HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


How Did You "Deal" With Being Poor (and Young) Before You Could Afford to Dine Out (or eat well dining in)?

  • e

I remember my first year living in Manhattan and my friends and I could barely pay our rent (or share thereof), utilities, etc. We definitely couldn't eat out dinner--we could hardly feed ourselves. Two strategies we used:

1-A rum and OJ ordered (and nursed for hours)at the nearby bar afforded us all the chicken wings we could eat.

2-We would visit each other's apt toting a can of soup and make believe we were eating out--technically, visitors were eating "out". We would compare Progresso soup varieties as the big thrill of the night.

What were your "survival" techniques?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. 2.99 Chicken strips meal @ KFC everyday of the week.

    1. Other than cooking in alot and ordering from a place called Sotto Cinque - pasta under $5.........

      My dad gave me a credit card called Transmedia that could be used at participating restaurants. I was allowed to use it once a month. Sometimes it was used more than that, but he never really gave me a hard time.

      Also, had friends who worked in the Steve Hansen empire before it got huge. I used to get lots of freebies at Park Avalon, Blue Water and Ruby Foos.

      Thankfully, I can afford to splurge now!!! NOBU again this Saturday!!!

      4 Replies
      1. re: jenniebnyc

        Ah, I remember Sotto Cinque. That was our Sat nite splurge. I heard it is still there--wonder what's under $5 now.

        1. re: eve

          Sotto Cinque, at least on 29th and 3rd, is closed and has been for a few years. It is now the new location for Noodles on 28.

          1. re: eve

            Sotto Cinque is alive and well on East 86th Street.

            1. re: Deenso

              that's the one. I lived on 85th and 1st. We had to walk a whole block to get there--see, it really was going out for dinner. And no transportation cost.

        2. Our weekly grocery budget (including TP and cat food) was $20--granted this was 15 years ago--I had fun and got real good at bargain hunting. One of the few takeout meals was the $5 medium pepperonis from Pizza Hut; I seem to recall there was a limit where you could only get one per day.

          1. I'm still in grad school, so I'm living on the cheap and still having fun. I often make a big lentil soup, or bean soup, invite people over (BYO) and have an informal dinner party.
            Surprisingly, the dollar store (yes THAT dollar store) can offer great deals in produce that pay off big.
            Other standbys are stuff with celery (can buy in bulk, it's cheap and doesn't go bad) and tons of seasoning with Adobo (tons of spices in one cheap package - salt and pepper included.)
            Viva la cheap life...

            1. Creative dinner parties on the cheap at home.

              We made great use of Costco - we would all chip in to buy enough veggies and beer for 12, and pasta and bottled sauce carried us the rest of the way. Individually, none of us could get through the big bags of cheap fruits and veggies from Costco before they went bad, but together, we could all eat relatively well on the cheap.

              There were also a variety of very cheap Thai places around. We would usually splurge on $5.35 pad thai tofu and $6.05 penang curry on Friday nights.

              1. When the student loan check came in at the start of every semester, I stocked up on canned goods and, most importantly, condiments: anything will taste like food if it has enough seasoning.

                The convenience store chain in my college town, Allsup's, regularly ran specials on Shurfine products: a package of hot dogs was 99 cents and four cans of pork and beans were a dollar. That was four meals for two bucks, when doctored with mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco and/or barbecue sauce from the aforementioned condiment stash.

                My girlfriend managed one of the Allsup's in my town. Occasionally, a box of Hot Pockets or frozen burritos would somehow...must have not have been on the truck somehow, I guess.

                Also, the Burger King had 99-cent Whoppers pretty much every day.

                Finally, there was a little odd-lots and closeout store just next to my campus that had a food section that wouldn't kill you as long as you were careful to check the expiration dates and to stay away from the frozen foods because they had usually been defrosted at least once and wer riddled with ice and freezer burn.

                I knew people who bought their condoms at that store, but that had an unpleasant Russian Roulette feel to it for me.

                As for toilet paper...there was a storage closet in the music building that was never kept locked.

                I'm mildly proud to say that I made it through four years of college without once eating either ramen or mac and cheese out of a box.

                5 Replies
                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                  Hey -- I used to steal toilet paper when I was a starving Uni student! Fond memories........... (toilet paper seemed soooooo expensive!)

                  1. re: Maxmillion

                    How did you prepare it? How did it taste?

                2. Took a second job working for a caterer.

                  I ate "there" every time I worked and/or took home food.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Alan408

                    Oh, yeah! My English Department had cocktail parties once a month, and I made pin money as a waiter. They were the very last functions that ever served rumaki, and I used to take home half a steamer tray of the things afterwards.

                    1. re: Alan408

                      I worked summers at a municipal golf course, in the snack bar. The pay was okay, tips were okay, but the best benefit of working there was that you could eat or drink anything in there (except the beer, which you couldn't even have when you were off the clock) and not have to pay for it. The boss told me that specifically when I started there. So evenings when I worked there I ate pretty good; weekends I would have breakfast AND lunch on them. That really cut down on the expenses.

                    2. Monday nights at the white dog / black cat in Philly. During NFL games it was free mussels, wings, and fries during games.

                      Then when I moved to DC - Wed - Fri, 6-9 at the Common Share was free dinner night - usually tacos, but hey, free.

