Sunday, November 9, 2008

Making Ends Meet - Part One

I've been meaning to do this entry for quite a while, before the AOL eviction, but have just never gotten around to it. This is going to be a two part entry because I think it's important to first share a bit about my family and how we made ends meet before this year, and how we manage now. I never shared this part of my life in my journal before, though I meant to write about it many times. I don't know why I kept putting it off, maybe I didn't want to talk about it. Most likely a small part of me was ashamed or embarrassed. But I think it's important to share this now for several reasons. I know there are many families across our nation that are going through tough times. If I can reach just one of those families, and give them comfort and hope, then these two entries will serve a purpose other than filling space on my blog.

I know first hand how challenging it is to feed a family in today's economy. My family is a large one, and it can get larger depending on who shows up for a meal. Usually I have 6 that I need to plan meals for, but the boys, both teenagers, eat enough for two extra mouths each. So when I cook, I've always cooked for at least 12 people. This way there is enough in case my older son and his roommates stop over, or if not we'd have the leftovers for lunch the next day. I've always tried to not waste much because I know that not everyone is as fortunate as we've been. I've always believed in not skipping meals because if we did the boys would be eating all day long. I've also been a firm believer in keeping meals on a schedule. There is less snacking and less time spent raiding the fridge, and my supplies, when the boys are fed on a schedule. So we've always had 3 balanced meals a day as well as an evening snack, and dessert 3-4 days a week. I used to spend $300 a week easily on groceries. And now, I only spend $150.00 a week on groceries.

Yep, you read that right. Our grocery bill is $150 a week for a family of 6. It took a while to get the grocery bill cut in half. Unfortunately the motive behind reigning in the grocery spending was events that happened during 2007 that made it mandatory to do so. Up until that time we lived comfortably, and didn't have a problem making ends meet for the most part. We probably took many things for granted, but always tried to help out others in the community who were not so fortunate. I helped others out with groceries once a month. I would get together three to four bags of groceries a month to donate to either our local church, local food pantries, or give it right to one of two families I knew needed extra help. I went through our closets three to four times a year and gave the clothing we no longer needed to those who did. I was part of a Giving Tree group that provided a Christmas to underprivileged kids across the United States for several years.

Then in June of 2007 my husband lost his job and was out of work for months. Despite putting in dozens of applications a week, spending hours on the phone checking on applications and calling other companies, and doing work through temporary agencies, he could not find a permanent job. As the months dragged on, our bank account dwindled. Eventually it was closed due to overdraft fees that we just could not pay. We were officially broke. My family found out what it was like to be on the other end of the food pantry line. We had to ask our local church for help with our utility bills. Our electricity was shut off not once, but twice from June 2007 to January 2008. We had no heat during December of 2007 for two weeks because our gas was turned off. Our Christmas in 2007 was terrible. I was no longer giving a Christmas to other kids, I was trying to make a Christmas for my own. If not for getting help from local agencies, and scraping together around $100 for a few gifts, we would have had no Christmas at all.

So we went from eating three meals a day, desserts, snacks, and plenty of fruits and vegetables, to eating Ramen noodles sometimes two times a day. We ate so much rice and tuna none of us really care much for either anymore. Fresh fruits and vegetables were rare. Desserts or snacks were even rarer. If they existed at all it was something given to us from the food pantries because we certainly couldn't afford it. At this point I had less than $300 a week to spend on groceries, household products, and the bills. Since my husband was only doing temporary work when it was available, which was a few days a week if that, we applied to the food stamp program for assistance. At first, we did not qualify due to his unemployment benefits. Once that ran out we applied again and were relieved to find out we qualified. If not for that small amount of food stamps, I don't know how we would have managed to buy groceries. Because at this point we were barely buying any compared to what we were used to buying.

That's when I started looking for ways to cut our expenses even more, mainly the grocery expense. I sure wasn't going to be getting over $1000 a month for groceries from the food stamp program. And what cash we had coming in we had to keep up the bills and buy what little else we could afford like soap, garbage bags, toilet paper, etc. I managed to get the grocery spending down to around $200 a week. That meant with the $500 that we were getting in food stamps, we would eat for about 2 1/2 weeks each month. With help from the local food pantry and our church we could almost get through a month. But often it meant the kids were going to bed still hungry. So I started looking at ways to cut the budget more, yet provide the kids better nourishment.

And that ends this entry. You'll have to read part two to find out how I did it. Gosh, that sounds like one of those internet ads doesn't it? Where you have to "click here" to find out more only to discover you have to pay a one time fee of $39.95 for the secret? Well I promise you my secret is free and I will post part two tomorrow.

Have a great evening!


  1. Hi Jenna,
    Thanks for stopping by my journal...I look forward to getting to know you. Your journal design is so pretty, really pretty!
    I think it's fabulous that you have found ways to cut your budget so much and can't wait to read the secret :)

    Pooh Hugs,

  2. dang, Blogger ate my comment somehow; I was going to say, Jenna, thanks for sharing your story with us; it is so important these days and age to be prepared because I don't think any job is secure these days; by learning each others techniques on how to trim the budget and tighten up, those of us who are doing "okay" financially can be better prepared in case we find ourselves without a job; that's one of my reasons for trying to live a frugal life now; thanks for sharing your story honestly and with sincereness; I look forward to your next installment