We've all been there: You've only got a few dollars left in your bank account, you've stocked up on instant ramen for the week and your plans consist of work, school and sitting on the couch because, well, you can't afford to do anything else. You're broke. We get it. Unfortunately, money doesn't grow on trees and that means that sometimes, we don't have enough of it. So whether you've used ketchup packets as spaghetti sauce or have driven to your mom's house for free meals and laundry, know that you're not alone. We've all been there.
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#1 Bed for Dinner
#2 Wish Sandwiches
#3 Pretend Camping
I told the kids we were going to pretend to be camping for a few days. Lit candles, cooked food on the grill, opened the windows at night and took cold showers for 3 miserable days to get to the next payday because my now ex was terrible at handling money and we didn’t have enough to pay the damn electric bill. The kids thought it was great.
#4 Ketchup and Crackers
I remember one time when I was little my mom went into a Wendy’s or something like that and grabbed some crackers and ketchup for me and my brother to eat from the condiment section. Those were pretty bad times. I’m just glad I can barely remember it.
#5 Ketchup and Bread
My mother took my sister out one time, leaving me to watch my brother in a hotel ( I was eight I think, making my brother four) and of course, she went into labor with the next kid and didn't come home for three days. So, we ate ketchup and bread for two days and on day three, he had ketchup and I had nothing. I had other times in my life where I passed food over to someone else first, but those three days are absolutely crystal clear in my head, trying to make sure he ate first and didn't realize how bad it was, keeping him distracted, watching what he wanted on TV, etc etc.
#6 Declined Card
I was buying tampons from the dollar store and my card was declined. The nicest cashier ever just told me it was okay and to go ahead. It was super embarrassing... I'm still a regular at that location.
#7 Donating Blood for Partying Money
I carpool with equally broke friends to donate blood at the local blood bank for cash and free juice and cookies. It was $25 for a blood donation and $50 for plasma back in the day. I was in the military and my buddies and I were fresh out of high school. We had no idea how to manage our money. We had spent all our paychecks on drinking and partying and then needed cash to tie us all over to the next paycheck.
We were pathetic, but eventually, we figured it out! Besides the cash and the snack, we also got out of doing our usual five-mile run in the morning (they could not make us run after donating blood) so we couldn’t abuse it too much or our platoon sergeants would eat us up. Fun times with Uncle Sam!
#8 Side of the Road Hoodie
I found a hoodie on the side of the road, washed it and have been wearing it since I was 15. It’s Nike so very good quality!
#9 Washing Paper Plates
I put a paper plate in the sink to be washed. I was at a friend's house for D&D and we had a BBQ beforehand. I was cleaning up and I, on reflex, put my paper plate in the sink. Later that night, my friend noticed and said, "Which of you broke people put this in the sink?!" It was me. I was the broke one.
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#10 Fishing Trout
In college, I would go fishing to catch trout for dinner. Not because it was fun, but I wouldn't eat otherwise.
#11 Free Shoes
When I was in college, I found a pair of thrown out shoes in front of an apartment. They were soaking wet but otherwise new and were my size. I took them home, washed them in the sink, dried them out, and wore them for two years. I was that broke my shoes had holes in them, so I wasn't going to let free shoes get away...
#12 Avoiding Hostel Fees
Pulled all-nighters so I could sleep in public the next day to avoid hostel fees.
#13 Cheap Thousand Island Dressing
My husband donated plasma twice a week (I'm ineligible). We ate a lot of rice, got some dried beans when we could afford to and we learned how to do urban foraging. Sometimes we ran out of rice, so we'd pick some plants out in a nearby park, or we would just not eat. Also, we discovered that by taking a mayo packet, a relish packet and a ketchup packet, you can make pretty tasty Thousand Island dressing.
We had two cats during this time, and they always got their food. It wasn't their fault that 2008 punched us in the face. A decade on and we're still trying to get solidly back on our feet, but doing well enough to have decent food every day and not have a meltdown when rent is due. Cats are doing well, too, just very old!
