Will Work For Food

by Amy Flanigan on July 6, 2009 · 32 comments

Unemployment doesn’t discriminate. It will take anyone; blue collar, middle class, the rich, the cute, the ugly, the kind, the obnoxious. A couple of weeks ago, Paul was a casualty of corporate politics and joined this melting pot of millions.

Now, we not only have to exhaust energy into finding another job and pay alarming rates for medical coverage, but we also have to reevaluate how we live. The anxiety is all exacerbated because we have two small children to care for.

I wasn’t going to discuss it here, since, well, this is a food blog. But money affects everything, which includes how and what we eat. Hopefully it will alleviate any shock and instill some compassion when upcoming posts incorporate Top Ramen as the main ingredient.

Paul and I became pretty frugal once Haley was born, but after Trevor came along, we really got down to the brass tacks, getting rid of many extraneous items.

…the only other place to cut back is the grocery bill. Gulp.

I’ve made attempts to do this before, and I failed every single time. Then again, I never really took it that seriously. I was merely practicing, I guess. But, it’s game time now. Good-bye sushi. Good-bye pork ribs. Good-bye all you expensive cheeses. Good-bye, dare I say, Diet Pepsi.

(Insert violin music here.)

Remember the Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops? And the Grilled Teriyaki Beef Spirals? No more dinners like that for a while.

I’m confident those meals will be back some day, but I don’t know when. Paul is considered an expert in his field, but being told that “great things are on the horizon” isn’t very comforting. Is this “horizon” his colleagues speak of going to make an appearance next month? Three months from now? Before 2011? Until that horizon becomes more visible, it’s going to be challenging.

Is a three year old too young to sell lemonade? Hmm.

So, my beloved readers and support group, unless you really have a thing for Top Ramen, please offer up your best suggestions on how to save money on food.

And if you know anyone who’s hiring… ;-)


Leave a Comment

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

TEB July 20, 2009 at 10:38 pm

A lot of CSAs will give you free food in exchange for help on the farm. Check out those around you to see if they’re able to do some sort of exchange. Also, on the Ramen angle, I often either make pasta or ramen (as pasta, drained), and add frozen (on sale) veggies and a hard boiled egg. Super-good and not awful for you.

I also like the blog “Cheap, Healthy, Good” (not affiliated)

Good luck!


Stacy July 13, 2009 at 8:25 am

If you’re in Minneapolis, also try Aldi stores. They’re open limited hours, only take cash, and don’t sell everything, so they sell it cheap. Depending on where you do your shopping, try SuperTarget. I was shocked by how much cheaper some items are at Target! To help you keep track, start a price book and note whether things were on sale. Just tracking a few staples has helped me plan my groceries much better.

And to reiterate: farmer’s market and ethnic groceries. My husband and I hit up United Noodles and Coastal Seafood and made sushi at home for a fraction of the price of going out! The prices for spices and rice at the Asian grocery is significantly lower.


Tatiana July 8, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Hi I didn’t have time to read through the comments, so I’m sorry if I’m repeating anyone, but if you don’t want to eliminate good food from your diet and start shopping at walmart for meat (my all time horror story), then cultivate your local farmers. Seriously, you can get excellent, organic, free-range meats and veggies for a huge discount. I’d recommend getting bulk cases of what’s in season and canning up pasta sauce, tomatoes, pickles, salsas. You can can soups and stews, etc. Get your meat in bulk too – split a cow with a friend or something. Unbelievably cheaper than supermarket rates and super healthy too.


Sharon July 8, 2009 at 9:17 am

Other thoughts…. Savings can be had in the kitchen with items other than food. Reuse those heavy duty plastic zip lock bags as many times as you can. Not only saves money but helps the environment by not filling up the landfill. Use glass jars for storage.

Green salad with dinner helps fill you up and is very healthy too.


krysta July 7, 2009 at 7:46 pm

oh crap… my heart sinks when i hear about anybody getting laid off. we’ve been through it and it is rough so first of all i hope the horizon comes quickly. if you have a cute 3 year old i’m sure you can use it to your advantage babies can sell everything! we ate lots of rice and beans and eggs.


Joyce July 7, 2009 at 5:06 pm

It doesn’t look like anyone mentioned eggs. They are an excellent ingredient to incorporate into mealtime and very inexpensive. Make quiches, omelets, casseroles, scrambled of course.


Amy July 7, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Helen and Shelley – I actually just started buying Target’s generic brand and I was shocked to find how much cheaper it is than name labels, and couldn’t tell the difference in quality and taste.

