Food Advice for the Jobless

Gun news is a little slow today, so I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been doing, and solicit ideas from others. A big problem with unemployment is eating. If you have a reasonable income, chances are you eat out a lot, and when you do cook at home, often enjoy cooking meals with expensive ingredients. Here’s some things I’ve discovered when it comes to eating cheap:

  • First step we took was to stop going out to eat regularly. When we do go out now, it’s either a date to Chick-fil-a, with a coupon, or to hamburger joints like Cheeburger, Red Robin, or anywhere else where two people can eat for about the cost of a Jackson. And we only do this every few weeks to celebrate good news, or some accomplishment in my job search.
  • No purchase of alcohol when out of the home. Ordering drinks at a restaurant is what runs the bill up. Purchase of alcohol for consumption for in the home during periods of joblessness is highly encouraged. You need something to help forget about the suck. There are plenty of bargains out there for wine, though I do not recommend cheap beer or liquor. If you find yourself without a job, you will probably be drinking both, however, but much like the economy, I don’t have much positive to say about it. For cheap liquor, Margaritas can be made for 10 dollars a pitcher with booze so cheap you wouldn’t strip paint with it, but will produce a very drinkable beverage.
  • Pork is the best friend you have in the whole wide world if you don’t have a job. If you’re Muslim, or Jewish, sucks to be you. You’ll have plenty of time on your hands, and if you have a BBQ,  you can take some pretty cheap cuts of meat, run them low and slow on the Q, and feed yourself for a week. Pork chops on the grill can also be a good substitute for steak, and are much less expensive.
  • If the other white meat isn’t your thing, then your next best friend is ground beef. A nice pot of chili will feed two people for several days, and for lunches offers the possibility of chili dogs. While many consider it an abomination in the eyes of Texas, beans added to the chili will help it stretch. The beans are good for you, and cheap. Ground beef can also get your burgers and dogs, hamburger helper, spaghetti with meat sauce or meat balls.
  • Not to be overlooked are various members of the sausage family. 82 million Germans can’t be wrong, can they? There is a wurst for every occasion, and they are the most versatile of the cheap foods out there. Hot dogs are among this family, and they are classic cheap eating. Italian sausage is a great addition to pasta dishes. Brats and sauerkraut with a side of mashed potatoes is a great meal, and it’s tough to find cheaper or easier.
  • Chicken can be used to provide you with a more elegant meal at home, as there are many good and varied recipes out there for chicken. My favorite dish in this category is Chicken Marsala. Marsala wine is a fortified wine that even the PA state monopoly sells for under ten dollars, and you can make a few batches with a bottle. Bread some chicken, fry it in butter and olive oil until it’s nice and brown. Remove the chicken, toss in some sliced baby ‘bella ‘shrooms, some shallots, a little bit of sage, a little bit of salt, pepper to taste. Then toss in the marsala wine and some chicken broth and reduce. Add the chicken back in before the reduction is finished to finish it off. The breading from the chicken will help thicken the sauce. It’s good served with garlic rosemary small red potatoes, halved and baked, or with rice pilaf, which is also cheap to make at home.

You can still eat pretty well, even on a budget. There’s no reason the hope and change has to reach all the way to your stomach. While the price of food has been going up, the cost doesn’t compare to thinks like your mortgage, keeping two cars on the road, or even the electric and gas bill. What cheap foods do you know of that are great for people on a budget?

49 thoughts on “Food Advice for the Jobless”

  1. Bulk frozen tilapia filets + marinade + tinfoil + grille = CHEAP healthy food for busy families. The McCormick marinades are a buck apiece and work as good as anything I can come up with.

  2. I discovered cheap wine recommendations on Twitter that include a daily suggestion of decent bottles. The first one I spotted today isn’t even available in the state. Boo… Of course, even if it was available here, it would still be $2-4 more than any “free” state.

  3. Ditto on the tilapia fillets. I prefer dark meat chicken, so I just bought more of the .59/lb bulk bags of hindquarters I feed my raw-diet dogs.

    Friends with too much venison left in the freezer from last deer season are easy to find in my neck of the woods.

    For decent cheap wine, you can’t do much better than Two-Buck Chuck at Trader Joe’s.

  4. Risotto is pretty cheap to make, specially if you make your own stock.

    Then top with your choice of Protein and you have a nice meal for not much dosh.

  5. You’ll have plenty of time on your hands, and if you have a BBQ, you can take some pretty cheap cuts of meat, run them low and slow on the Q, and feed yourself for a week

    Also, slow cooker. Hell, you can also oven-cook instead of BBQ if you don’t have the option (because of where you live, for instance).