                      1. We took leftovers from the refreshments at school meetings and lectures, and volunteered for school events where we knew there'd be food.

                        We clipped coupons, stocked up during sales, and bought day-old bread for practically nothing.

                        We shopped at ethnic groceries and ate out in Chinatown a lot (Congee Village is the poor student's best friend).

                        Most of us didn't drink, though we made exceptions for really fabulous happy hour deals and dates where the guys paid. :-)

                        And we had a lot of potlucks. They're fun AND cheap.

                        1. I was never above taking advantage of an opportunity.

                          OK, I garbage mouthed, I admit it. But hey- the customer didn't touch her fries, so why not?

                          2 Replies
                            1. re: julietg

                              Years back, we called this the garbage buffet where I worked.....I never tried it but see no harm of eating off the plate of a friend you haven't met yet....

                            2. Cooked most of my meals. For $3 a meal, I could eat like a king. No processed, prepackaged food (with the exception of canned tomatoes, canned coconut milk and Japanese curry mix (which are very cheap anyway). Cooked in bulk and froze a lot of food. Soups and stews were commonplace.

                              1. Carl's Jr.... $0.99 Famous Star on Campus... with $0.50 worth of hand picked Oranges, Apples & Bananas from the Sale bin of my local Mexican market.

                                College Breakfast Grill... sang the Mickey song to a mildly unstable line cook so he would add ears to my already huge $0.75 pancake.

                                Dated a girl... just so that she would let me in the On-Campus housing cafeteria buffet for free. (Not my proudest moment but at least she was cute... just annoying as hell).

                                College Breakfast Grill.... Two Flour Tortillas with Butter & a pint of milk... $1.25

                                Homemade bean burritos... microwaved in the Game Room... $0.50 per day.

                                Lots of packaged foods from the $0.99 store... failed market tests from the midwest... ROFL...

                                Listened to a boring dude tell me about Dungeons & Dragons while I drink most of his Guinness pitcher.

                                Those were the days... ha, ha, ha. I have so many stories. Again, not my proudest moments.

                                1. Well, greek and other markets are your best way to go. If you're in a major city, you shouldn't have too much of a problem.

                                  Then, when you're really hungry, you can ask for tastes of things in some places. You might get the cold fish eye, but f'em. Hungry on a Saturday or Sunday? Get yourself to Costco, or something similar, freebies out the ass.

                                  But mainly, rice, beans, bread, lesser oils, cheap cuts of meat and a spit and a prayer may keep you alive. Share spices, share budgets, form a cooking collective...

                                  1. Instant Chinese! Tastes pretty darn good, fills you up and is cheap as all hell.


                                    DOLLAR NOODLES! $1 and a good helping of noodles... $4 and you can get enough rice and entries for 2 meals and the cheap chinese takeaway on Channing in Berkeley, hehehe

                                    1. I ate alot of instant noodles. At one point, I lived on Indo mee for 2 weeks - I couldn't look at those things for 2 years after that! :)

                                      And eggs. lots of eggs. and bread.

                                      1. I cooked a lot of Italian "peasant" food based on pasta, grains, beans, and vegs and ate really well and probably REEKED of garlic. And I would scrimp on other things to fuel my two passions--books and food. Cable TV? Fuggedaboutit. I'd take that $50.00 and throw it toward a nice meal. If there was a game I wanted to catch I would go to a bar and watch it.

                                        1. In San Fran, our "night out" consisted of any happy hour in a decent restaurant lounge/bar. Now that we have money, we prefer to sit in the lounge/bar of most restaurants regardless of what hour.

                                          In college in MD, it was Top Ramen (Oodles of Noodles) and mac and cheese boxes. Coupled with cheap beer I'll bet our sodium intake set records..

                                          1. I was fortunate to work in a building that had a subsidized cafeteria with decent food (Stouffer's, if I recall), so lunches were very cheap. My folks were good for at least one dinner a week. When left to my own devices, I ate a lot of eggs, tuna fish and macaroni and cheese. Also, I used to pool resources with the guy I was seeing (to whom I've now been married 35 years). For example, he'd call me and say, "I've got half a head of lettuce, four strips of bacon, a couple of slices of bread, and $4.75. What do you have?" And I'd have, say, a can of condensed soup, an English muffin, a tomato, a bottle of Coke and a few packets of mayonnaise from a deli. Voila! He'd head in my direction, pick up some kind of dessert on the way, and we'd have a 3-course meal.

                                            1. I personally never had a tight food budget (I lived with my brother during college and food was something we were NOT willing to scrimp on. Cable and phone, yes. Food no.) But I've been told stories my whole life of what it was like when I was a baby...we lived in Philly and my mom made friends with one of the soft pretzel street vendors and he would sell her his leftovers at the end of the day for cheap and they would have slightly stale soft pretzels for dinner. She would also haunt farmers markets and wait until near the end of the day and get whole bushels of tomatos that had some mushy bits or the farmer just wanted to get rid of and they'd make spagetti sauce with whatever meat was on sale and freeze it. My brother (who was 7 years old at the time) still shudders if you talk about spaghetti with chicken. Every picture of me in my highchair as a baby I am COVERED in spaghetti sauce.
                                              My mom can still rattle off a list of food that will feed you for a week for $5. Or at least, would have in the early 80's.