Anna – having been a vegetarian at one time, I know I can handle this no problem. My husband on the other hand…

Susan and Mike – I love meatloaf and yes, hamburger can be stretched many ways for sure. Great ideas.

Lora – I’m no stranger to leftovers! And I love this “exchange” idea. I bet a lot of my mom friends would participate. Brilliant.

Jennifer – great suggestions, of course. So, maybe a Top Ramen casserole? Would you eat that?

Ethan – yes, whole turkey. Great idea. I also thought a whole ham would last a long time. Use it in sandwiches, stews, casseroles, etc.

Lizzie – I do in fact have my own garden. I love it. It only houses tomatoes, strawberries, and herbs at the moment, but I definitely want to expand on that. The herbs alone do save a lot of money.

Sharon and Sam – ah yes, buying everything whole. This is the tough one for me since I’m always looking to save time. But now that it’s an issue of money, I suppose I have no choice!

Thank you SO much everyone. Truly. I take all of your thoughts and suggestions to heart.


Sam July 7, 2009 at 3:01 pm

I would say for sure to stop buying anything that is already cut up, minced, diced, shredded, etc. I know you’re always looking for ways to cut time with two young kids (as am I), but cutting up my own stuff would be the first to go if I found myself in your situation. As Sharon pointed out, cutting up your own chicken can save so much money. Shred your own cheese, chop your own fresh garlic, buy fresh fruit and cut it up, instead of prepared fruit cups, etc. It really does make a difference.


Sharon July 7, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Everyone had such good suggestions. A few more thoughts: Less expensive cuts of meat are good for roasts, stews or crock-pot cooking and usually make more than one meal and even sandwiches. Boning chicken yourself rather than boneless, skinless chicken can save up to a third of the cost. I usually do this and save the bones for chicken stock and render the skin and fat. There is nothing like chicken fat for certain dishes. You can also buy whole chickens and cut them up yourself (even cheaper). Many store-brand items are as good as name brands. Just try them once to determine the quality. Watching the sales will result in huge savings. I rarely buy juice because of the sugar content or soda because it leeches calcium from our bones. Just eliminating those two items will save quite a bit. Butter at Costco seems to be the cheapest. I never buy cereal unless on sale (or in bulk at Costco) because it is so overpriced. So many of my suggestions were already given, so if I think of anything else, I’ll post again.


Lizzie July 7, 2009 at 11:44 am

Just discovered your great blog. But I’m sorry to hear this news. I don’t know if you have a garden (and it’s probably too late in the season to start one), but growing your own fruits and vegetables saves a ton of money on food. And everything tastes better too. Consider it for next year, maybe?


Ethan July 7, 2009 at 11:05 am

Why hasn’t anyone mentioned turkey? No, not the one Paul used to work for, the 75-pounder you get at Costco with a set of tires and a wheel of cheese. Turkey’s not just for Thanksgiving, and picking at the leftovers can last for days. Besides, it’s stuffed with good ol’ generic white bread (toasted) and turkey schmaltz, and a side of peas or yams (yeah, I know, I know) or taters, and you can get away relatively inexpensively. Plus you can freeze what you don’t eat.

Other than that, Top or Bottom Ramen is fine with me, and don’t forget soups. Soups aren’t just for winter.

P.S. What’s a “restaurant?”


Jennifer July 7, 2009 at 11:01 am

I hate to say it…but Michelle is right. Sorry, Ame.

Be aware that if you need canned goods (coconut milk, tomatoes for sauces, etc.), you will probably find cheaper prices when they go on sale than you will find at Costco. At least that’s been my experience. I’ve actually found them for under $1 per can, and Costco is usually just over that. Just keep your eyes open for the sales.

Rachel reminded me – I’m not sure if you guys have a Cost Plus out there, but their bulk spices are SO cheap and still good quality. They also have other items that are so much cheaper than the grocery stores.


Jennifer July 7, 2009 at 10:50 am

I haven’t had time to read all of the posts, but I will put my two cents in anyway.

My husband and I have had the threat of losing our jobs for a while now, and we’ve been very luck so far. With that said, we’ve already cut down so we can put money in savings “just in case”. The easiest thing to cut, (after all of the “extras” have been cut) is food. I know it may not seem that way, but it always has been for me.

I only buy “meat” (pork, chicken, beef) when it’s on sale, and I look for sales for canned goods (tomatoes, veggies, etc.) not just at the grocery stores, but at places like Longs, Target, RiteAid, and WalMart. Then I buy in bulk. Our freezer is so full right now that I won’t have to shop for much during the month of July. I carry this forward to all produce really, except I don’t freeze veggies; I simply buy them in smaller quantities. :o)

Yes, this means no fillet mignon, but I don’t really buy that anyway. And, yes, flank steak is expensive, but I’ve found it at really good prices (again the stocking up comes in). Yes, my husband and I eat what the grocery stores dictate, but we still eat well, comparatively speaking. And, when all else fails, there are the meals to make in bulk that don’t cost a lot but definitely produce many meals (even for four people) – casseroles, tacos, enchiladas…did I mention casseroles….