    Oven-cooked ribs aren’t as good as ones smoked all day, but they’re still good. And pretty cheap.

    Also, family-size meat packs, combined with a freezer.

  6. We get pork spare ribs for 1.59 a pound. Smoked them on Saturday and have been eating them all week.
    My wife has become a big fan of two buck chuck. Sadly not so much for the pork ribs. She would rather eat tofu, which fortunately is also cheap.

  7. When all 4 of my sons were home and eating like 4 boys do, coupons and discounts were taken VERY seriously. We would shop at all 4 local markets getting in the sale stuff they had that week. (we got the brochures dropped at the end of the driveway every week.) Please do not forget a turkey or 2. Small turkey can feed a family for many days!!
    Also check with your local meat and deli market for their weekly discounts!
    When you are paying $4.25 for a gallon of milk, and $5.00 for a box of cereal, sometimes it’s cheaper to make pancakes for breakfast. (But get the syrup at BJ’s!)

  8. At current consumption rates (about 4oz/week), I have about 3 years worth of whisky alone. Joblessness would increase the rate of consumption, but I have gin, rum, tequila, vodka and gin too. I could probably be unemployed for 2+ years before I run out of booze.

  9. Bulk rice & beans. 100 lb bags preferably.
    Fish in out of the way places (um….no tags…..). Bluegills & catfish especially.
    Young dandelion leaves are higher in vitamin C than oranges.


    Sell your trinkets for greenbacks. Put said greenbacks in a coffee can as a three M emergency fund (mortgage, motors, medicines) unless society is about to actually collapse. In that case convert the greenbacks into small pieces of pointy lead immediately.

    When you have zero or near zero $$$ coming in, it’s you vs. the world, and “normal” life means reverting to the “state of man” circa 1630. And by man I mean you’re one of the unwashed scum, not an MP or gentleman squire, so do whatever you need to ensure your family’s survival.

    Polite & dainty civilization is for the proles. February is coming.

  10. We’d have to go to Jersey for the Two-Buck Chuck, unfortunately. The state overlords don’t want us to have reasonably price non-sucky wines.

    As for 100-lb bags, umm, we have trouble finding a place for the bulk paper towel & toilet paper purchases from Sam’s. Yeah, not really to that point yet.

    Garden, also a no-go. Seriously, I can kill a fake plant. We tried growing our own herbs, but that didn’t work out well. In addition to discovering how many animals who like to eat that stuff that trek through our yard, we also learned that almost no corners of it get enough sunlight for the herbs we like the most. I tried even keeping them inside near a window that I thought got enough light, but not even that worked. Instead of having a green thumb, mine is the thumb of death for plants.

    Turns out that one way to save money is to shop at a nicer store. Our “local” grocery sucks & isn’t cheap. But their “sale” prices are the standard prices at Wegmans. Unfortunately, Wegmans is quite a trip away. But by the time you factor in what we save, it covers gas if we’re stocking up for many meals. So we get a better selection and have the option to buy nicer products that we simply don’t have in our neighborhood. So it’s not really money-saving, but it’s smart shopping to make what we are spending go farther.

  11. Another piece of advice is buy your chicken whole and process it yourself. Also, save the bones. You can roast the bones until they are brown, then place them in a crockpot and cover with water. In 4-6 hours you will have good stock.

    There are times where I will buy a roasted chicken for dinner one night. Take the remains/leftovers for stock (while adding some garlic and salt) and then strip the bones for meat and make some dumplings. And have chicken and dumplings for several meals.

  12. Have you gone to the food stamps yet? I mean they are an “entitlement” that you paid for while you were working. And Sam’s or Costco are good sources for bulk food. How about fishing? I don’t know what is avaliable, but when you’ve sent out 250 resumes and are waiting for the results, you might as well go fish. And look for “Steel Reserve” beer. 8.1%. Tastes bad at first, but soon you can’t drink anything else. Burnt out taste buds or something.

    Can you sell the house? Lots of jobs in Texas and we’re pretty gun friendly. Since god created air conditioning, Texas in August is OK, as long as you don’t have to go outside before midnight.

  13. I second rice and beans. My wife and I are both gainfully employed but we eat homemade Mexican at least twice a week because it’s really good and you can reaheat it really quickly. All you need are tortillas, rice, beans, hot sauce, with cheese and beef (whatever’s cheap) being optional. Extras include pico de gallo (chopped onion, tomato, cilantro plus salt) and if you get avocados cheap or free, fresh guacamole (cilantro, onion and water in blender, add to mash avo, salt to taste). We grow cliantro and onions and often get avocados from friends or neighbors. Cilantro, tomatoes, and onions we often grow ourselves.

