When You Don’t Have Money for Food

by Gary Foreman

When You Don't Have Money for Food photo

What options do you have when you don’t have money for food and you need to feed your family? Try these solutions to overcome a family food crisis.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I only have a little money to spend on food this month, about $200 for a family of four. What kind of meal suggestions can you give?

Feeding a family of four on $200 is a challenge. But, for many families, it’s a reality. And, although it is hard, it is not impossible.

Begin by Checking Your Resources

You may have more resources available than you think. What do you already have in your pantry? Probably not a lot, but when you’re struggling, every bit counts.

Check to see what other sources of food might be available to you. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Your local food pantry is there for a reason. Many churches and synagogues also have pantries. If you have trouble finding one, contact a couple of churches. They should be able to point you in the right direction.

SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) is designed to help families who need assistance to buy groceries. Over 40 million people receive SNAP aid each month. You can find out more at the government website here.

If your children are in school, find out what lunch assistance is available. Knowing that they’re eating well at noon will make your life a little easier.

You might also be able to trade some manual labor for food. Check with local farmers or fruit/vegetable stands.

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Think About How You’ll Spend the Money You Have

Once you know what resources are available to you, it’s time to think about what to buy. You’ll want to shop the perimeter of the store. The cheapest foods (and often the healthiest) are usually found along the side and back walls of the grocery store. Avoid all the prepackaged and processed foods. (See 6 Things To Know About Grocery Store Aisles That Will Save Money.)

Rice, potatoes, pasta and flour are all relatively inexpensive and filling. Use these items as the foundation of your meals. They’re easy to cook and can be used in various ways. For centuries, they’ve been the main part of the working person’s diet.

Every meal does not have to include meat. In fact, you’ll need to resign yourself to the fact that meat will be an occasional treat during the month. Ask the grocery butcher when they mark down the meat that’s near its expiration date for clearance. That’s your best bet for affordable meats.

Study depression-era strategies. Basic, filling foods fixed in an engaging manner. One example is Clara Cannucciari and her video series showing depression cooking. Below is one of her videos. Search online for traditional recipes.

Learn about ethnic cuisine. Many cultures have wonderful, tasty recipes that are inexpensive to make. They’re also a wonderful change of pace for your family.

In-season vegetables offer nutrition and add flavor to your meals. Add them to potatoes, rice or pasta to create variety and interest to your meals. (See 14 Ways To Buy Produce for Less.)

Beans are an excellent, inexpensive source of protein. Not only are they cheap, but also they come in a variety of flavors. Buy them raw or dried and prepare them yourself. You can find instructions on the web or in most cookbooks.

Also, remember that soups offer a low-cost meal. Start with whatever veggies you have and add potatoes, rice or noodles.

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When you have very few dollars to spend, it’s important to make your purchases count, so know how you’ll use something before you buy it. Waste is not an option with a really tight food budget.

The task may seem very difficult, but be encouraged that others before you have successfully fed their families on a very tight budget. I’m sure that you can do it, too.

Reviewed January 2024

About the Author

Gary Foreman is the former owner and editor of The Dollar Stretcher. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and has been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.

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