#14 Shared a Can of Soup
I shared a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew with my two roommates. We "heated" it a little with a Zippo lighter and ate it with a SHARED spoon constructed from a coat hanger and the foil inside a pack of Marlboro cigarettes.
Ramen with ketchup. Called it spaghetti.
#16 Eating Leftovers
When I was a waitress, if someone didn't want to take their leftovers home, I'd hide in the freezer in the back and eat the remaining food left by strangers.
#17 Second-Hand Furniture
This happened to me just a few days ago. One of my neighbors is moving away and left a bunch of stuff he doesn't want anymore on his curb outside of his house: blankets, towels, cheap tools, a fan, even a reclining chair. I salvaged almost every piece of it. I'm saving it all for when I can finally afford my own apartment.
#18 Two Eggs Every 48 Hours
I was unemployed for a year and prioritized shelter and internet over food. So I lived off two eggs every 48 hours for about three months.
#19 Mattress for a Couch
This gave me flashbacks to being 22 in an apartment I couldn’t afford, with no car and a job as a server at the Ruby Tuesday down the block. I had a mattress on the floor, a janky tiny television that I sat on a milk crate to keep it off the floor. I would move my mattress into the living room sometimes if I wanted to pretend that I had a couch.
I ate one packet of ramen a day when I came home from work. I tried to act composed when friends asked if I wanted to come over for dinner. I would go to the Goodwill up the street to window shop because I couldn’t afford a darn thing. It sucked dude, but I got better. I promise it gets better.
#20 Toaster to a Pawn Shop
I took a toaster to a pawn shop. He laughed and said he didn’t need it.
#21 Sold Plasma for Food
I sold plasma twice weekly to pay for food. I got my student ID renewed a month after I was kicked out of school because it doubled as a free bus pass—I still can't believe that worked. Popcorn was an integral part of my diet at the time because it was dirt cheap. Summer 2011 was rough but now I'm much better off now.
#22 Drove to Mom's for Gas
I drove a town over to my mom's for a home-cooked meal in hopes she would give me 20 for gas for the ride back because the gaslight was on.
#23 Ketchup Packets
I used to take a handful of ketchup packets (or whatever sauce I could find) and just use those as sustenance throughout the day (even though it was probably more calories to consume than what they gave me). I can't stand ketchup now.
#24 Coffee and Rice
My brother and I poured our coffee into dry white rice for breakfast when we didn't have any money to buy food. It made a nice porridge-like meal. We also took one pack of instant noodles and stretched it out to eat for the full day for the both of us by adding water and lots of salt for flavor. Those were hard times.
#25 Bachelor Chow
In college, I used to take a packet of ramen and crunch or into little pieces and pour it into a bowl and cover it in Taco Bell Mild Sauce and eat it like cereal. I called it Bachelor Chow.
#26 Dumpster Diving
Restaurants typically have huge trash bags that take a long time to fill up. This means that dumpster diving is almost guaranteed to be disgusting. But did you know that if you wait until the end of a shift, most places will have to empty the trash as an end-of-shift duty? And if you keep an eye out, you can grab food off the top of the bag that's still pretty much fresh?
#27 Raccoon Meal
I cooked and ate an animal I saw get struck by a car. It was the first time that I had eaten in two days.
#28 Date for Dinner
I went out on a date because I hadn't eaten in three days and I was so hungry. I tried to order off the cheap list and be the best date ever. I'm still ashamed of it almost 10 years later. Hunger will make you do things you never imagined you'd do. I felt really dirty about it afterwards and never did it again.
#29 $1 Can of Cold Soup
I ate a $1 can of cold "chunky" soup with a plastic spoon while sitting in my car in the WalMart parking lot in mid-winter in the dark. I was crying because I was poor and new to the area and had no friends. That was a Christmas Eve to remember.