    How to make pinto beans: boil water and washed beans with a tablespoon or so of bacon grease (always save your bacon grease). If you’re lame, use vegetable oil. After it boils, reduce heat, cover, stir, make sure there’s enough water. Mash them once they are soft if you like and reduce to desired thickness. Don’t salt until the end when you can really taste.

    I cooked burritos for 35 people on a family vacation, including ground beef, for less than $100. 10 lbs of beans cost me about $10 to make, with the bacon costing $4 of that.

  14. We went through a rough patch years ago, and basically lived on rice, beans and a few other odds and ends we had put back. So I’ve done the rice and beans thing. If you’re going to put a variety of beans back you had better like them. Fortunately I do, and that is one long term storage option that is easy for anyone to do. Regular canned goods keep a long time too. No need to buy the specially prepared stuff. With all the rice beans, grains, pasta, canned goods et cetera, I expect we could go six months, probably more without going to the store for food.
    Of course I expect the real preppers could dust that estimated six month figure.

  15. Ditto on the rice and beans. I’m gainfully employed, and am living quite well on rice and beans. I just throw 10 cups water, a cup of dried black beans, a cup of rice, and two half cups of something else for variety (split peas and red lentils for instance) into the pressure cooker and let it go for an hour or so. I stick it in the fridge and when it’s cool, it turns into a semi-solid mass. Then I take as much as I need and add whatever combination of raisins, cashews, jalapeno peppers, lemon juice, curry, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, pineapples, cheese, etc and stick it in the microwave for a minute or two. Bam! Delicious dinner, and it’s different every night depending on how I dress it up. This makes me and my girlfriend about a week’s worth of dinners and occasional lunches.

    I buy the dried beans and rice at Whole Foods in their bulk section and despite the bad rap they get for being expensive, one week’s worth of [organic] rice and beans costs a whopping $3. All the other stuff I mix in when I reheat it might add as much as $10-15 for the week, but IMHO that’s damned cheap for a week of ridiculously healthy food. If you can find rice and you can find beans, you can eat very well for very little money.

  16. All those who said rice and beans in bulk- do that. Rice goes for like $20 for a 20 lb. bag at Walmart and will feed a single person for months if they eat nothing else. I did this in college, and am still doing it now. Not the healthiest in the world, but as far as I can tell, it is the cheapest thing you can do besides starving. At the very least, you can use it to stretch the hell out of all your other food.

    Also, haven’t noticed anyone say this one yet. If you swallow some pride (I ate mine long ago), you can get whole meals dumpster diving. I could never get behind the big box places cuz they lock up their trash really well and stick a camera there, but if you live at/near apartments, people throw away packaged food by the dozens. Once found a fully packaged 12 pack of canned noodles. I had lunch for a week.

    Either way, good luck, and happy hunting!

  17. To all who have suggested fishing… my dad would probably get a laugh out of that. I’ve never been a good fisherman. If I had to eat on my fishing skills, I’m in trouble :)

  18. HI Bitter,
    regarding your mention about “discovering how many animals who like to eat that stuff that trek through our yard”

    Are they edible creatures? Do you have a 22 with some subsonics? I have barbecued everything from muskrat to goose. Cheap eating and no more garden pests.

  19. Go west young man, go west. But not too far west. If you’re in Kali, you went too far.

  20. Go west young man, go west. But not too far west. If you’re in Kali, you went too far.

    Hahahaha… aint that the truth. I’m going to stay here for now though. If I have to take a shit job, I’ll be looking elsewhere.

  21. In grad school I ate a lot of PBJs, and a lot of stir fry (rice with onions, green peppers and eggs). Also, a $5 chicken will give you: chicken for dinner and lots of leftovers, plus chicken soup, plus chicken stock that you can cook rice in and eat that without any toppings.

    Also, I drank either milk or water. No juice.

  22. I like the whole chicken suggestion. I’ve done a few of those on the Q, and made some pretty tasty southwestern soup from the leftovers. I didn’t think much about that until now.

  23. Lot of comments already, so I won’t talk about my low-budget experiences, but here are a few suggestions that spring to mind:

    > Don’t bother trying to grow food if you don’t have good light, decent soil, and NO TREES. Tree roots suck up a lot of water from a long way away.

    >If you can grow food, grow greens and salad. Potatoes and onions are cheap, broccoli and lettuce is expensive.
    > +1 on Crockpots or slow cookers.
    > Remember that meat can be frozen. If you cook a week’s worth of spaghetti sauce, you’ll be sick of it by day four! Save it for later.

  24. “If you’re Muslim, or Jewish, sucks to be you.”

    Good Lord, no wonder you don’t use your real name on this blog.

