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Waking up one day and realizing that you are broke and have no money for food is a horrible gut-wrenching feeling that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It stinks not being able to meet the most basic of human needs, to eat.
What do you do if you find yourself in such a horrible position of being too broke to eat?
How do you handle it when you have no money for food?
We’re going to cover several important topics including how to get free food with no money as well as ways to earn quick cash for food and how to make the most of those pantry staples collecting dust on a shelf in your home already.
First, I’d like to point out the 3 different levels of broke.
1.) You feel broke after paying bills, but you still have money to make life work. This is a normal feeling that many of us get after a paycheck arrives and leaves just as quickly. Just be mindful of your budget so you don’t rely on credit cards and taking on debt. You may need to stop eating out at restaurants.
2.) You have little money and are cutting costs everywhere you can to squeeze more cash into another budgeted expense like food. This happens to everyone at some point or another. An unexpected expense pops up or something costs more than you originally thought, leaving you tight on cash for a few weeks.
It’s not a huge deal, you’ll learn from it and can still manage to find something to help your situation if you’re resourceful. Having a no spend challenge or doing a pantry challenge can help you to save money on groceries and spend elsewhere in your budgets to cover the difference.
You will be able to find frugal family meals or struggle meals to help stretch the limited funds you have.
3.) You have absolutely no money what so ever and are to the point of grabbing a piece of cardboard and a marker because you can’t squeeze any money out from between the couch cushions and car console.
While this post is mainly geared towards #3, I’d like to invite the other two levels to read along as well. You never know what the future may hold and perhaps some helpful insight and knowledge can stick with you so that if a similar situation arises, you can be prepared.
So it happened. You’re broke and have no money for food, you need help and don’t know where to turn.
You do the most logical thing and go to an internet search engine. Googling something like, “I have no money for food or gas” or “hungry no food in the house.” To tell yourself, “I need groceries but have no money” is the ultimate realization and acceptance to the fact that our financial situation has gotten out of hand. Even if temporary.
Having personally done this after my husband separated from the Army in 2017 I know just how infuriating it can be when the top results are all “low budget meals” that use things like beef, cheese, and butter.
[Related] Check out how the SCRA can help active military families to save money.
When you’re flat broke and living off the pennies in your pocket, you’re trying to maximize a meal plan based on things already in your house.
Running to the store for cheese, butter, and other items is insanely difficult when they are A.) Not on sale and B.) You have no money for food.
When you find yourself in this situation, you need to remain calm and think everything through.
While panic and stress might light a motivating fire under your butt, it could also lead to missteps and mistakes. This hinders your efforts and just makes matters worse, so keeping a level head is essential.
There are several things you can do to help yourself at this moment and I’m going to walk you through them. We will cover:
- How to use the food in your house (even if its just flour and seasonings)
- Where you can get your hands on more food + legal aid
- How to make some quick cash
- Helpful tips to keep this from happening again
- And more…
Alright, so you’ve identified your situation, that’s step #1.
Now for step #2, working with what you have.
What food is already in your house?
Take inventory of every piece of food currently within your home. Including freezer burnt meats, expired pantry goods that might still be useable, seasonings, flour, sugar, cornstarch. Literally everything.
When you have no food, your options are either A.) Wither and Starve or B.) Don’t be picky about anything, and eat to survive.
So looking at your list, grab another piece of paper and write down every meal you can possibly make using items you already have. Cross off items from the list as you make them into a meal on the other paper, so that you don’t try to use them in another one.
If you want to re-write the ingredient list on another piece of paper so that it looks neater and more legible, you can. But take those available ingredients on the list and try using a website like SuperCook to see if you can make any more dishes.
You may need to make substitutions, like canola oil for butter or molasses and white sugar to replace brown sugar. Looking up easy to make recipe substitutions can help you make even more meals when you run out of ingredients.
Yes, the meals will taste different than anticipated and may not yield the same results, but it’s edible and filling. These are the exact steps I took when I had to feed my family of 4 (plus pets) for 44 days on just $250 cash. It was tough, and not every dinner was a winner. But we’re alive to talk about it, so it works.
Here are some more tips for what to eat when there is no food at home, making meals from pantry staples.
When you need to make meals and have no money for food, you need help. I’ll point out helpful places soon, but right now we’re trying to maximize what you already have.
Most of the time, help isn’t given as urgently as we want. When you sign up for food stamps, unemployment, food banks, church assistance, it is never instant gratification.
It takes weeks, paperwork, hoops to jump through, etc. So taking the time to make the most of the food you currently have, to hold you over until help arrives is the smartest thing you can do.
You’ve made your meal plan, given substitutions and made as many meals as you can, based on what’s in your home. But there’s still some odds and ends, or days needing dishes. So what now?
What are pantry staples?
Pantry staples are foods often found in your home. The most basic of pantry staple foods include flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla and spices. Chances are, you have these in your home right now.
You can expand the definition of pantry staples to include milk, eggs, and butter as well, but those are found in the fridge.
Did you know you can make food using mainly pantry staples?
It’s true, some of the best ones can be found online by looking for “depression era” recipes or by looking for “poor man recipes.”
