At Rockbottom?

It goes without saying that if you are experiencing extreme financial hardship, then you need to ask for help.  There are many organisations out there who may be able to help you, depending on your circumstances.  WINZ may be able to assist with emergency benefits/allowances, or food grants.  Your local foodbank should be able to offer you a food parcel if you meet their criteria.  Agencies like the Salvation Army may be able to help, and often can offer free bread and other bakery items given to them by supermarkets.  Be honest with your family and friends and accept offers of assistance.  You can always pay them back later, or pay it forward if they prefer.

Financial hardship can occur for many reasons, and it can be both long-term or short term.  Maybe you've had an unexpected bill or two arrive which has been enough to tip an already tight budget over the edge.  Illness or injury can happen out of the blue and will often cause a major change in circumstances and finances.  Even starting a new job can catch people out - there is usually a delay between starting work and your first pay packet.  Whatever the reason - and whether you are entitled to emergency assistance or not - there are things you can do to bring your budget down to the absolute bare bones.  It's not pretty, and it won't be a lot of fun, but it may be the difference between make or break.

First write down your budget - all the money you have coming in, and everything you spend money on.  Then cross out everything except the ABSOLUTE bare minimum.  No SKY, no dvd's, no coffees, no landline and internet package (you probably need a cheap mobile phone and cheap pre-pay monthly package for emergencies, contact with employers, and access to the internet), no eating out, no new clothes, no gym, no alcohol (it goes without saying no smoking/drugs/gambling)... NOTHING except the basics - shelter and associated expenses, food, transportation, schooling, medical and insurance.  I know people try to save money by not having car and home/contents insurance, but to me this is tempting fate and can end up costing you more in the long run.  Unless of course you decide to get rid of the car altogether!   

Everything else is a luxury you can't afford right now.

Now for reducing your expenses even further:

  • Need to go to the doctor or see a nurse?  Look up your local Hauora clinic.  Maori medical clinics are not just for Maori, and are heavily funded.  Most offer free medical care for under-18 year olds, and extremely cheap visits for everyone else.  For example, this is the Tauranga Hauora.
  • Need a smear test/contraception?  Go to your local Family Planning Clinic.  Appointments for under-22 year olds are free, and only $5 for everyone else if you have a Community Services Card.  The contraceptive pill and condoms are $5, but you'll usually find they give you these for free.
  • Discover vinegar - it can be used for cleaning, fabric softener, dishwasher rinse-aid, rinsing your hair... oh and of course, cooking!
  • Once the family has finished dinner and their various activities for the night, everyone usually settles in front of the tv.  So turn off all the lights.  They don't need to be on, they're just burning power.  Light a candle or two - it's cosy, and cheap.
  • Most generic budgets include an allowance for new clothes - but do you really need more?  Most of us have plenty of clothes and could go at least a year or two without having to buy anything.  If you really need something - there is Savemart, and opshops.
  • If you can, get someone you know to cut your hair.  If you can't, look up your local polytechnic and find out when their hairdressing school opens up for real clients.  It will take longer than usual, but it's dirt cheap and will be conducted under the watchful eye of tutors.
  • Use baking soda to brush your teeth (it will whiten them also). 
  • Check in with your household to make sure everyone is turning the tap off between rinses when brushing their teeth.
  • Cut old up clothes into squares and replace everything paper - paper towels, tissues, sanitary pads.  Some people even make their own 'toilet cloth'. 
  • Get out library books for entertainment.  It's free, and you will learn something. 
  • Keep a bucket in your bathroom and catch the water from the shower while you wait for it to warm up.  Use this to water your vegetable plants that you are growing to supplement your grocery bill.
  • Buy the above mentioned vegetable seedlings from your farmers market, they will often sell things like lettuce for .20c each.  A couple of plants could keep your family in salad for the whole summer.  Places like The Warehouse will mark down tomato plants and the like when they're looking a little mottley - once you get them home and in soil they'll take off again.
  • Barter.