  25. Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork. What a horribly racist observation. I’m sure my Jewish friends are horribly offended at my observation they can’t take advantage of the cheapness of the other white meat.

  26. Ham and turkey are your low budget meat friends. Set aside five bucks a week (if you can) in preparation for the holiday sale prices…and keep your eyes peeled for the occasional UN-advertised ‘sales’ on hams… I stumbled upon some .99/lb precooked spiral sliced hams at Wal-mart a few weeks back…could only afford one though, but that gave me two spare hams in the freezer instead of just one.

    Buy big and freeze. I process most of a typical (13-15lb) ham into ‘diced’ size chunks for soup (have you TRIED to find a bean recipe that DIDN’T call for ham???) while reserving a few slices for sandwiches. If it’s a REALLY big ham, I’ll slice off a couple of steaks for a special breakfast or two. Diced gets either frozen of canned.

    I like turkey in the 20+ lb size (a massive meat bargain during the holiday .69/lb sales). One evening’s a full roast dinner, the next day the bulk of the meat gets sliced (sandwiches) or chunked (soups, salads, cassaroles) and the carcass gets it’s back broke and stuffed into the stock pot for a long simmer. Stock is then canned as soup base with some of the meat (Don’t discard the clear gelatinous layer…that’s where all the good ‘marrow’ nutrients are), while the rest of the meat gets frozen.

    Large chunks of beef + elbow grease = savings. I’ve been known to buy a 40lb chunk of dead animal, slab off a roast or three, a few ‘steaks’, some stew cubes, and turn the rest into ultra lean (90/10 or better) ground beast (hand cranked, baby) for the same per lb. cost of 77/33 ground chuck….typically around $1.69/lb.

    As far as growing veggie goes…I think you’d be surprised what you could manage to grow inside with, say…a 20 gal fish tank and a small Aquaponics system. Lettuce and spinach LOVE the high water availability. Radishes grow fast and take little room. Carrots could be tricky but if you got the super short variety it might be manageable. Chard. Arugala. Collards. Tomatoes can be easily grown in a five gallon bucket year round….come to think of it…so could carrots.

    Get creative…don’t let keeping up appearances get in the way of eating well on less money.

  27. First deer I shoot this fall, I’ll send up your way. Offer to get out and hunt is still open. I’ll bring the guns.

  28. Pork in the slow cooker? You bet!!

    Here’s my “every little bit helps” tip.

    Backyard chickens.

    $2.50 or less per chick to start at just about any feed store, and if you do your research you can build a coop/run for under $300. Less if you are handy, and use scrap. (It’s a chicken coop; they don’t care what it looks like!) Use their waste in your compost pile to fertilizer your garden.. Get enough pullets, and you’ll have more eggs than you can use. What to do? SELL THEM! (Compare brown egg prices to white at your local grocery store. Done? Yea! Start saving those egg cartons you buy.) When those hens of yours stop laying after 2-3 years – eat them. Use some of the egg profits to buy more chicks.

    Rinse, repeat!

  29. Cooking with booze is amazing. We love chicken marsala too.

    Catching and growing your own food is pretty cost effective as well. Our grocery bill tends to be pretty low — with a freezer full of halibut, salmon, grouse, rabbit, and occasionally caribou/moose we don’t buy much protein. Why not look into a hunting license and harvest a deer this fall for the freezer?

  30. The McCormick’s Grill Mates suggestion was pretty good. Turns out I had a shit load of those in the pantry I did not know about, and now I’m going to use them, even if it’s just to flavor ground beef.

  31. We just figured out that it’s easy to make delicious carnitas from the ultracheap pork shoulder we buy each week. A great change from slow-cooking it.

    If you don’t have a smoker, it’s still quite easy to smoke a pork shoulder or other meat on a regular charcoal grill. Just throw in some wet wood and replenish as needed.

  32. Here is another angle:

    I actually do eat out, several times a week *because* I am unemployed and looking for a job.

    It is an extension of my networking, and even an occasional job interview.

    I run my contact list, meet with people in the industry, looking for leads. I even invite prospective company owners and managers (fully disclosing to them my intent…to talk & learn, and to market myself, and to ask for help in chasing leads). I don’t even have to know them (other than they are in a field that I am interested in). People are willing to share their thoughts with someone who is hustling to find a job.

    I try to pay the dinner bill each time, but 75% of the time, my guest insists on picking up the tab. The other times I am more than happy to pick it up, because information is always worth the cost of dinner.

    If I have not met with at least two people during the week, then it is a less than productive week.