Back in the day, the economy was rough on families and depression era dishes were created. These are the meals and dishes that your grand parents (or great grandparents) ate while growing up.
Go back to the basics and try some old school food with the ingredients you have left in your home. You could end up finding something you love, and keep it in your future meal plans.
Be warned though, when looking up old school recipes you’re going to find a lot of “gravy” related dishes, like this egg gravy recipe. That’s because these meals can be made really cheaply and fill a lot of stomachs.
In the meantime, you may also get lucky by looking up recipes for college students. These are often done on a poor student’s “bean and rice” budget and can contain different ways to use ramen noodles.
For your convenience, here are a few really simple recipes you may be able to try.
Slow Cooker Poor Man’s Beef Stew this uses ground beef instead of a beef roast!
This Mock Pecan Pie uses oatmeal as the main ingredient and still looks delicious.
Chicken and Mushroom Gravy Ramen may look and sound really fancy, but it’s made with basic household cooking ingredients. Plus chicken drumsticks, which are the cheapest cut of a chicken. Then there’s the ramen, which is usually no more than $0.25 per bag.
Chili Pasta With Fried Egg is another incredibly cheap dish to make, with the added bonus of being breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Easy drop biscuits can be added to any meal to help stretch the dish further. Plus they’re super easy to make!
Where to get free food
Finally, we’ll cover how to get free food with no money. There are a number of options available to you for finding free food resources. Luckily, most can be found online with just a few clicks of a button. You can find a lot of free stuff in your neighborhood and resources to help by looking online!
Food banks are a great resource for finding food, but unfortunately, since they are volunteer ran, they don’t operate daily. You can find your local food bank here, by doing this you can see where your closest one is.
You’re also given other great information such as when they are open and what zip codes they cover as well as what pieces of information you may need to bring.
It’s not uncommon for food banks to require 2 letters addressed to you at your mailing address for proof that you live within their zones. Most food banks don’t require any proof of income and only ask that you run on the honor system.
Another place to get food is through DSHS
Unlike food banks, which can have food in your hands within the week, SNAP benefits are given to you in an electronic benefit card and can take a few weeks to get started if you do the paperwork online.
You can cut down on the wait time by doing the application in your local DSHS office. This can get you an EBT card in hand within a few short hours as opposed to a few weeks.
This can ensure that you have food this month and for a few months thereafter. Find out if you’re eligible for SNAP Food Benefits.
Who can help me with money urgently?
Alright, so now we’ve figured out how to maximize the potential out of the food in your home and given a plan B and C for getting more free food to help you out. But what about money?
Surely you must be in some need of money as well. Cars need gas, Uber and Public Transportation want cash and it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that you can simply walk to and from work every day.
So what can you do to find some quick cash?
The fastest way that you can get some quick cash is by selling your old and unwanted items. You can sell them through mobile apps like Poshmark or Let Go. Websites Like Craigslist, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace are also great ways to sell online.
You can sell any unused gift cards through the Raise app if you happen to have any laying around. This is a great way to get rid of old gift cards with weird balances.
If you have any old makeup, you can sell that too! Thanks to websites like Glambot, you can sell old unwanted makeup.
Another way to make money is by taking on more work
Finding odd jobs or taking on more work through side hustles can really help you bring in more money. My friend has 28 different side hustles going while being a full-time SAHM, so I’m sure you could find something you can do if you look hard enough!
More extreme ways to get money quickly are:
Taking out a personal loan or going to the pawn shop. These are risky though.
Taking out a quick personal loan, means you are taking on debt to get out of your situation.
But it could just make matters worse. The interest rates and fees will have you paying more money. Plus, if this turns into a reoccurring issue, you may become too dependant on this as a “quick fix.”
Using the pawn shop means risking your valued possessions.
Pawn shops give you small loans based on the value of the item. Basically holding on to your item as collateral. You then pay them back plus a small fee and get your item back.
But if something comes up, and you can’t pay by the agreed upon date, then they will sell your item to someone else to recoup their costs. This means you’re gambling with your items and risk losing things forever.
Now we need to know if this was a one-time only thing or if it is reoccurring.
Either way, let’s look at some long term ways to control your finances so that this doesn’t happen again.
Setting a good budget can really help you to see where your money is going and to tell it where to go. Dave Ramsey says, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”
You should also consider trimming your costs and saving additional money in your budget. This can be done easily with the Trim app. It helps to find cheaper packages with your cable company, subscription packages and more.
So to recap:
When you have no food, or money for food and you need to survive until money or help arrives you need to:
Remain calm and think things through. Don’t panic.
Take inventory of your current food situation and make as many creative meals as you can with what you currently have.
Find free food to help stretch your meals even further.
Sell unused items for quick cash. You wouldn’t believe what people will buy. Even if it means selling your dining table so you can eat on the floor in front of the tv. That’s money you didn’t have before, and you can always re-buy things when your finances are better.
Make a budget plan so that this doesn’t happen again. Or at the very least, doesn’t happen to this extent.
Continue looking for ways to trim down your expenses, so you have more cushion in your bank account for pitfalls like these.
Remain optimistic and use this as motivation to get into a better life situation. You can do it!
I truly hope this post has helped.
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