, we give our dog salmon skins and the rubbery leftovers. It might be worth asking around to see if your family and friends might have food which otherwise might go to waste and see if they’d be willing to save it for your pets.


Madeline September 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Lentils and beans and rice. Raised my son on these when we had VERY little income and many debts. And Of course, spaghetti and other pasta meals. Buy in bulk not tiny bags.

Low cost veggies: carrots,celery, apples, in season produce.. shop the “ready to go out of date “counter. then don’t waste! Almost -done apples make a great waldorf salad with celery and raisins.

Co housing? A dramatic thing but getting someone to share the rent could bring in extra dollars and even new friends. Check out Diamondcut Life blog. They almost always have a housing partner live with them.

Join a church, and when there, make new friends, use any of the social services they often offer: free counseling, food boxes, and VOLUNTEER in some of their programs– it’ll make you feel a little better overall no matter what your situation. Developing a spiritual side (if you aren’t already connected to a faith community) is sometimes really helpful in times of stress,too. (not to be preachy,goddess knows I am an earth- religion person myself..not traditional, but SPIRIT helps!)

Read inspirational stuff like WAYNE DYER’S from the library of course.I find him very soothing and he has good practical ideas too.

Stay healthy!! WALK every day (free. ) Get enough sunshine (I hope you don’t live in the Northwest??) Well, get outdoors as often as you can!

Make soups out of scraps of bones and veggie trimmings.

Make homemade bread vs. the stuff int he grocery.

See if you can get PET FOOD SAMPLES from your vet????

APPEAL the government decision?? I guess you probably already tried that? What they did seems unconscionable!!!!!!!! Are there more government resources?Food stamps? etc. Don’t be shy. This will pass and you’ll turn it around!!


Sign up for community food boxes, outreach programs, etc. Don’t be afraid to take help when you need it–someday you WILL be in a position to give back! 🙂

GROW a simple veggie garden?

This is harsh: Give UP the internet ??? I pay $55 a month and I could really just use it when I am at the library for free. We even have a coffee shop here with some funky old computers.If you buy a dollar cup of coffee you can use the internet on their computer.If you only went twice a week that would be $8.00 The internet is fun but expensive. And I did live without it for MANY years!


Theresa Maile September 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I didn’t read all the comments so I apologize if this is a repeat, but I just made over $500 by having a yardsale. Signs at craigslist are free advertising. Also, my neighbors donated items to my cause, since they know I have been out of work. Many people you know may have items they want to get rid of but they just can’t get around to it, and it all adds up to more $ for you at a yardsale. Hope this helps. We’re continuing to have yardsales every weekend in Sept. I hope things get better for you soon.


Theresa Maile September 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Ok these tips sound weird, but I am cooking with one of them now. When you cut, peel, slice, your vegies, stick those scraps in the freezer. Boil them up, strain them, and add that vegie broth to your lentil and other soups. We also save the water from boiling hot dogs, follow the Bisquick recipe for drop biscuits, and drop those in for dumplings in your boiling hotdog soup water. Those 99 cent hot dogs have carried us thru two dinners that way. Boil chicken and save that broth for future soups. As a treat, we pour broth over our dog’s food. We add a little minced garlic to our soups to help keep colds away.


Shannon September 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm

I’ve been reading about folks gleaning fields after the harvest—with the farmers permission of course. Closer to home lots of people have apple or walnut trees with no interest in gathering the fruit or nuts. It never hurts to ask! I have a couple of neighbors with fruit trees who have happily allowed me to clean their yards of fallen apples which I then used to make applesauce.


Lynne September 6, 2012 at 6:28 am

Amy, I’m not sure if this would be an option for you, but when I first got out of school and had a very low paying job, I moonlighted as a server for a catering company 3-4 times month. The hourly rate was small, but at the end of the event the owner of the catering company would divvy up the leftovers between the servers and let us take them home. I used that food to supplement my very meager food budget for a couple of years and it was a huge help. Just a thought.