When you're in dire financial straits, often the only variable in your budget will be the grocery bill.  With the following meal ideas, you will be able to bring your grocery bill down lower than you ever thought possible, leaving more money for bills, debt, or other essential living costs. 

This is not gourmet food, and it probably won't excite your soul.  It is however largely unprocessed, will fill empty tummies, and will help keep the wolf from the door.  I've broken it down into two sections - absolute rock bottom meals, and those which take a bit more time to prepare and therefore offer a little bit more flavour and nutrition.

The first rule of thumb when reducing your grocery bill is to cut out meat, or at least seriously reduce the frequency that you eat it.  There will always be debate about whether eating meat is good or bad for us, but all you need to know for now is that cutting out (or severely reducing) meat for several weeks or several months is not going to do your health any harm.  Your family is hungry, and you have no money.  Your goal is to fix their hunger, not satisfy their cravings.  If anyone complains about the lack of meat, tell them that if they bring home the bacon, you'll cook it!

What you need to do is focus on foods that will fill, as cheaply as possible.  Rice needs to become your best friend.  Followed by bread, pasta, potatoes and other root vegetables - yep, all the foods that get crucified by low-carb lovers.  Again - you're not reading this blog because you're looking for delicious superfoods recipes that fit in nicely with your diet preferences.  You're here because you're in survival mode.  Add to your filling foods things like beans, lentils, eggs, tinned tomatoes and tuna, vegetables, baking ingredients... and you can come up with plenty of meals.

Rockbottom Tummy Fillers:

  • Porridge made with water and salt, topped with cheap, seasonal fruit and sugar or cinnamon
  • Toast with peanut butter or jam 
  • Fried eggs on toast

  • Peanut butter sandwiches
  • Mashed egg sandwiches
  • Toasted sandwiches
  • Leftovers
  • Carrots, boiled eggs, seasonal fruit, banana bread, cheap crackers/biscuits, homemade baking

  • 1 - 2 cups of rice with 2 - 3 tbsp peanut butter - satay rice.

  • Corn fritters - simple recipe here
  • Scrambled eggs on toast
  • Spaghetti or baked beans on toast 
  • Creamed corn on toast
  • Tinned tuna in oil (buy it in oil for more flavour) and rice
  • Baked potatoes with cheap, simple toppings 
  • Thick potato slices baked or microwaved and topped with whatever toppings you have on hand, served with frozen vegetables

  • Pasta with olive oil mixed through
  • Pasta with tinned tomatoes or pasta sauce mixed through
  • Pasta with tinned tomatoes/pasta sauce, grated carrot and peas
  • Pasta with tinned tomatoes and tuna, served with frozen vegetables
  • Tinned tomatoes heated up and eaten as soup, with toast
  • Homemade soup and toast
  • Fried rice - with just about ANYTHING added
  • Rice topped with hot sauce/sweet chilli sauce/tomato sauce/bbq sauce
  • Rice topped with soup
  • Mashed vegetables with onion gravy
  • Homemade pizza with homemade bases and anything you have in the fridge
  • Homemade pizza with tinned spaghetti and fine breadcrumbs on top
  • Homemade pizza with sliced cooked potato and herbs on top
  • Potato, pumpkin and pea curry
  • Roast vegetables with gravy
  • Roast vegetables blended with homemade chicken stock to make soup, served with toast

Spend Money To Save Money:
  • Buy a bottle of your favourite flavoured sauce and make it a rule that the only time you can use it is when you've made something that is so unpalatable that you're considering not eating it.  A delicious sauce can mask just about anything when you keep in mind that your goal is just to fill your stomach.

Food Tip:
  • Buy smooth peanut butter, weight for weight it contains more peanut butter than crunchy peanut butter.  You can always add your own chopped nuts to the mix if you still want it crunchy.

More tips to come...

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