Living on a food stamp budget.

 

 

Times are tight right now with a small income and tiny grocery budget. But life has never been so good! I’ve never been happier. How could that be? I did a vlog on YouTube recently titled “Can being broke improve the quality of your life?”.

The key to being broke and thriving is your mindset. If I turn it into a game, a big, fun challenge, I enjoy life. I become industrious and creative, I turn within and learn a lot about what I’m capable of doing with very little. I also learn to just be present and self-entertain on a large scale. I learn from others, which can be very interesting.

To make it with our little funds I put us on a zero spend season. I reduced our grocery budget down to what the government would give a family of four with a person working. I wanted to see if I could feed us delicious and nutritious food and stay within the limit. We also had to reduce our bill to $350 in order to rebuild a saving that is almost none existent. We have always had large savings and taken great comfort in it. It’s stressful to not have that emergency fund, especially when you’ve recently been informed a root canal is in your near future.

Each month we improve our budgeting skills vastly but are still not perfect. This month I spent $60 on nine cases of canning jars I found on craigslist. I’ve already gone over the grocery budget by $50 and we still have two more weeks.

It’s a process of learning, failing, improving. On the upside, I have learned to make homemade pasta by hand and spent last weekend canning up a storm. I have learned that double coupon days at Sprouts doesn’t save any money when talking canning and that Davis farms in Sacramento still does a You Pick for .30 cents a pound. I will be doing that or finding farms where I can glean the end of a harvest.  I have learned that Winco is the only place I can shop right now to make the grocery envelope happy.

As for entertainment, I have taken up crocheting again, making scarves for my sons when it gets cold, and one little purple scarf for our neighbors’ little girl as a birthday gift.

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I’m gardening like crazy to offset grocery cost, but it seems the local squirrel has taken to shopping in my lettuce patch. I did learn how to freeze corn without blanching. Canning was very fun and successful. I now have dilly beans, triple berry jam, and spaghetti sauce. I have learned that making homemade pasta with eggs gets pricey and now I’m trying it with flour and semolina like the Pasta Grannies on YouTube.

I have found a few new channels that I enjoy and are helping me with my cost effective strategies. One being Jan Creson with her Dollar Tree meals that are very creative, delicious looking, but something that one may want to keep to once a month meal for health reasons. With this grocery budget, it intrigues me. I never thought of cooking meals comprised of Dollar Tree items. Olivia’s Romantic House is a tour through a real live dollhouse. She has children and a tiny home that she decorates on a budget with so much creativity and gratitude. I have collected some ideas for the future. Our One Acre Homestead is a new one for me that covers everything from quilting to farming. I love anything to do with saving money, decorating on a penny, and homesteading. And then there is a trip to another country with Pasta Grannies.

In the mornings I have a big mug of creamy coffee and thumb through my Complete Tightwad Gazette to keep inspired then set about my days. I would love to travel to the coast or see friends in Marin but that isn’t a necessity, thus not supported by the zero spend rules we set in place. To keep myself busy and satisfied I do things that I can really look forward to or makes my life easier.

With music and coffee, I become enthusiastic about rearranging furniture, decluttering at surprising levels and decorating with what I have, even pulling from the garage or patio to make a room come together. It is a weekly ritual. Along with that, I have become more invested in my housework than ever before with deep cleaning rituals that have even incorporated scrub brushes and the cleaning of areas never ventured before, and yet I still have not found my two pairs of eyeglasses! Dang it, I could really use them about now with my old pair so scratched up I keep wiping them thinking it’s dirty smudges.

I’m trying desperately to get back into my writing of fiction and read stacks of books, among them Stephen King’s On Writing. I’ve joined the Nanowrimo group and even wrote a whole novel in less than a month. Only to delete it along with 5 other books in this year. I have obsessively created and recreated a space for myself with a desk because Stephen King said that to write one must have a room to go into, close the door and focus. The living room was a bad idea for obvious reasons. The dining room was just as bad…and then the cheap fold-out table I was using as a desk began to fall apart. I wound up with a small table from the patio shoved in a corner between the pantry and dogs feeding area. Bali made me a fancy desk chair from a crate in the garage. Office furniture compliments of our yard.

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I have to say, despite the pathetic appearance, this space is more conducive to writing and work than any other in all of the house. Stephen King suggests facing the wall when working. I thought that was an awful idea, I wanted to face the garden for inspiration, but now I have to admit that the wall is working wonders. Instead of staring out at the apple trees and morning doves, I write! Go figure.

I keep writing and continue looking to the future when my imagination kicks in again. How I miss thee.

I have found that when it becomes a struggle to work with the budget one must become industrious. I have been fortunate enough to start babysitting my neighbor’s daughter once a week. My YouTube channel has taken off recently after some studying the art and changing the way I make vlogs. I even hired (pro bono work of course) my husband to record me to make my vlogs more enjoyable and precise. It worked and with a surge in subscribers, I was able to monetize the Channel. I’m thrilled with these small victories.

I think the biggest way to enjoy financially challenging times is to know that they are temporary. I have visions for the future and dreams. This may sound cuckoo, but I do feel I somehow manifested this period of tiny funds. For me, it is a field study. It is an experience I called in to learn some simple things about life and to help others in this position. What I am learning are the realities of working with limited resources and what it takes to Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. This is a Marine motto handed to me by an ex-boyfriend and former Marine. It has been invaluable and I apply it to any situation that requires work.

