I recently posted the info below in a comment to an article on “saving money”. It was a well-intentioned article, but like many such articles, was not useful to anyone struggling to get by (as in, struggling to be able to eat and have a roof). There are things I know that I tend to assume are common knowledge, but…may they aren’t. So, I am sharing the comment in hopes of helping…anyone (sorry for the funky paragraph breaks; I can’t seem to get spaces to insert at will).
If you are struggling for food and shelter, it’s tough, and these kinds of articles don’t help. Part of the problem with money-saving advice is that it rarely comes from folks that have struggled to simply survive.
When I was living off one meal a day and struggling to pay rent, I looked for fun, free entertainment (art openings, concerts in the park, free days at the zoo or museum, festivals where you can people watch and hear music). Some of these are good with kids too – and with kids, you can usually add local (free) splash parks, playgrounds, and library story times. That helps with savings, because you don’t have to spend money to have fun. Walks and hikes are also good. Of course, you have to remember to pack your own food for many of these – pb&j is fine, popcorn is a good go-to snack you can pack, and rice and beans go a long way at home.
Cook the rice and beans and keep them separate and you can make them into a variety of meals each night for a week with a few ingredients added (add chicken or other veggies) – just mix it up each night, and sauté the cooked rice and beans with new ingredients, and it won’t feel like you are eating the same thing over and over.
For the popcorn, if you have a microwave and a sizable microwave-able bowl, you can make regular popcorn with 1/3 to 1/3 cups of kernels plus enough vegetable oil to cover, cover with a dish cloth, and pop for 3 to 4 minutes (listening). Popcorn and a movie on TV can be fun. If you have a TV and Netflix, you have a ton of choices for movies streaming. If you meet a friend “out”, meet them somewhere you can have one cup of coffee (cheap) – don’t meet them for a meal.
If you have any way to grow food (even indoors in a pot), that can help. If you have kids, they get a huge kick out of growing food. You won’t be able to grow enough to feed everyone, but you’ll save a few $, and it will be fun.
If you can make the time to pick through things, definitely get your work clothes at the thrift store. Goodwill and ARC have dressing rooms, so you don’t have to risk that spending $5 to $30 on a bunch of clothes that only kinda fit.
For the literal saving of money, start a change jar – just a little one, like a used jelly jar. When it’s full, take to the bank and put it in your savings. Or if you feel weird doing that you can use a change machine (lie Coin Star) at the grocer and either apply those $ your groceries or get cash. The downside of that, is that it takes a small fee. If you can join a Credit Union, do so – fees are lower and your money is safer. With either a bank or CU, make sure you have a savings account (with most CUs, you need $5 to $50 to start one). Put $1/pay check in savings. When you feel safe doing so, bump it up to $5, then $10…and so on.
If you are crafty or need kids’ activities, don’t be afraid to use the insides of cereal boxes for drawing, or scrap wood to paint on. There’s a shocking amount of things you can do with what people throw away or with rocks and pinecones. Flour, glue, water, and salt are also handy. Since you are on the internet, you can find tons of ideas for this – modify the ideas to work with what you have on hand (added aside: I will post some of my Mom’s simple crafty free/cheap things here occasionally from now on; I learned a lot about crafting on the cheap from her!)
I hope some of that helps. I am doing much better now thanks to many things, including my friends, but I got pretty good at looking like I was living the kind of life that one needs to be considered for many jobs while actually being dirt poor (most people don’t even know that they fit some middle-class mold that helps them get hired, but once you’ve poor, it’s obvious). GOOD LUCK!”