                                              1. Working at good restaurants.

                                                1. Simple: I cooked at home what I couldn't afford at restaurants. That's what's so great about learning to cook early in life.

                                                  Now granted, my Scallops in Black Tie will never be confused for Daniel Boulud's, but I still got a taste of what I was missing.

                                                  BTW, you can always "eat well dining in." It's just a choice between that, or going out 5 times a week and spending money on getting wasted.

                                                  (Well, I did enjoy that, too. But occasionally sacrificed it for a good meal.)

                                                  1. I would go to the local hospital staff cafeteria where meals are fairly cheap; breakfast is always a bargain, so we would make it our big meal of the day.

                                                    1. Pasta! The local supermarket frequently had pasta and pasta sauce sale: 4/$2 (pasta) and 99 cents/jar.

                                                      Also, bringing lunch to work, which would usually be...pasta!

                                                      Not sure how I didn't manage to gain gazillion pounds, since this was an (unintentional) high-carb diet all the way. Ah, youth and metabolism.

                                                      Plus, going back home once a week and coming back on the subway with containers filled with my parents' lovingly made home-cooked meals, which would be devoured the next night (what I would give to be able to share/taste one more meal made by my parents).

                                                      Now that I can afford the finer things in life, I still get a kick out of the fact that I can have a whole week's worth of menu planned (3 courses/day) by spending no more than $20 at Chinatown. Big difference now is also that I love to cook, whereas in my "poor" days, pasta was about the only thing I cooked.

                                                      1. lived within a budget, and learned to cook from scratch (and saved a lot of $ that way)- rice, stews with cheap cuts of meat, indian, beans etc
                                                        ate a lot of eggs
                                                        bread and cheese is also cheap
                                                        ate out only at chinatown,spanish chinese and similar cheap ethnic places, and learned a lot about those foods along the way
                                                        had an absolutely great time doing it

                                                        1. I learnt to cook and shop well. On a student stipend I ate a lot of pasta, whatever fresh fruits and vegetables were cheap at my local supermarket or farmers market, and made all kinds of dishes from cheap cuts of meat. I almost never ate out unless someone was treating me, just couldn't afford it.

                                                          It wasn't bad, I think I ate well because I made everything from fresh, raw ingredients and I learnt a whole lot about cooking. I still cook and eat the same way today - no processed foods, fresh produce. I eat out more than I used to but my husband claims we eat better at home.

                                                          1. I am still very low income, so I'm always discovering new and fascinating ways of saving money.

                                                            Twenty-pound bags of rice are sold in Chinatown. Green beans in Chinatown are, on a good day, 50 cents a pound. The chili sauces in Chinatown are about $1.50 a bottle. That tofu lady sells 5 bricks for $1. Voila, a fairly healthy meal.

                                                            There is also a Dominican place on 116th St where for $21 you can get enough food for 5-6 meals, plus (inexplicably) a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi.

                                                            Two words: Wolfschmidt Vodka. Even I can't handle that anymore, though.

                                                            Volunteer at soup kitchens on the weekends.

                                                            Cut way down on my portion size. I was never a huge eater, but I do need to make the food stretch sometimes. I was surprised how little I really needed to feel satisfied.

                                                            Moved to the Bronx. This one freed up enough extra money to go splurge at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's sometimes.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: merrymc

                                                              Merrymc, can you provide info on the Dominican place on 116th St. that you mentioned--name, address, what you get for $21, etc.?

                                                              Much appreciated!

                                                              1. re: gloriousfood

                                                                I think it's nuevo caridad -- it's on the southwest corner of 116th and 2nd. I'm not promising you a meal for the record books. But it's good, very plentiful, and cheap. The roast chicken was good, as were the tostones, sweet plantains, rice, and beans. The beef and onions were OK, and the salad is nothing great either. My recollection is that you got close to a whole chicken, a plate full of beef/onions, a plate of tostones and sweet plantains, a plate full of salad, a plate of rice and beans, and a 2-liter soda. For $20.95. It's a ton of food. Happy eating!

                                                              2. re: merrymc

                                                                yah being poor is a great time to start dieting

                                                              3. West Orange NJ, Mount Fuji. Coupon in the local paper, buy one dinner get one free. All the appetizers (chicken wings) you could eat while waiting for your table. DW and I went and sat in the lounge with two bowls of wings and water. When we sat at the table we ordered two chicken and shrimp habachi's and water. Lots of veggies, chicken, shrimp and some green tea ice cream, as well as a floor show by the chef. All for $10.95 plus tip and tax. Granted it was early 80's but still a great deal for a Friday night for newlyweds.

                                                                1. Not sure if I qualify to answer here being from the left coast and not Manhattan and getting on to geezerhood.

                                                                  My first wife and I always cooked, rarely went out to restaurants and didn't miss it. We also didn't drink much (unlike the present!). We wouldn't have wine with every dinner; a bottle of booze could last for months. We were together as undergrads, in grad school, and in Bolivia. We always shopped and cooked together. We watched prices. Since all our friends were in the same boat, we all cooked and entertained each other. On the other hand, we spent a high proportion of our $$ on food because we had little interest in snappy clothes, new cars, motgages and the like.

                                                                  1. College was a cullinary ceasepool mired in raman noodles, generic PB&Js and Tuna Helper.

                                                                    At one point I delivered pizzas, and the kitchen's mistakes were my dinner and breakfast.

