There are several signs that the economy is in trouble: stock prices are down, unemployment is up and for many, their financial future is uncertain. However, there is another surefire sign that the U.S. has fallen on tough times. Food pantries and soup kitchens are reporting an increase in the number of people seeking their services. Even more disturbing: many of those seeking help are familes whose parents both have full-time jobs.
The working poor are nothing new in the U.S. Each generation has had a segment of the population that just can't seem to make ends meet, no matter how hard they work. The causes are many...low or no education, a depressed local economy, single-parent families struggling to get back on their feet, etc. These days, food pantries are increasing seeing clients who never thought they would ever have to seek help in obtaining food for their families.
During the recession of 1991, I found myself out of work, and on a couple of occasions, there was no food in the refrigerator or the cupboard. With a few dollars wired to us by a helpful relative, my family was able to eat for another week. We never sought the help of a food pantry, but in hindsight, we certainly could have and probably should have. Perhaps it was pride that kept us from seeking that kind of help.
I did learn a few things during those salad days in which we had no salad. Here are a few steps that my family took to help stretch those food dollars a little further.
Cut Out the Drinks: Save your money for milk and cut out expensive drink habits like soda, beer and bottled water.
Stretch the meat budget: Meats are the most expensive items in the grocery budget. When trying to save money, think of meats as a side dish, or an ingredient in casseroles, soups or other one-dish meals. There are other sources of protein available such as beans, tofu, soy or lentils. Not only are they cheaper, but they are better for you, too.
Rice and pasta are your friends: Nothing stretches a food budget like rice or pasta. If you are concerned about the carbs, buy whole-wheat pasta and brown rice. It might taste different at first, but after awhile you don't notice the difference. Again, it's better for you than the plain white stuff.
Make what you have stretch further: Casseroles, soups, stews, pasta dishes...these are the types of meals that will make the food you have last longer and stretch further. I make a meatless chili that my family loves. It's inexpensive, and makes enough for two to three meals.
Grow your own: If you have your own yard or flower beds, dedicate some of that space to herbs or vegetables. It's amazing how much my family saved this last year on fresh herbs, and they taste so much better than the dried out stuff purchased at the grocery store.
Coupons are cash: If you use coupons on the things you normally buy, and combine them with in-store sales, the savings can really add up. Of course, there are some great couponing tips here at The Dollar Stretcher.
Stick to the outer aisles: Typically, the outer ailes of the grocery store are the main ones you should concern yourself with when shopping. These are the ailes with dairy, eggs, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. For the most part, the inner aisles of the store contain all of the processed foods, and they are the foods that are expensive and not nearly as nutritious.