8 Simple Budgeting Strategies to Survive Hard Times


George Ure and Gaye Levy

Of all expenses people can control, perhaps the one with the biggest variation (percentage-wise) is food budgets. If you eat out all the time, these costs can be enormous. Or, at home, they can be modest – and with some gardening they can be very low.

The problem with budgeting, though, is it is no fun whatsoever. You get so many dollars set aside for eating, and that’s it.

So instead of such a dreary approach to food budgeting, George has been noodling some more interesting ways to make ends meet. How about eight simple budgeting strategies?

Zero dollar days

This idea occurred to me because on our recent adventuring around the country I was keeping track of our expenses every single day. As a result, I looked at our bank card and checking accounts every day online. What quickly became apparent was the fact that we had a fair number of “zero dollar days” – that is, days when nothing came out of checking or went on the credit card.

Extending the concept a bit, I figured that one way to really stretch the food bill would be to buy everything in containers that are as economical as possible – without having things spoil, of course – but stocking up for 10 days to 2 weeks at a time.

 Sure, you might have to resort to frozen veggies for the second half of the period, and maybe toss in a $5-dollar jug of milk, but mainly you’d be able to go longer and longer periods of time between trips to the grocery store.

We did this a fair bit back when Elaine and I were living on the boat, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me to make this an ongoing protocol. Sure, Gaye covers a lot of this on the Backdoor Survival site, but I hadn’t seen it written up as a budgeting plan: Pretend your home is a sea-going ship and you’re stocking up for a two-week voyage and that’s it. It changes how you spend money, that’s for sure.

Zero garbage days

This is another weird one, but it follows along from the same kind of thinking. Pretend that instead of a ship going somewhere, you’re in a spacecraft and all the stuff you take has to be hauled back home with you. What this immediately does is get you into the idea of cooking in batches and then storing frozen or refrigerated containers of this, that, or the other thing.

The more garbage you’re creating, the more packaging you’re throwing out; and packaging isn’t free, and usually (but not always) big sizes of everything pay off over time. If, that is, you can store the portions and that means some small investment in Tupperware or similar plastic containers.

Zero cooking days

This fits right into the same mindset: If you are going to have “zero garbage” days, you might also want to have “no cooking” days. Easy enough to do: Simply build huge batches of several meals you like and freeze them. When hungry, pop in the microwave and you’re good.

I make a mental distinction between “cooking” and “zapping.” Cooking means prep time. Zapping is my kind of eating.

$5 days

If you’re a single person, is it possible to eat well on $5 a day? No hints from us but…

For $5 you can get a can of tuna fish, a can of mushroom soup (concentrate) and some kind of pasta. A huge order or tuna fish and noodles for right around $5.

Even some foods like Kraft Mac & Cheese are available inexpensively. When Elaine’s not looking, I’ve been known to take a kettle of Mac & Cheese and toss in a can of (Spam, tuna, shrimp, or whatever is lying around) and mix it up. Say all you want about how this kind of product is “bad” for you, but, hey, in my distant past I had to live on $5 a day for food and work three jobs for a while. It’s no fun, but it can be done for several months.

Besides, hunger is something that sharpens the mind – how do you think Man became an effective (thinking) hunter?

What’s on sale days

This involves getting those free “shopper” newspapers that seem to exist everywhere – we’ll probably find them on Mars if we ever get off this silly rock.

Go through and circle the items that might be $5 meal components, meats that are inexpensive, and so forth. Pot roast goes on sale fairly often and there’s a high art to it. But since people work so much, and no one seems to take the time to really cook, slow-cooked delights like pot roast have become passé.

Trust us when we tell you this is a high art and go for it. Works with chicken, too, by the way.

Meatless days

We’ve been ragging on you long enough to get some kind of a garden, so if you haven’t heard us by now, you maybe never will. Still, veggies are one of the few things in life that is “best when cheapest” so this time of year you should be loading up like crazy on fresh veggies and if you have spare time have you considered making your own frozen veggies? Ha! Not serious about saving money, are you?

 Fasting days

Back on this “hunger sharpens the mind” concept: Lots of religions put fasting into their rituals on a regular basis. Clears the thinking. Also clears the guts, let’s the body get an occasional day off and so on.

It is also the easiest way to make any day a “Zero Dollar Day.”

Share Days

One final idea to toss in: See if you can set up “share days” with a few friends. The core concept is actually making it a “mooch day” since your friends may not be as conscientious about their meal planning and budgeting as you are. But Share days (a/k/a Mooch Days) will encourage you to be more social and there’s nothing that is quite as satisfying as a good meal with good conversation going on.

Plus: There’s someone to help with dishes!

Summing It All Up

We’re in a very hard economic climate right now and another turn downward could happen at any time. What separates the winners from the losers is the same thing that has separated successful hunters from those who starved in caveman times: Thinking and attitude.

Double up on your time devoted to either one and you will have a much better than “average” life. Double up on both and even the worst of times won’t be so bad, after all.

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