I know you Ame, you’ll figure out a way to make Top Ramen gourmet! ;o)


Shelley July 7, 2009 at 10:27 am

Buy generic!! You would not believe how much you’ll save. Cereal, cheese, canned goods. And most items I have found taste the same.


Lora July 7, 2009 at 8:27 am

Amy, this has got to be a scary time, so hang in there. Hope you will be updating us along the way. I know for us, a big meal that takes us into leftovers the next night is cheaper than cooking new things each night. If you get tired of leftovers, maybe someone nearby will want to do a once/week exchange. So if you make a big thing of lasagne you give them half in exchange for them giving you a meal for four. Or stick part of it in the freezer for another time. Just a thought.


Mike July 7, 2009 at 8:05 am

Best of luck, Amy and Paul. Lamentably, food prices have risen so much in the last couple of years that I fear many of us will be cutting back on our fancy meals. As for me, I’ve always been amazed at how far I can stretch a pound of hamburger when I get creative.


Rachel July 7, 2009 at 9:15 am

Ohhh and another website I just thought of: http://www.poorgirleatswell.com/


Susan July 7, 2009 at 7:48 am

We’ve been down this road, Amy. My husband was out of work for over a year in 2006. It was tough, but we cut back and figured out how to live okay with only my PT salary and the little the government paid in unemployment. We actually changed our lifestyle so much, that even when he bounced back and got a better, higher paying job, we still live frugally.

While I agree with Anna, it’s also not necessary to eliminate meat from your budget entirely. I made a lot of meatloaf during 2006 (and still do.) Hamburger is relatively inexpensive and meatloaf is definitely a “kitchen sink” type of meal – using leftover ingredients, you can change up the taste every time.


Anna July 7, 2009 at 7:36 am

More rice, beans, and pasta. Less meat and fish.


Helen July 7, 2009 at 6:40 am

Well, this isn’t the type of news I wanted to wake up to! My husband and I have both been out of work a few times over the years. It ALWAYS worked out for the better. It’s so hard to see it when you’re the one going through it, but I agree with Melissa – the universe is telling you that something isn’t right and it needs to change. Hang in there, you’re a smart cookie (punn intended!)

I know this will be tough for you, but shop at the lower end markets. No more Lunds or Kowalski’s. And buy generic. You can barely tell the difference on most items.


Amy July 7, 2009 at 6:19 am

Rachel – Good call on the baked potatoes.

Lisa – We do have a membership to Costco. And I guess we’ll be stocking up!

Steph – I’d forgotten about the Farmer’s Market, great idea.

Scott – We haven’t dined out in ages, but I suppose no more Chipotle for a while. I don’t buy alcohol other than to cook with. Paul will occasionally have a beer.

Cheryl – ah, coupons. My grandmother was a huge coupon cutter and so is my mom. We don’t get a newspaper, so I’ll have to see if it’s worth buying one on Saturday for the coupons. I don’t know if any of our markets honor double coupons, but I imagine that would be a huge savings.

Michelle – Now you’re just being mean.

Sarah – I hear ya on the pasta. I’ve been buying the whole grain variety at Costco and it’s still way less than the regular market.

Tom – Mine was Mac-n-Cheese.

Tara – Ha! The challenge would be getting her to actually sell it, and not drink it.

Nancy – My mother has always believed that everything happens for a reason. She’s convinced that this will actually lead to better things. I hope so!

Melissa – it’s so hard to live in limbo, but I’m trying to put a positive twist on it…at least I’ll have more help with the kids for a while! Thanks so much for the blog ideas, I will absolutely check them out. I also follow http://www.thesimpledollar.com/, which has awesome tips. Oh yes, your pasta ceci! I really wanted to make that… it just moved up to the top of the list.


Nancy July 7, 2009 at 5:56 am

Losing your job is always hard, especially when you don’t choose it, but I believe everything happens for a reason. You two will come out stronger for it. And it wouldn’t surprise me if Paul found something even better.

Everyone on here has already given great advice for saving money. I would also suggest that you start drinking tap water. Do away with the soda and juice. But you already know that.