                                                                    One of the benefits of being in any student organization was that they had budgets and weak figureheads easily persuaded into ordering take-out.

                                                                    1. Use my college roommate's pasta dinner recipe. He would say: "I'm going to make pasta for everyone, ok?"

                                                                      A few minutes later: "Oh, I'm out of olive oil, do you have any?"

                                                                      "Mind if I use a little of your garlic?"
                                                                      "Hey, you have half a loaf of bread, can I slice it up?"
                                                                      "Were you going to open a bottle of wine?"
                                                                      "Oh, we should have salad, too - is there any lettuce?"

                                                                      And voila, pasta aglio i olio, bread, salad and wine. All for the price of a box of pasta.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: revsharkie

                                                                          ^ I thought the same thing. Stone Soup is a wonderful old fable (Russian?)

                                                                      1. Okay - am I the only one who finds this topic a little off-putting? It's not "how to eat well on the cheap," which is fine. It's "how did you used to eat, before you made all the money I assume you have now have." Maybe I'm just a little touchy, because I'm thirty-five, and I'm only a few years out of a period when I lived on lentils, pasta and so forth while my friends who were making lots of money couldn't understand why I couldn't join them for their evenings out at fantastic restaurants, because they assumed everyone started making lots of money in their mid-twenties or at least by their early thirties.

                                                                        Anyway, quibbling aside, in the days when money was really pinched, I ate a lot of chickpea stew (garlic, onions, spices, a can of chickpeas, a can of tomatoes); a lot of rice (cooked all sorts of ways, but especially in the liquid from a can of tomatoes, with chilis, beans and cheese); pasta with tomato sauce or just cheese and butter; more baked potatoes than you can count, often with baked beans, sometimes cottage cheese; and mussels, which usually cost $3 a bag around here and feel like a fancy meal (over rice, of course). Baked sweet potatoes. Carrot soup. Kitchen-sink soup - broth + whatever vegetables are around + whatever beans are around + rice or pasta. And yes, canned soup, though not often. Quesadillas.

                                                                        The thing is, I still eat most of these things, I just have more money to spend on meat entrees, on decent wine, on some indulgences. A less carb-heavy eating pattern, definitely.

                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                        1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                          I freely admit I'm in my very late 20s and still poor. I guess the idea was just to trade reminiscences of "harder times" or whatever. But I'm reading it to figure out some new cheap eats ideas now...I like your tomatoes/rice/beans and chickpea ideas...

                                                                          I know what you mean, though. It's hard when your friends make/are given sizable amounts of money and don't get why you don't want to spend your income on having a fabulous time at dinner and drinks several times a week.

                                                                          1. re: curiousbaker

                                                                            I'm a freelance writer. I will be poor for pretty much the rest of my life, but to quote my teenage heroes the Minutemen, I jam econo. Save money for the things that are important to you by ignoring the things that aren't. I would guess that my wife and I eat better now on far less money than the vast majority of folks. I wish I could have done that in college, but I was even poorer then!

                                                                            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                                              I am still money poor, but rich with coupons!! LOL! It is STILL tough for us to go to eat anywhere "fancy", so that is why I am glad that I can cook! When we splurge, it still isn't in comparison to what a lot of folks mention spending.... ($350 on a bowl of soup?!?!)

                                                                                1. re: luv2bake

                                                                                  No, I kid you not! I cannot recall which site I read that on, but some guy was talking about soups (Phos, I think?!?) and he mentioned a soup priced at $350.00 American currency!! (and if I remember correctly, it sounded pretty ghastly!)

                                                                          2. Chicken backs made into chicken stew with rice. There must have been a chicken farm somewhere around Bloomington, Indiana because those things were cheap- 29 cents a pound or so. I got to really like the liverish things that adhere to the inside back of a chicken spine- what are those, the lungs?

                                                                            1. One problem I had going into college was that my family never worried about eating economically. My grandpa ran a little grocery store and my dad had a restaurant. My mom would go to the (bigger) supermarkets in town maybe once a month to pick up the things she couldn't get from either the store or the walk-in at the cafeteria. We didn't eat store brand stuff, never clipped coupons, didn't worry about sales or bargains or anything. It was a rude awakening when I landed on my own and discovered that groceries actually cost money.

                                                                              I turned sticking-to-a-budget into a game. I'd make my list, and put down my best guess what things were going to cost, take my coupons with me to the store; and if at the end I had spent less than my budgeted $20, I'd go back and get some special treat. Almost always got that treat.

                                                                              1. i was poor and young and i mostly survived on mac and cheese and whatever the dorm cafeteria offered. being poor back then was relatively easy. then i got a job and could eat out wherever and whenever i wanted. now i'm even poorer than I was before, much poorer and i have no dorm cafeteria to rely on.

                                                                                currently i budget $100 for food a month (including restaurant meals and vitamins) and i usually end up spending all of it. i agree that sticking to a budget can be kind of like a game. i could go even lower if i stopped myself from buying little treats on sale like the toblerone bars i just bought for 25 cents each (yum) i also have to stop eating cheap sushi which is not even worth the money.

                                                                                Oh yeah, I try to hit the school functions that serve food. We try to suss out what's being served before deciding on going.

                                                                                This experience has been a real eye opener in many ways. I was so wasteful before.