  33. Stuff I did as a poor college student:

    Ramen noodles are very cheap and quick, and you can use them as a base for “chinese food”, too. Cook up a couple packages, cut up and stir-fry some cheap meat, add some fresh or frozen veggies (peas, green beans, small pieces of broccoli, etc), mix it all together.

    Pasta can be very cheap, too, especially bought in bulk. Can also get some pretty cheap sauces, and doctor them up to be edible, or make your own from scratch if you know what you’re doing.

    If you have a day-old bread store (basically, the local bakery outlet), you can buy bread for 50c a loaf. Can also often find deals at the grocery store on store-brand bread. The store-brand canned tuna or chicken, and mayo, plus some cheap additions, can make some good tuna or chicken salad.

    Mac and Cheese. Mix with peas and browned ground beef, or cut up hotdogs or sausage for variety.

  34. Get a part time job.
    Get a part time job.
    Get a part time job.

    For two reasons:

    One, to keep your sanity during an insane time.
    Two, to bring in another $850/month without dinging your UC.

  35. A pressure cooker is a good friend as well for making good food from cheap cuts of meat. Beef Stew meat is about as as cheap as you can get parts of the cow. Pressure it up with water and spices and you cam make a killer stew.

  36. When you get done with the pork chop bones and scraps, throw them in a crock pot with navy beans and some chopped garlic. Rosemary, if you have it.

    Whole chicken roasted in the oven w/ potatoes carrots and onion. Four meals right there. Makes the house smell terrific, too.

    I think you’re a long way from dumpster diving or shooting backyard possums…but the beans….bueno.

  37. Yet another vote for the beans and rice.

    Interesting fact, but basic sweet and sour sauce is just sugar and vinegar. Whatever else you add to that is up to you. Add some chicken (breaded or not) and rice, and it makes an easy meal, and clean up is pretty easy, too.

    Another easy meal I use: Take one box of mac & cheese. Make the mac & cheese as usual. Brown some beef while the noodles are cooking – I throw in onions, mushrooms, and garlic with the beef. Add 1 can Campbell’s condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup and the browned beef to the finished mac & cheese. I use 1/3 lb for just myself, and get 2 meals out of it.

    Spices are critical – make sure you’re well stocked. I get a lot of mileage out of curry powder, ground ginger, and black pepper (those little disposable grinders are actually pretty useful, though I haven’t looked at the cost comparison to a refillable grinder). Lemon and lime juice are also important while not being too expensive on a per-use basis.

  38. Increase vegetable intensity in the diet, using lentils and other legumes for protein, and add curries to the repetoire to keep repetition down a little. A good freezer to buy in bulk when something turns up.

    Odd combinations can spice things up. I have put black olives and sweet peas into curries. Might not be according to the recipe, but I like both and the combination is good.

    Eggs can add protein to soups or other dishes.

    Jonathan Swift proposed small children, but that seems a little extreme. I do keep my cat fairly plump, though…

  39. I’m going to second David’s call for getting a part-time job, and add a third reason that I’ve mentioned before: the longer you’re unemployed, the less likely it is that you’ll get hired.

    Many places are refusing to even accept applications from people who have been unemployed for more than a certain length of time. Some are refusing if you’re unemployed at all, no matter how little time that’s been the case. Even if they don’t simply toss your application immediately, being unemployed is probably counting as a strike against you.

    Having some job, even if it’s only part time, will increase your chances at getting a full time job.

  40. I looked into some part time work. Pennsylvania only lets you earn a couple of hundred bucks a week before it just reduces your benefit, so I need enough work in a week to make it worth the loss of benefit for that week.

    The one contract position I looked into actually turned into an interview for a full time job, and they are one of the three remaining possibilities I have. But their full time position pays pretty badly, so it’s the least favored of the three options I have left.

  41. Pet food ain’t cheap, so if you have dogs or cats don’t throw away leftovers or meat trimmings. Mix them into your pets’ normal food. Open a can of tuna? Drain it over the kibble. If you pressure cook a chicken, even the bones can be safely given to Fido. Raw poultry and meat trimmings can be frozen until there’s enough to cook up a special meal for your favorite 4-legged roomie.

  42. Any part time job, even selling guns at Dicks Sporting Good, will help you keep your sanity. I too went through the UC tiers and the personal ups and downs that come from sure thing interviews to rejection letters. The $219 or so that you can earn in PA without taking a hit on your UC, could be 20 hours a week where you’re not sitting at home feeling sorry about being out of work.

    I went though 93 weeks of UC, up to tier four of emergency UC (End of 2008-middle of 2010). In hindsight, not getting a part-time job was my biggest mistakes. Even volunteer your time to do something. A regular schedule and doing something productive goes a long way to staying motivated.

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