Lili@creativesavv September 6, 2012 at 7:32 am

You could look for opportunities for urban gleaning. Blackberries are peaking here in the NW and are everywhere. We pick at the local school, at the bus stop, and the patch behind our house. By mid-month I’ll have about 25 quarts of frozen blackberries in the freezer. Also, the day after Halloween, I can often find pumpkins for free at the grocery store, and mid-November, I can get pumpkins and winter squash for free at the local nursery and holiday decor shop — as they move out the fall decor and move in the Christmas. I
ll take these home and cook up and freeze.


Sue September 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

Yes, try to appeal the SS decision. And follow up on caregiver resources as emmer suggests.

Soup, soup and soup. That’s been the best way for me to stretch my food. You can always add some water, broth, tomato juice or tomato sauce and stretch it a bit more. (And beans as many people mention above.)

The Half Principle. We become accustomed to using set amounts of resources, in my case cleaning supplies. So every once and a while I try halfing my autopilot consumption: one pump of liquid dish soap instead of two, half as much shampoo, etc. and see if I can do the job with less. Usually, I can and then you build a new habit. Just taking a new look at the little things we don’t think about can help some of our resources last longer.

Alternate income. You mention owning dogs (and a cat). Could you dogwalk or dogsit for people? I have a friend who cares for dogs when their owners travel. She calls it kenneling, but it’s really more informal than that; the dogs just stay at her house, with her own dogs, and she cares for them as her own. Just be sure to charge a rate that covers your time and dog food. If that wouldn’t work for you, what might be some things that could? Laundry for a busy neighbor? Lawn mowing? Be creative.

Good luck, Amy! We’ll be thinking good thoughts for you. You can do it!

And, this suggestion doesn’t help Amy now, but I think this is an excellent example for those of us who are “doing okay” or “getting by” to save even the smallest amounts of money routinely for when (not if) our rainy days come.

Lili- yes to urban gleaning. There are so many fruit trees in my city that just drop and rot food. I wish there were more groups like CityFruit and SolidGround bringing this food to food banks.


Bonnie September 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

Call you local county/state for energy assistance programs for your heating and electric bills. These departments often have other information about assistance for other areas in your life. We have all paid taxes, sometimes it’s good to see the personal benefits from those programs. Ask your county about opportunities for assistance.


Kathleen September 6, 2012 at 10:26 am

I just joined so this may have been posted earlier (I hope Amy sees this-I couldn’t figure out how to commnt on the FB page). Since Social Security is a federal program, I would suggest she call her US Congressperson or Senator’s Office and ask to speak to a Constituent Services Director or someone who handles constituent matters. Explain the stn and ask for their assistance (sometimes they can get through beauracracies easier than the public). I don’t know the policy but this seems wrong to penalize you for their mistake. Also, I live in the Houston area and there are a couple of free legal aid groups. If you don’t have one in your area, call the one in Houston (or one that you can find) and they can prob. give you some suggestions. Good luck.


hippierunner September 7, 2012 at 6:30 am

Try to walk/bus more. If you need something, check to see if freecyle has it or become involved with neighborhood goods (sharing website). Good luck!


Karen September 7, 2012 at 7:30 am

I like the site Real Cheap Food. I got a laugh from Kate in NY’s post. My sister has “turnips” at her house, I have “liver”, she has never served turnips and I have never served liver. I also stash a “cold, hard, cash” emergency fund. Its marked “mint”.


Karen September 7, 2012 at 7:48 am

I make yogurt from The Frugal Girl site. I grab milk that has been discounted because it is close to expiry, for $2.50/four liters instead of the regular $4.99 and make just over a gallon of yogurt. The tubs containing half a liter (2c) of yogurt sell for more than I pay for the whole batch. Being at the store within the first hour of opening improves your chances of snagging the best discounts. When I am really lucky I get enough discounted milk to freeze – with LOTS of headspace to avoid broken jars – in recipe size quantities so I can make a cream of some leftover frozen vegetable soup and biscuits when my budget is frowning.