                                                                                Oh and when i get back to being rich, I don't know that I'll go back to "eating rich".

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: choctastic

                                                                                  I thought the same thing. I bet I spend 4x on groceries now compared to what I did in grad school. Still the same percentage of my budget, though. That first year out of grad school, I resisted, but then the really good cheese was too tempting. And the good butter. And beer.

                                                                                  To answer the original question: I made my own bread, ate oatmeal or homemade granola for breakfast (mixed with cheap flakes), made huge batches of rice and beans (from dried), vegetable soup. Protein was tuna, ground beef, eggs or poached whole chicken from which I'd made stock.

                                                                                  1. re: JGrey

                                                                                    There's a great point in your post - that the percentage of home cooked vs restaurant bought meals doesn't change.

                                                                                    1. re: Dennis S

                                                                                      Unfortunately, it also seems to hold true for everything else in life. The more you make, the more you spend, as they say.

                                                                                2. Ramen soup (10 for a buck) and we'd add stuff to it..cheap stuff that made it look appetizing.

                                                                                  1. I formed all my best chowhound habits during my student years in Boston. My house had eight people and six of us were avid cooks, so the variety kept the humble-ness of the cuisine from ever getting boring. Derek had been a cook at Friendly's and could find his way around cheap cuts of meat. Alexandra fed us many hot peppers in Thai-style stir fries, and fried potatoes so greasy you didn't miss going out to breakfast. When Ann would make the mac'n'cheese, she'd pep it up with tuna and peas and some real Cheddar. Peter would head down to Haymarket and we'd all help debeard the mussels to have on the spaghetti. Carlos was our improv artist: he would pillage the bulk bins at the food co-op, boil it up and call it "Japanese Ocean Floor Soup," and it would actually be delicious.

                                                                                    We didn't lack for pleasures, either. Rolling Rock was not trendy then and a case was very affordable at Blanchard's Liquors. Likewise that eastern European red wine with the black plastic bull hanging around the neck of the bottle. There was always somebody in a band, and we'd end up drinking for cheap even when we were out. And there were all kinds of budget restaurants for students all over town: Chinese and middle eastern and Hi-Fi Pizza in Central Square, Thai further down Mass. Ave., amazing Puerto Rican near MIT, Vietnamese in the Financial District when I was temping, a cheerful Brazilian place by the Fenway for a $12 dinner splurge... Chinatown was right near the bus station, so I could buy a pork bun and lotus-leaf-wrapped sticky rice before taking the $5 Trailways bus home to New York.

                                                                                    I lived in big shared homes for many years in San Francisco as well, and lived eight years in the Mission District, where it used to be hard to find a restaurant with an entree over $8.

                                                                                    To me, chowhounding means following the scent trail of the deliciousness, not the price tags or the Zagat ratings. So Chicago to me is Al's Italian Beef and idli on Devon, LA is Persian in Santa Monica and Versailles in Venice and Jody Maroni's on the beach and Guelaguetza wherever that is, and don't get me started about New York but it is not Mario Batali or Peter Hoffman or Danny Meyer. It's cheap!

                                                                                    And having money now was an accident--I married well--but the money doesn't get in my way, really. What I find harder about living this way now is that I dine with my nuclear family, not with a brat pack of culinary adventurers. For me, that is how chowhound helps me feel whole and in touch with the wisdom of my youth!

                                                                                    1. In student days fifty years ago there was a local supermarket called the Hi-Lo that was really cheap. Tunafish was 2 cans for 39 cents and a box of noodles was 10 cents. I used to bake a huge pan of creamed tunafish and noodles and we would survive on it for a week. My husband got his degree in 1959 and he STILL won't eat creamed tunafish and noodles.

                                                                                      1. ramen noodles, hamburger helper, homemade spaghetti and jack in the box ($1 menu) kept me alive during my college years.

                                                                                        1. Came back to the states after three years in Asia. Had a young bride, a three-month-old baby and no job. We lived off our savings until a local newspaper gave me work. Found an apartment that cost a mere two-weeks salary but that included heat and electrictricity. Our budget ran something like this: $25 a week for food, $20 a week for savings and precious little left over for anything else.

                                                                                          Chicken, pasta, veggies and ground beef were the cornerstones of our diet for years (my wife is now a skilled and creative cook but it was rough going in the beginning). Our one splurge? A bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Brut (NV) every month whether we needed it or not. Cost was $19 back then. Seemed like a civilized thing to do.

                                                                                          1. BEFORE? How about still am!

                                                                                            1. *Worked at restaurants.

                                                                                              *Costco (or back then, Price Club).


                                                                                              1. Living close to Old Town Pasadena in my late teens early twenties, it was Del Taco (2 chicken soft tacos and small drink) for me when I had no money, I would even walk there from my apartment 1⁄2 mile to save on gas, if I had a little money to spare it was Ko Ko Roo Chicken (sp) breast, leg, potatoes, and again a small drink, since I lived around the corner I also walked to it.

