How our family lived on $13,000 during graduate school-without food stamps, medicare, or subsidized housing.
This is part 9 of the Living on $13,000 or Less series. Click through if you missed earlier posts.
I’m gonna let you in on a secret, menu planning is hard for me. I wish I could say here’s my magical formula and everything comes together in a snap. But honestly figuring out the logistics of using our pantry stock and whatever’s on sale makes my head spin. Add the pressure of our tiny budget in grad school and I may as well explode.
So every week our menu was roughly the same. I desperately needed the sense of routine and rhythm this created, as we made so many lifestyle changes. We used the least expensive types of meat, tried to make a meal that stretched it, and then use each type once a week. This created variety and allowed more time to restock items on sale.
I could typically find chicken for a decent price and scored big several times. We adults usually ate shredded chicken over a green salad or chicken rice cilantro. Since Sunny still struggled to chew meat we’d blend her some plain chicken with rice.
Secret # 2: I don’t care for seafood. Solely for the sake of variety, we ate Tuna, the least expensive seafood I could find. I’d serve it up as either Tuna noodle casserole or ‘tuna truc’-a dish the hubster brought back from living in France for a couple of years.
Since meat is so expensive I figured we could try going without. For Wednesdays I usually did a black bean dish. They’re less dry and pack a ton of nutrition. Plus Sunny loooooves black beans. Since she wasn’t quite up to our grownup recipes I’d just set her some unseasoned beans aside.
The hubster and I ate Moros y Compleanos, a green salad w/ black beans and cheese, or bean filled wraps. I ‘made’ black bean burgers, twice, and I still cringe at the thought. Yes, they were that bad. Thank goodness Sunny was too young to remember! To bad the hubster wasn’t 😉
Tacos or Spaghetti was our usual Thursday evening fare. They use ground beef (read the least expensive form of beef) and we could easily use less meat per serving. Yes, even on Tacos we were able to stretch the meat. I found adding a can of beans doubled the taco meat mixture and serving it over a lot of rice stretched it even further.
For the first few months we didn’t have a set Friday dinner. I was hoping to implement another meatless night but more often than not we’d do hotdogs or another easy meal. What can I say? It was the end of the week and this mama was burnt out!
Then three blogs I follow posted how cheap homemade pizza is, within the same week. So being a nerd, I sat down and ran the numbers. Taking into account our pantry’s stock, we could make a pizza dinner-plus left overs-for under $2.50. Pizza used a different kind of meat, was fairly cheap and made Friday feel special-so I jumped on the bandwagon and haven’t looked back.
Catch all Saturday
Saturday was our day to eat left overs. either by eating left over portions or creating a whole new meal out of them. If we didn’t have enough left overs I’d make a fresh meal, using a type of meat we didn’t eat that week. Like ham in Cobb salad, bacon bits in fried rice, or hotdogs (you know, after we started the pizza tradition).
At first I made breakfast for dinner, everyone loves breakfast so no way to lose right? Then I stumbled across a crockpot Mexican Chili recipe. After I tweaked it to accommodate our taste preference and pantry stock, it still turned out fabulous! This was the first meatless dish the hubster really liked, he felt full and didn’t notice the lack of meat. So crockpot Mexican Chili became our typical Sunday dinner. It was also a huge plus to come home from church to dinner already prepared–loved that!
The Rest of the Day
The toddler princess totally ruled on this one. We almost always had pancakes since they were easiest for Sunny to chew. After a while we started to do Scottish scones, Amish baked oatmeal, or baby cereal for Sunny.
*Notice I didn’t mention the king of frugal breakfast, oatmeal? Let’s just say I have scarring childhood memories of the stuff and the less gagging during pregnancy the better. But it is the most frugal breakfast I know of-so definitely worth a try-when not pregnant.
Our snacks were carrots, Scottish scones, apples, muffins, and yogurt for Sunny. I tried that for the hubster but they wouldn’t hold him long enough and he’d end up hitting the vending machine. So we bought him some Slim fast, it was inexpensive and could stay in his locker without going bad.
I usually had leftovers or a peanut butter sandwich. Sunny typically did baby food while I coaxed finger foods too; typically cheese, rice, or pancakes. At first the hubster took a bag lunch to school. His program had its own private lounge, it even had its own punch code to open the door and everything. So we felt his lunch would be safe in there.
Inside this secret room were several refridgerators, microwaves, a sink and an inviting place to chill. After having his lunch (Tupperware and all!!) stolen, twice!, we quit that practice. Instead he brought a can of soup, along with a can opener, bowl & spoon-which he kept in his locker instead of the pilfering fridge of student starvation. Insert creepy echoes and reverb here.
Kinda Crazy but so was the goal-to live on less than $13,000 that year.
Want more from the ‘Living on $13,000 or Less’ series? Check these out!
Update: You can now click through here to read the rest of this series published posts.