Improvise: we do this when we have no money. We cut cost, change phone companies, find ways to do things in free or far less expensive ways. For example; I need to shop for groceries, but my health food store is too pricey so I now go to Winco and spend 1/4th of the cost. I use old furniture from the garage to make a writing space. I use what I have when it comes to decorating or cooking. I make gifts instead of buying them.

Adapt: It takes time to slow and eventually stop the spending train. It takes time to go from spending $1,000 on groceries down to $350. It takes time to relearn the art of self-entertainment and staycations. It takes time to find inner contentment and peace in just being. And with no money, that is what you do a lot of…just being. Just being home, just being satisfied with another rice and bean dinner, just spending the weekend cleaning and repairing what you have. Just being grateful for what you do have.

Overcome: At some point you stop whining and longing and feeling sorry for yourself and family. You find hidden gems in the weekend at home painting the bathroom and repairing your dining room chairs. You find such accomplishment in canning for the first time and having 100% success. You find a beloved ritual in scrubbing and reorganizing your home with a mug of coffee in hand and a good radio station filling the rooms. You find bliss while watering your garden in the morning and seeing the young shoots of greens that will fill your soup pots and save you hundreds of dollars in organics. You find true pleasure in rolling out pasta and watching vlogs of women in Italy teaching you this ancient art. Your family finds a new pride in their mother when she presents them with homebaked bread and homemade jam on Sunday mornings.

Do I want to be this broke forever? No, but there is no such thing as forever and I have created a dream board, a dream box, and I’m working on first finding joy in life as it is and then being expectant of the abundance that is already coming to us.

But as our life prospers, I will look back on this time with fondness and nostalgia and we will never stray too far from this way of life that we have learned through challenging times. This simple life is the richest.

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26 comments

  1. You CAN do this!! I was raised this way and have continued living frugally my entire adult life. My children, now grown, live the same way as they were raised this way as well. My husband and I have been married 35 years and have had flush times and very tight times money wise. I too shop at Winco and use the bulk section a lot. ou are doing a great job and teaching your children many valuable lessons that more people need to learn. Your boys are lucky to have such an awesome mom and they are pretty adorable to boot. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I use the British Girl Guides motto; Adapt, Adopt, Improve. Basically, we all are rediscovering skills that our mothers and grandmothers–how to make homes in hard times. My mother would buy a brand new television when I was a kid, and she always paid cash. So people thought we had more money than we did. What they never realized was, before that new tv came in the house, mom had saved the money for the purchase by adapting how she spent money. We ate simpler meals, and did other things that stretched the budget.

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  3. I stumbled across your blog, and followed mainly cause it had the word “coffee” in it, and somehow I knew, I just wanted to read what you write. And I am SO glad I did. I love this post and it has sure brought light upon our current situation and I am not feeling so alone right now. Wonderful post! I have been keeping busy with all natural skincare, and working on making my own essential oils and now wanting to make cleaning aids, which are also more natural. Thank you for inspiring me to continue without worrying about funds constantly.

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    • I’m so glad I could be of some help! That is funny that the word coffee drew you in. I am the same, a coffee hound that will read anything if there is some declaration of coffee love. Good luck with everything and yes, let go of fear around money, it will come! Just get busy.

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  4. Well said ! Enjoyed this blog today immensely. I don’t watch videos due to the sound (I like quiet and videos require me to jump around and adjust volume levels) so am thankful when you write rather than video. 🙂

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  5. Hi Kate:
    I love your writing. I’ve been reading your books through Kindle Unlimited. I’ll admit, the first book I read, “Living on One Income,” was a little overwhelming for me. I admired your thrift and industry, but was a little bummed by the sheer amount of work you do. Yet, somehow, you hooked me. I’m now reading “Return of the Old-Fashioned Housewife” and loving it.

    I’m not sure if there is hope for me as a frugalista. I’m a writer and anthologist and meditation teacher. I only work when I feel like it. But I am delighted by your positivity and the quality of life you have made. I was raised to think that quality of life depended on taste and effort.

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    • Lol! People say this about the books…I don’t do all this all the time!! It is a condensed and packed book and you are to take what you like and leave the rest. It is a lifestyle and I can only do it in small spurts. I love my fancy health food coop, organics, I even had a house cleaner for a short period and long for that to return. We have abundant times and less abundant times. I turn it into a game of sorts to not get into poverty conciousness. I have a book called The Green and Abundant Home, maybe that would be more your style? Return of the Old Fashioned Housewife is a year or more worth of my blogs. I will note your feelings and maybe write a book that doesn’t stress all of you and remember, I am not always frugal or making food from scratch all the time. 🙂 xoxox

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  6. New reader here, but I enjoyed every word. I am also really working on my budget right now, so I appreciate the tips. I stay home with the baby while hubby goes to work. The idea to cut grocery spending to what a family of four would receive has some real merit. We are also considering the purchase of a large amount of meat at once, maybe a half a cow.

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  7. Wow, I’m also on a budget journey. This was incredible information that I can use for me and my family. I find going cold turkey doesn’t work for me. I tend gradually take things out that I love slowly or I will substitute is for something cheaper.

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