                                                                                                1. College: Ramen noodles-LOTS and LOTS of Ramen noodles! Wheatbread with cottage cheese and sprouts w/ "Nature's Seasonings" on top; tuna (the realllly CHEAP kind!); pasta; parties with free food and beer; bars that offered free appetizers and/or really great specials and generous dates!
                                                                                                  Also, there was this AWESOME breakfast place near our campus that offered delicious homemade Southern biscuits with butter and country gravy on the side, grits, 3-egg omelets, home fries, coffee or tea, fresh OJ (in a Mason jar, of course!)and fruit all for UNDER $5.00!!!!!!! Talk about excessive food, but honey, it stuck with ya the whoooollle weekend! It was yummmmmers!! (I USED to be able to eat and drink that way ;-)

                                                                                                  A Certain Pizza Place: Once my college roomie and I ordered pizza but they didn't cash our check! Then again, at the same pizza place (this time at the counter, not delivery) they forget to take our money! (which we so conveniently forgot to mention...ahem...college days and booze was our excuse!) We had just come from a bar offering 'FOUR for ONE' alcoholic drinks-there on most Thursdays-since we didn't have Friday classes! LOL!

                                                                                                  Before Married: Cooking at home and generous dates!

                                                                                                  NOW: Coupons, coupons, coupons...check sales and specials...cook a lot of fresh foods at home and hit every deal advertised possible!!
                                                                                                  *My husband loves mostly meats and shrimp, so we cannot afford to go out most times on our budget!

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: Mermazon

                                                                                                    Oh, and I failed to mention that this breakfast place gave TWO homemade sausages and TWO slices of delicious bacon WITH that HUGE meal!! Definately NOT "healthy" but ooooooh Mama! How yummy and filling! We could go virtually a whole weekend on that meal.

                                                                                                  2. When I was growing up, I had to perish any thoughts of having anything beyond the one item. This normally meant doing without fries and softdrink. When water came with the meal I was in heaven. Later when places started to charge for the cup of water I had to do without.

                                                                                                    I remember once when we had dad convinced to get a value meal of the sorts. We had the order going then suddenly he shouted - "Kids get into the damn car!". At first we thought we had pressured him and was out of there. No, he got to scanning the prices and discovered he was saving only a penny or 2 with the meal. He was so mad he spent 15 minutes chewing out the manager. It also resulted in dry bologna, and stale bread sandwiches as soon as he found the nearest grocery store. (BTW Dry = no condiments ; Stale = is that bread gives me the hiccups.)

                                                                                                    Today, I am still at odds with the pricing schemes of restaurants and fast food establishments as a whole. I generally loose my appetite when dealing with them.


                                                                                                    1. I have never been poor. There have been times when I had next to no money. Didn't know where the next dollar was coming from. But I was never poor. Poor is an attitude. A state of mind.
                                                                                                      If I could buy some eggs on sale, I could study Julia Child and revel in the best damned omelet on earth. I could grow a few herb plants on my doorstep. I had a fishing pole. When my husband was an enlisted Marine, his friends gave us 20-year old Korean War c-rats and I learned to turn them into interesting meals. Tabasco and onions help. Dandelions infesting my lawn were a salad. Every bone or vegetable scrap swam in a stockpot. Gumbos and jambalayas made a little food go a long way. Beans and rice were family favorites. If it wasn't on sale, we didn't buy it.
                                                                                                      My cooking became all about technique. Using simple ingredients to turn out special dishes.
                                                                                                      As finances became easier, the old habits stayed with me and I still cook from scratch from simple ingredients, buying seasonally and on sale. I have a vegetable garden, which now probably costs more than buying produce. I still fish and crab and my friends who hunt and fish keep me well supplied. I buy from farmers when I can.
                                                                                                      I still eat like a "poor" person but I'm rich. Not in money. In the good things in life.

                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                        I think a lot of people use the word "poor" in the same way one exclaims: "I'm starving!!!" (when they're just hungry).

                                                                                                        With that said, I like your thoughts and I feel the same way-so blessed! And I think when one has to be, they can be quite resourceful and creative. Plus, perhaps your family was a lot healthier with you cooking from scratch!?! Kudos to you for your positive attitude!! =)

                                                                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                                                                          Thank you for that point of view! I have yet to have an income that breaks the poverty line, and I have never lived a "poor" lifestyle.

                                                                                                        2. while I was in school in NYC, I'd conveniently call my foodie aunt around 4pm and hope I'd get invited to dinner! Usually worked!

                                                                                                          1. No lie, lived on Kraft mac & cheese during college. Roommate scored a job at the local market. She brought home the days "ruins" and that was our food budget for an entire year.

                                                                                                            Had Costco existed in the 70's we would have shared the cost of membership and gotten familiar with "samples" and bulk buys.

                                                                                                            At today's prices, I don't know how a student pays for tuition, housing, car insurance and LIFE...and still scores three meals a day without help from parents/friends/etc.

                                                                                                            Tips/posts above say it all!

                                                                                                            1. I am at a point now in life where I can afford to eat out now & then (esp with the help of Amex =P) but for smart financial reasons I cannot eat out yet as much as I'd really like to (3 lunches a week and perhaps the same in dinners with a sunday breakfast) -

                                                                                                              So we either do a couple lunches at our favorite (possibly expensive spots) during the week or we do a really nice dinner once every two weeks and maybe breakfast too - some weeks go by and we dont even think about it.

                                                                                                              But we do have a lot of fun cooking at home so sometimes we just splurge a little at the market and go from there.

