Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have almost no food in the house and no money? That was the situation that Baker’s Man and I found ourselves in back at a time that we refer to as “when we were young and in love.” Both of us were self supporting. He had a full-time job, and I had a couple of part-time jobs. We were both full-time college students, and we shared an apartment that was probably too expensive for us, but it was cheaper than living on campus.
One of the things about living on our own rather than on campus was that we were responsible for providing our own meals apart from our rent and utilities. One month, I made a teeny little error in the check book. I had borrowed a one from the one hundred’s column, but I forgot to subtract it. We thought we had one hundred dollars more than we had, and we had already paid our rent when Baker’s Man caught my error. That hundred dollar error meant two things.
- Our rent check was going to bounce which would mean a late fee as well as an overdraft charge from the bank.
- We had no money for groceries for five days until Baker’s Man got paid.
In those days, we were too poor to have a credit card. The only money we had was what we earned from our jobs, and thanks to my poor math skills, we were in trouble. We were more worried about late and insufficient funds charges then we were about not having money for groceries. We were so broke all of the time that those charges could ruin our finances for months until we recovered.
In order to keep our rent check from bouncing, we pulled out two wine bottles that we used to store pennies. We spent the first evening counting out the pennies and putting them into paper rolls of fifty cents each. The final count of the money was sixty-nine dollars. This was enough to cover the deficit so our rent check wouldn’t bounce, but it wasn’t enough to allow us to buy any groceries.
Back in those days, we didn’t have a lot of surplus food in our house. We barely had enough money to keep ourselves in food to last a week, and I hadn’t figured out how to stock a pantry within our limited budget. Because we were college students, we didn’t qualify for food stamps. (I don’t know if that rule has changed, but I remember thinking that it was very unfair at the time.) So, we inventoried everything that we had in our tiny apartment kitchen. Taking an inventory of all of the food you have in your house is an important step when you find yourself in this type of situation.
What I found in our kitchen was the following:
- Leftover Chili
- Three Flour Tortillas
- 1/2 a loaf of bread
- Sour Cream (about 1/2 of a carton)
- One Can of Olives
- Some Flour
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Cream of Tartar
- 1/2 a pound of sugar
- Jiffy Corn Bread Mix
- 1/2 gallon of milk
- About 1 cup of mayonnaise
- A pound of breakfast sausage
- Most of a ten pound bag of russet potatoes
- Butter (Actually, I think it was Margarine)
- One onion
- Part of a bottle of ketchup
- Part of a jar of jelly
That was everything, and we needed to eat for five days. Well, actually, we needed five dinners, four breakfasts, and four lunches.
How did we use the groceries that we had in our house to feed ourselves?
It’s important to look at the food that you have and figure out how you can use it. This is easier for some people than others, but if you’re willing to look at foods in different ways, you will have more success. Fortunately, I knew how to make several simple foods, and we were willing to try combinations that were a little different for our dinners.
The first night, we didn’t really have a plan, and we were starving because we hadn’t eaten lunch, so we reheated the chili and made chili cheese burritos with sour cream and olives. If we had been thinking, we might have chosen to save the sour cream for later in the week, but we didn’t. When we were finished, there was about a cup of chili left, but there was still some cheese, sour cream, and olives. I made a pitcher of homemade tea for us to drink.
The first morning, we ate only toast for breakfast, with butter and jelly. For lunch, we each took a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich. We didn’t have anything else we could put on the sandwiches. During the afternoon, I visited our bank. When I deposited the rolls of pennies, I asked if any checks had been returned for insufficient funds and was relieved to hear that none had been returned. I was so thankful that our pennies were deposited before the rent check came it.
That night, we baked two potatoes, and topped them with the last of the chili, sour cream, and the olives. We finished the sour cream and olives, but if we’d been thinking we would have saved some for later in the week. We decided to have our potatoes without cheese, so we could save what was left of the cheese to use to make sandwiches. I made another pitcher of homemade iced tea.