Melissa July 6, 2009 at 11:48 pm

I am sorry Paul lost his job. Never a fun thing to go through, not only for him having to start over, but for the not knowing. The unknown future is the worst part. But have hope. You know a bit about my spiritual thing and I have a tendency to believe that the universe will give you what you need if you put the right energy, focus and optimism out there. It’s the ebb and flow. And for what it’s worth, Steve got laid off and was out of work for three months last year, but it all worked out beautifully.

As for the food. I am in NO WAY haha trying to get you to read more blogs. Sometimes it’s okay just to think of good established blogs as a resource. And there are PLENTY devoted to good eating for little money. One I just subscribed to was Cheap Healthy Good (http://cheaphealthygood.blogspot.com). Their links are also good – almost all of them – check them out on the right. There’s also my friend Dan at Casual Kitchen (http://casualkitchen.blogspot.com) and you can search his archives for “laughably cheap” recipes as he calls them. No commenting required! Just remember that and don’t take on more burdens. ;) They are simply good places to go because these people love food like you and I do (okay… maybe not quite as much as you and I do heh) and they are enjoying it as frugally as they can. May I also offer up my pasta ceci and chili and black bean soup and chicken tortilla soup for good recipes with leftovers? They are all on my page in the archives.

Best of luck and I’ll be rooting for you (though not your Diet Pepsi! Ha!).


Tara July 6, 2009 at 9:51 pm

No way!! Oh, that royally stinks. Same page as everyone else – buy in bulk, cook with more pasta and chicken, cut out the pepsi, no dining out…

If a 3YO can help make cake, do dishes, and water the plants, than she’s not too young to sell lemonade. Put that girl to work!!


Tom July 6, 2009 at 9:44 pm

I love top ramen…it was the meal of choice back in my starving college days, so I’ll stick with you.

Great graphic.


Sarah July 6, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Pasta! Make lots of pasta with veggie dishes. And I’m with everyone else on the buying in bulk. I cannot believe how much cheaper pasta is at Costco than at a regular market.

Also, and I’m sure you already do this, shop on the outside parameter of the store where all the fresh produce is. Don’t get sucked into the canned goods.


Michelle July 6, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Okay, I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but… you have to stop buying snack foods like cookies, chips, and the soda. Ka-ching. There, I said it.

Love ya!!


Cheryl July 6, 2009 at 9:02 pm

You went from root beer floats to unemployment – quite a shift! I’m glad you decided to bring it up. I’m sure you have other readers experiencing the same thing. And if not, everyone can benefit from money saving tips.

I’m a big coupon cutter. I used to find it tedious and a hassle, but now it’s sort of my escape every Sunday. Weird? Seriously, it makes a HUGE difference. And if you live near a decent grocery store that honors double (or triple!) coupon day, you would not believe how fast it adds up.

We also have a membership to Costco. Some bulk items aren’t really a better deal, dollar for dollar or ounce for ounce, but mostly they are. And I find the yearly membership dues are easily offset by the savings we make up all year round. And it sounds like you have an awesome pantry to store all the stuff!


Scott July 6, 2009 at 8:56 pm

This all might sound obvious, but if you can do without liquor, eliminate it. And cutting back on restaurant dining will save you a ton.


Steph July 6, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Ugh. That really bites. I checked out his blog…looks like he’s got some chops to his field. Hopefully he’ll bounce back pretty fast. Man, it really is bad across all industries. People think it’s only blue collar that’s hit hard.

Anyway, during the summer months, we buy our produce at the local farmer’s market. WAY cheaper.


Lisa July 6, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Say it ain’t so! That absolutely stinks, Amy. Wow. It’s just bad everywhere.

Do you have a membership to a warehouse club like Costco or Sams? That helps a lot. Especially on canned and boxed items that have a long shelf life. If you have an extra refrigerator or freezer, than even better. I’ve found that the meats and seafood quality hold up to any of the higher end grocery stores.

Hang in there!


Rachel July 6, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Oh girl, you and Paul are in my thoughts. He’ll find something spectacular! He’s so talented, you two will be back on your feet in no time!

Ok, budget meals. Although I prefer white meat, these days I have been getting skin and bone on chicken thighs. I shop at Winco and I can get 12 thighs for less than $4! I could easily make two meals with leftovers.

So, I have been doing lots of chicken and rice dishes. If you have any grocery stores that sell food in bulk, that’s generally cheaper too. I can get a pound of cinnamon for $1! I buy bulk spices, pasta, rice, you name it.

Other cheap ideas…baked potatoes, chili…basically any bean dishes. Roast chicken and make soup from broth…

This is probably all old hat to you because you have been cooking longer than I have. But these are great sure-fire budget meals that’ll feed a lot of mouths on the cheap.



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