                                                                                                              1. Cheapest hotdogs - Safeway or somebody would have a screamin' deal. Don't even think of what might have gone into them. You can do so many things with hotdogs involving other cheap stuff: rice, beans, spuds, cabbage, lentils, tomato sauce, onions, etc. Doggies are one of the most versatile forms of protein.

                                                                                                                Another survival strategy involved tortillas and beans and whatever.

                                                                                                                1. It has the makings of a joke: jewish kid, greek kid and protestant kid live together with little money....what happens? Non stop care packages from family who knew wed starve as the holidays started in September and ran through June with empty streaks in between. We wound up eating a lot of feta cheese, canned grape leaves (even now $5 for a really large tin) and some type of bread (challah, pita, italian). And when we didnt have "donations" one great cost saving food - home made Humus (smashed can of chickpeas with garlic lemon and some tinned sesame paste)

                                                                                                                  We ate pretty decetnly for three guys without funds.

                                                                                                                  1. My old university meal routine for Wednesdays, breakfast,lunch and booze for $6.95.

                                                                                                                    7 AM: go to servery, get 24oz tea with kaiser roll, on special before 8 AM for $1. Load tea with lemon and sugar, nurse tea for a few hours. Bring teabag saved from chinese takeout and refill on hot water for 10 cents yat 10 AM. Save roll for later. Total spent, $1.10

                                                                                                                    12 PM: go to servery, get small plastic salad container, load with 1 heaping spoonful of cottage cheese, four large spinach leaves, some of the red onion and black olives that dressed the spinach leaves. Dress with red wine vinegar and black pepper.
                                                                                                                    Pay by the pound, this was about $1.25. Pile all onto kaiser roll from breakfast special. Refill foam cup with another teabag and more hot water. Total spent: $1.35

                                                                                                                    5 PM: Dinner was usually something left over from a faculty meeting, and I'd buy a lareg coffee for a buck.

                                                                                                                    10PM: (Wednesday only) hit ladies night-free pints of domestic, free frozen hurricanes $3 for tipping. 2AM: two hot dogs from gray's papaya, at the time, $1.50 for both.

                                                                                                                    On Sundays when I had more money, I made ramen pad thai, doctoring ramen noodles with peanut butter, soy sauce and chili paste. I dumped the water after cooking and before adding the pb,soy and chili, and I only used 1/2 the seasoning packet.

                                                                                                                    1. I just have to add that y'all inspire me.

                                                                                                                      1. Ethnic grocery stores. Staple foods such as rice and beans are generally of higher quality and much less expensive at ethnic groceries then they are at american grocery stores.

                                                                                                                        Very little meat - I can remember stretching a single 4 lb chicken into six meals. 2 stirfry dinners - a breast half each and veggies over rice, one baked chicken thigh dinner. Roast the carcass with wings and legs, and pick all the meat from it - this got me enough for two meals worth of chicken enchiladas, and then I made stock from the bones, and had chicken noodle soup.

                                                                                                                        1. I'm not a student anymore...but i still eat cheap. Some of my recommendations: Canned beans, 3/$1 at big grocery stores - Cream Cheese, .88/pack at Wal-Mart(reg grocery store$1.68) Buy butter on sale for 1.99 and freeze until use, tofu and seitan are always cheaper than meat...be a veggie if you can! Cereal, day old bagels,and take advantage of good ethnic restaurants in your town..

                                                                                                                          1. I am not ashamed of some of the things that I did during college and graduate school. My goal was to get through both debt-free and I was largely successful. But I only had $4/week to spend and occasionally, a five day meal ticket.

                                                                                                                            Things included:

                                                                                                                            1) Shop with the local monks at the various food wholesalers. The wholesalers would sell us the produce/meat/cheese that they could not sell to Kroger's or their other retailers. This meant that we had to use up the stuff quickly.

                                                                                                                            2) Ditto for salvage stores.

                                                                                                                            3) Work in the school cafeteria. They almost always included a free meal or two.

                                                                                                                            4) Furr's cafeteria - one meal a day at $7 got me through graduate school.

                                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: jlawrence01

                                                                                                                              Did you seriously mean $4.00 (US?) a WEEK?? WOW! I bow to you, frugal gourmet!! Although I'm confused about this comment ...

                                                                                                                              ---> "a five day meal ticket". <----- ??? Can you elaborate ???

                                                                                                                              1. re: Mermazon

                                                                                                                                Most universities offer a 5-day meal ticket and a seven day meal tickey.

                                                                                                                            2. I feel so dirty, Chef Boyardee but NEVER SpaghettiO's.

                                                                                                                              1. As a young foodie who started off broke, I found that the best way would be to start with the cheap pasta and then trying to jazz it up a bit. Home cooking is far cheaper than dining out, and investing in a good cookbook will go a long way toward developing one's palate as well as appreciation for certain techniques.

                                                                                                                                For instance, I never order steak at a restaurant now that I know how to make one great, but I always order fish because it's such a challenge. If it's on the menu, I'll order osso bucco or anything that's braised.

                                                                                                                                But seriously, start with your regular pot of pasta, and rather than buying Prego's or Ragu, make your own sauce. Tomato paste is cheap, as are vegetables. Herbs are free if you grow them yourself, and you can save your hard-earned dollars for protein. Start learning about mise-en-place and presentation. That way, when you start dining out, well constructed dishes will not be foreign to you.