Day two, we ate toast with butter and jelly again for breakfast, and after we made our two cheese sandwiches, we realized that we only had enough bread left for one more meal. For dinner, I decided to think outside of the box and make something for dinner that was definitely not traditional. That night, I transformed the breakfast sausage into sausage gravy, using most of the milk, too. We baked two more largish potatoes which we ate topped with sausage gravy. I don’t know if the gravy was particularly good, or we were just that hungry, but we ate every last bite. I made another pitcher of homemade tea.
Day three’s breakfast was biscuits and gravy. I tried to only serve us half of what was left of the sausage gravy, and I made extra biscuits for the next day because I would have an early class. We used up all of the Bisquick and finished all of the milk. For lunch, we had two cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches with each of us having one slice of bread and one heel. For dinner, I baked two more potatoes which we covered with the last of the sausage gravy. Once again, it was one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted. I made another pitcher of homemade tea.
On day four, our final day without money, we ate cold biscuits with butter and jelly for breakfast. We were out of cheese, so we took cold biscuits with butter and jelly for lunch, too. That evening, we were starving, and the only thing we had left in the fridge was butter (margarine), and the only food we had was four potatoes and one sad looking onion. I baked all four of the potatoes, and we ate three of them with butter (margarine), salt, and pepper. A baked potato never tasted so good though they would have tasted better with some sour cream, too. We had planned to eat all four potatoes, but we remembered that we didn’t have anything left for breakfast except an onion, so we had to save one potato for us to share in the morning.
The final morning of our “we have no money to buy groceries” challenge, we ate fried potatoes and onions for breakfast. Actually, it was one fried potato with an onion. We used some of the cooking oil, the onion, the potato, and salt and pepper. Baker’s Man had his half with ketchup and I had mine with mayonnaise. It was a filing breakfast, but we both wished we had eggs and bacon, or sausage, to go with them.
On that day, we both left the house without anything for lunch. The only food left in the house was dry goods, spices, and some condiments. Baker’s man would get paid, and he would put the money into our account, so we could afford to buy groceries. We had survived, but we were ready for something that wasn’t potatoes. That night, we feasted on frozen pizza and had ice cream for dessert to celebrate our survival.
The funny thing about this whole situation was this. My father called me the day after Baker’s Man got paid. Our fridge and freezer were full of a week’s worth of groceries again. My dad was calling to tell us that he had accidentally deposited his pay check into our account. (He kept some of our deposit slips just in case we ever had an emergency and needed him to give us some money, but we were too proud to ask for any help even though we were broke.) He had used one of our deposit slips by mistake. Since we both banked at the same bank, it was a simple mistake. He didn’t realize his error until he got a call from the bank about writing bad checks. He was calling to let me know that he had taken the money out again, and to make sure we didn’t have any plans to spend it. Since we didn’t have any online baking services, we didn’t even know we had the extra money in our account.
I began laughing hysterically as I explained to my father about counting pennies and worrying about bouncing a rent check. We had no money for groceries, and all that time, my dad’s money had been sitting on our account as a buffer. We wouldn’t have spent it, but still, it was ironic that he made that mistake at the exact time when we might have bounced our rent check. In fact, his error did prevent the rent check from bouncing. When we checked our statement for the month, he had deposited his money before the rent check cleared the bank. Our pennies were deposited the day after our rent check had come in. Without his “error,” we would have had overdraft and late fees charged.
I don’t mind that we lived on potatoes for most of a week. Potatoes are really a very versatile food, and they’re inexpensive. The whole experience makes for a good story. Years later, when I told my mother about it, she confided that early in their marriage, she and my father had to live off of spaghetti noodles and oleo (margarine) for a week because they ran out of money. She thought that we had it better with the potatoes. I think she might have been right. She also chastised us for not asking for them to give us money for groceries. What can I say? We were stubborn and determined to prove that we were adults and could take care of ourselves, even if I didn’t know how to properly borrow during subtraction.
Even though this was a difficult situation, Baker’s Man and I learned a great deal from the experience. We survived, and we have a good story to tell about being young, poor, and in love.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were forced to be creative with the little groceries that you had on hand in order to feed yourself or your family until you got paid again? Share your story in the comments. We would love to hear it.
Thanks for visiting Patty Cake’s Pantry.