If you have a low income or are suffering from money problems – as most of the population occasionally does – then it’s likely that even the prospect of trying to shop for groceries can be stressful or seem impossible. But there are ways to not only shop for groceries on a low income, but also to fully stock your food pantry without stressing out. In most cases, all it takes to keep your food pantry stocked on a low income is a little bit of imagination and ingenuity.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you are just one of the many unfortunate who has a low income or are unemployed, you may need to apply for food stamps or other forms of public assistance. If you continually find yourself without money to pay all of your bills AND buy groceries, then food stamps may be the answer for you and your family.
Most states have information about their food stamp program online, along with other forms of assistance that they will provide. Check your local Department of Human Services or Resources website for more information.
Sometimes you can get help with rent through the Housing Authority or reduced utility bills through your local agencies. Either of these options can help you and your family to free up more income, even if you don’t get food stamps, to be able to fully stock your food pantry without taking money from your rent and utility budget.
Avoid buying the most expensive brand or “convenience foods.”
Many times, people are convinced that name brand foods are better than off-brand or generic brands – in most cases, there is no difference taste-wise or nutritionally. Purchasing frozen foods that are microwavable or pre-packaged meals are a quick way to break your budget, simply to “save time.”
Cooking from scratch or without buying convenience foods doesn’t really take much more time and you will find that it is definitely cheaper than buying things that are pre-packaged for convenience.
Check classifieds online such as Craigslist or Freecycle for offers of free food or coupons.
Many times, someone who is moving will offer a large amount of canned goods or dried beans and pastas (items that can easily stock a pantry and don’t go bad quickly.) for free. The only thing usually required of the recipient is that they pick it up themselves, most times the value of the free food more than outweighs the cost of the gasoline required to go pick it up.
A good rule of thumb when someone offers free food, make sure it is fully sealed and hasn’t been tampered with, and insure that it’s within the expiration date. Avoid going to unfamiliar areas (especially at night) and make sure that you take a friend or family member with you or that someone knows exactly where you are going.
Other than those few cautions, getting free food from others who are not in need of it due to a move or other reasons is a good way to help stock your pantry when you have a low income.
Try local food pantries or churches.
If you’re in a desperate situation and have extremely little to absolutely nothing in your pantry, then it would be a good idea to check into local food pantries or local churches who may have food pantries. Most churches and food pantries have income guidelines – although many will help on a one-time basis – and rules about how often a person may utilize their services.
Some food pantries and churches allow you to come as frequently as every other month, others want you to come no more often than once every six months. In many instances, a simple photo identification and a proof of address (a utility bill or lease) is all that is needed to get food for yourself and your family.
If you aren’t sure how to find a local food pantry or a local church with a food pantry, contact your local Department of Human Services or Resources, they will usually have a list of local places someone can get help with food, utilities, rent and other things.
Don’t underestimate the power of sales and discount shopping.
Using coupons when an item is already on sale or when the coupon can be doubled can really save you some money and help you make the most of your dollar. Don’t be afraid to ask stores to match competitor prices either, most stores will already do it and are just waiting on the customer – you – to ask.
If you know a local store has sales on certain days of the month for certain items, try to make sure you’ve got the money each day for whatever the item is, so that you can stock up and save yourself money in the long run.
Shop clearance shelves in your local grocery when possible as well, most stores dramatically mark down boxes and cans that have been slightly damaged during shipping or unpacking.
Just because a can of tomatoes or corn is dented, doesn’t mean there’s anything at all wrong with its contents. Most people won’t want to buy a dented can of something, so the store marks it down for people who ARE willing to purchase damaged items. Simply be smart about it, don’t purchase clearance or damaged goods that are leaking, rusted or past expiration dates.
Avoid snack items and be willing to re-use leftovers.
Skipping snack items when you purchase groceries can dramatically cut your food bill and will also help keep your family healthier. If your family simply must have “snacks,” make them something healthy like a plate of fresh veggies (which are often cheaper than conveniently packaged snack items anyway) and ranch dressing.
Don’t be afraid to re-use leftovers from previous meals. If you’ve got beans leftover from a dinner of beans and cornbread the night before, smash the beans and turn them into re-fried beans, put the on a baked corn tortilla, add a sprinkle of cheese and you’ve got tostadas for a snack or for dinner.
A final word on keeping your food pantry stocked on a low income – you don’t have to have a large variety, simply be smart about using what you do have and use a little bit of imagination.
If you don’t know how to cook or how to cook certain things, get a cookbook and learn how to prepare meals (there are many great “meals on a budget” cookbooks out there) that are inexpensive, yet nutritious. Sometimes a simple meal (black beans and rice, for example), can be transformed by adding a small amount of shredded cheese, salsa and/or a side of warm tortillas.
One last word of advice – stock up on staples when you can. If you’ve got an “extra” $10 or your grocer is running a special on canned goods, purchase extra quantities to keep in your pantry. You’ll be glad you did when hard times hit.