                                                                                                                                1. Best tip is from the Posh Nosh:

                                                                                                                                  If you can't afford the better, expensive food, then sell some paintings.

                                                                                                                                  Makes sense to me.

                                                                                                                                  1. One of my all-time favorite cookbooks is "The Food Stamp Gourmet". Published in 1971, it's long since out of print, though Alibris has half a dozen copies available at this writing. The author, William Brown, also worked on several of the Time-Life "Foods of the World" series. The book is illustrated by R. Crumb and a couple other hippie cartoonists, but don't let that put you off; there's not a single grain of brown rice in the entire book. The focus is on eating well for very little money.

                                                                                                                                    Filled with excellent recipes for delicious "peasant" dishes from all over Europe, the book is also an excellent introduction to common kitchen tools & techniques. I strongly recommend this book as a "starter" cookbook for a begining cook, as well as any cook, beginner to advanced, interested in eating well on the cheap.

                                                                                                                                    On topic, the book adopts two strategies for eating well without spending a lot of money. The first is making fairly large batches of stuff to apply economies of scale. The recipes typically make 8 to 12 servings, and assume you will be reheating some of those. The other technique is using time to save money. Many, though not all, of the dishes use cheap, tough ingredients and long slow cooking to tenderize and develop flavor.

                                                                                                                                    Anyway, it isn't necessary to spend a lot of money to eat well. It's only necessary to spend a little effort and put some care into what you cook. Poor people have been eating great, richly varied meals from time immemorial, and continue to do so. All it costs is a little care and imagination.

                                                                                                                                    1. When I was a poor student, my friend and I would scout the weekly arts paper for upcoming art gallery shows, then and crash the opening night party for free wine and hors d'oeuvres. If an opening party wasn't listed, we'd swing by the night before the exhibit, just in case.

                                                                                                                                      For at-home dinner parties, my dining table was a cardboard box covered with a blanket stolen, along with the cutlery, from the airplane. (I later graduated to cinder blocks and an old door.) Guests would sit on the floor, and we didn't certainly did not buy any meat or cheese. We ate a lot of szechuan tofu & eggplant with jasmine rice; couscous with lentils; or we'd make roll-your-own California rolls.

                                                                                                                                      It became a tradition that we would give away the most hideous or bizarre "party favors" we could find from the dollar store or garage sales. It was a wonderful time.

                                                                                                                                      1. My lunches were at Taco Bell, a chicken soft taco with extra lettuce, and a pinto & chese, with a water. Best $2.13 I ever spent. I think it would be about $4 now.
                                                                                                                                        For a special meal out, I would take my kids to Hometown Buffet mostly on a Wednesday night. They thought this was great, they got what they wanted, happy with the desserts and stuffed. We all had free entertainment watching the balancing acts. Amazing.
                                                                                                                                        And I never once took a baggie with me, people do that?

                                                                                                                                        1. First of all RAMEN NOODLES. So many things you can do with them. One of my favs is cooking the noodles, draining and then adding real butter and parmesan cheese.
                                                                                                                                          Also try adding mayo and mustard after draining, seasing with some of the packet included and adding tuna. Sounds gross, but really good. years ago I found a site with a long list of recipes. Try googling.

                                                                                                                                          For eating out, go to San Loco. All downtown manhattan and williamsburg locations.


                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: nyctravelguide

                                                                                                                                            If you take 3 packages of ramen noodles, cook and drain them, and press them into a hot, oiled cast-iron skillet, you can make a pizza on top. (But compare prices: right now a boxed Jiffy pizza crust mix is 50 cents at my local supermarket, and I think ramen noodles are about a quarter apiece, so you're not really saving anything--and the Jiffy crust mix is not too bad.)

                                                                                                                                            1. re: revsharkie

                                                                                                                                              Flour, water, salt and yeast for pizza dough can't be more than about 10 cents. I bought a bag of yeast at Sam's club for around $3 at the beginning of grad school and kept it in the freezer. It was proofing just fine 5 years later when I graduated.

                                                                                                                                          2. I learned how to cook the cheap cuts of meat. I bought my spices and dried herbs from places that sold in bulk. Lots and LOTS of starches. Pasta is always cheap -- and Hunts was tons yummier than the more expensive sauces. Produce was bought by season. Lots of stir fry, since I could stretch it with rice. I bought day old bread from a local bakery. When I got enough to eat out, I'd hit the all you can eat lunch buffets.

                                                                                                                                            Mainly, I learned to worry about how my food tasted, not how much it cost when I was judging what was "quality".

                                                                                                                                            1. Pasta 3 pounds for a Dollar . You can't go wrong.
                                                                                                                                              Fruit Stand to see what was on sale
                                                                                                                                              Low end cuts of meat from the butcher
                                                                                                                                              Dried Beans
                                                                                                                                              2 for 1 meals

                                                                                                                                                1. In my early 20's I worked as a chef at a mountain resort. I lived in a small cabin with no oven or stove. Part of my pay was my cabin so not only was I eating ramen when I wasn't working, I cooked it in a coffee pot! No joke! I bought this cookbook at a used bookstore that had about twenty million ways to prepare the stuff, some of it quite tasty! In that same bookstore I found a cookbook for condiments. Yep, I learned how to make a pretty mean tomato soup out of ketchup packets and creamer packets!