#30 Saving 20 Cents
I saved on transport one way. Going to uni was mostly uphill around 9 to 10kms from where we stayed, so we took public transport. Going home (since it was mostly downhill), I walked. Take note, I studied in Asia and the standard fare was 20 cents one way. And I tried saving the extra 20 cents just so that I could get to school the next day.
#31 Re-Used Paper Cups
I re-used paper cups from my university’s cafeteria for weeks at a time because new cups cost $0.25 or something and refills of water were free.
#32 Last $5
My husband and I way back in 2009 used the last $5 we had the night before payday and bought four Jr. Whoppers and one small fry for $5. We raided the cup holder for the tax. That was our dinner and for breakfast, we had nothing because we had to go to the bank to get my husband's paycheck.
#33 Sugar and Ketchup Packets
Ate nothing but packets of sugar and ketchup when I took a one-week trip by bus from L.A. to Bangor, ME.
#34 Metamucil for Lunch
We doubled the dose on a serving of Metamucil (aka fiber) and loaded up on a ton of water so my husband could have food for work. When we did share a meal, I often ate like a third of what he did. I always said I had been munching while I cooked or that I couldn't help myself when I brought out the food. Not that he ever really noticed...
Reused a stamp.
#36 $1 Jiffy Cornbread
This was 30 years ago. My mom and dad made sure we were never hungry, but one month I remember it being really rough. There were four kids and my parents. My mom found a grocery store across town that had a sale on Jiffy Cornbread mix: 10 for a dollar with a limit of 10 per customer. We had $15 for the month for food. My mom got a church friend to give her and us four kids a ride to the store. She gave each of us a dollar and instructions to buy 10 Jiffy Cornbreads. We had every variation of cornbread you can imagine that month, but we did not go hungry.
#37 Radish Burrito
Radish burrito: two radishes, one tortilla, and a packet of hot sauce, age unknown.
#38 Meeting Snacks
I had just started a new job after barely scraping by with my old one. There was a lapse in paychecks so I was super-extra-broke. At the orientation for the new gig they had snacks—granola bars, chips, fruit, etc., so I stocked up. I grabbed a few when people weren't looking or tried to be the first in and out of the room so that I could sneak more into my purse.
#39 Stale Pancakes
I made "pancakes" from a stale can of Italian bread crumbs, one egg and water. I sprinkled them with "Sugar in the Raw" I'd taken from a Dunkin Donuts when I went in to use the bathroom.
#40 Oatmeal with Salt and Pepper
I had nothing but oatmeal, salt and pepper, so I made a big pot of plain oatmeal. I saved it in glass jars in the fridge and ate that every day for ten days. It sucked.
#41 50 Cent Burritos
Taco Bell used to have 50 cent burritos. I’d stock up on them for the week. Also, my roommate and I would bring Tupperware hidden in our purses to an all-you-can-eat buffet. We’d eat until we were uncomfortably full and then fill the containers up with more food to eat later.
#42 $10 Gym Membership
I lived out of my car and bought a $10 per month gym membership to Planet Fitness just so I could shower every day.
#43 Homeless in Las Vegas
I was homeless in Las Vegas for a summer after a series of ridiculous events, capped off by the guy I had paid three months advanced rent to getting arrested for fraud and the landlord kicking us out. I managed to get room key cards for several of the hotels in Las Vegas that people had thrown away. Then I'd stay up all night, and sleep in one of the chairs at the pool during the day.
You had to show a key card to get into the pool area, but once you were in they didn't pay much attention that what you did. The pool at the Paris had a handicapped bathroom you could lock, so I'd "shower" in there. I managed to survive through the summer on about $20 without stealing or begging. It probably helped that I was an early 20s white guy in decent clothes, I got away with a lot.
#44 Rifling Through Goodwill Couches
I rifled through the couches at goodwill for change to buy a $1 burger.
#45 Scented Perfume Ads
I rubbed the scented pages in perfume ads in magazines on myself.