Chrissy September 7, 2012 at 9:27 am

I don’t know what state you live in, but in IL, when SSA makes an overpayment they aren’t allowed to cut your SSI by more than 10%, if your husband is receiving SSDI then they will cut the entire check. For either one though, there is an appeal plan. You can fight. I work with the severely mentally ill, many of them receive SSI or SSDI or a combination of the two. Follow up with SSA as often as possible. File an appeal, if it’s denied file another one. Go into your local office ask for assistance. Eventually you will get somewhere. Persistence will pay off.


Heather September 8, 2012 at 9:13 am

I rarely buy full price meat anymore. I have a Fred Meyers and Safeway within one mile of my house, and both have a clearance counter for meat. The meat is usually 30-50% off. Being clearance, you either have to eat it right away, or freeze it. But like if there is sausage or thin cut pork chops, I know I have recipes for and always snatch it up. Sometimes, we even find things like scallops, or marinated kabobs or something. We don’t always buy meat, as we will only get stuff we know we will eventually eat. Oh, these areas are usually stocked up in the morning by staff, and so it is pretty picked over if you get there in the evening.

Both stores also have other clearance areas. You just have to know what and where. Both have areas for general groceries: off brand cereals, tea, vitamins, and even things like matso ball soup make it over there. One has clearance for breads, and you can get cupcakes, french bread, and other stuff, and sometimes you need older crustier bread for things like bread pudding. One has some clearance bagged lettuce and marinated mushrooms. The other has a clearance area for some of the “deli” like stuff, including prepackaged potato salads and packaged deli meats and cheeses. I also find fresh stuffed pasta there, which I grab and use with clearance sausage to make soup.


Heather September 8, 2012 at 9:36 am

Oh, and Safeway sometimes runs $8.99 coupon for Asian deli food for 2 (more like dinner and lunch for two of us). We have found that if you buy it within half an hour of the deli closing for the evening, they pill pile it on higher rather than toss it out at the end of the day.


Katy September 8, 2012 at 11:56 am

From Amy:

“Hi Everyone! I just want to say Thank You for everything. Its really nice to know that we aren’t alone, that there are people who care.

Thank You!”


Linda Shirley September 8, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I once had a problem with a social security overpayment. I did not have to pay it back because I appealed on the basis that
1. It was not my fault that I had been over payed.
2. Repaying the overpayment would cause me undue hardship.

I won the appeal and did not have to repay social security.

Also, I live on $100 a month for food by making a huge pot of soup once a month called a grain, a green and a bean. I add one chicken to the pot. I freeze it in yogurt containers in the freezer. Each time I take out a container I add anything else I have laying around to the soup from free food I pick up at the church once a month and also from the Salvation Army once a month. That plus my delicious daily oatmeal made with free donated oats and powdered milk every morning get me by.

I liked your suggestions as well.


Linda in California


The Prudent Homemaker September 8, 2012 at 4:59 pm

You have been given some great advice so far!

Don’t give up; my family of 9 eats for $100 a month. You can certainly make it work.

I’ve got recipe and 4 1/2 months of menus that you can use. The 1/2 month is strictly pantry meals that you can make with what you have just sitting in your pantry, so if you don’t have money to go shopping this month, you can start there.


KatE September 9, 2012 at 11:58 am

Don’t plan to buy meat early in the month – usually expensive cuts are “on sale” at the beginning of the month – things like T-Bone steak. Stock up on dry rice an beans early on, then round out with inexpensive meat purchases toward the end of month.


Kimberly Cherrine-bell September 9, 2012 at 7:16 pm

I have not seen anyone mention another program that you can use to get gift cards or paypal money like Swagbucks does…It is called My Points and is a tool bar search program and they send email ads and some surveys …The ads are click through and earn points with many of them being no purchase to get the points, just click through and let the page pop up..Thats all…You might want to check it out…


Erin September 24, 2012 at 7:41 am

Just wanted to share my thanks for the black bean burger recipe. A huge hit in my house this weekend! We plan to make them a house staple.


Elie Fabros October 23, 2014 at 7:57 pm

I experienced that same thing and had been in the same tight situation. Love all the advise posted! BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a SSA-632-BK,I found a blank form here:


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