WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Thursday thoughts: Dana's story

Posted June 28, 2012

With the unemployment rate in NC at 9.4 percent for May, there are hundreds of thousands of people feeling the pain of this difficult economy. Many of our Smart Shopper readers live with unemployment and underemployment every day and some of them have generously offered to share their stories with us.

For the next few weeks, you will see how the economy has changed the way they live, eat, play and make ends meet. Some of them are successfully digging out after long-term job loss and some are smack dab in the middle of the black hole, struggling to pay bills every month. These are their real life stories and I thank them all for sharing their experiences.

My hope in running this series is that their suggestions and tips will be helpful to others who are also struggling. The creativity and determination these folks have shown is very impressive and I hope you are able to take away some helpful information from each situation.

To start off the series, Dana from Rocky Mount shares how her family of seven is dealing with this economy and the effects of a 6-month period when her spouse was unemployed. She took a serious approach to cost-cutting.

Dana's story

My family's shopping, eating, and play life has changed drastically with the down turning economy.

My husband is a painter and luckily is employed right now. Work had gotten so slow he had received unemployment for over 6 months in 2010.
I work in accounting and am grateful I survived the layoffs my company had last year.

We are a family of seven. My husband, myself, our four children and one grandchild. Our oldest is in college and not living at home but as soon as we lost that mouth to feed our second oldest daughter gave us a beautiful grandchild. Wow!!! Baby stuff sure did get more expensive in the last several years!!

We spent several of our early years struggling and had finally gotten to the point that we could do things like normal people. I remember several years back it was two days before my payday and I was balancing our checkbook and thinking, "Wow we are finally carrying money over!" I was so excited thinking we had reached the top of the mountain and finally made it to other side. We started taking vacations and having an occasional date night with my husband.

Life was good.

The biggest impact on our budget was gas. It went from costing us $40 a week a few years ago to, at its peak, $120. That’s a difference of over $300 a month!

Initially the gas prices caused us to put a hold on all family vacations. Being such a large family we have to drive everywhere we travel as its entirely too expensive to buy airplane tickets.

When that still left us stretched the next thing we had to cut out was my favorite – Friday night takeout! Nothing better after a long week at work then having no cooking or dishes on Friday night! About the time we gave up on Friday takeout, the price impact really hit the grocery stores. What I could get from the grocery store each week for about $100 now was costing me over $140 (another $160 a month). So now we had to cut out snack foods and extracurricular activities for the kids. No more T-ball, basketball or cheerleading.

Lots of extra expenses during this time included: daughters' graduation, college, new baby, husband laid off over Christmas one year, youngest child diagnosed with epilepsy, unexpected vet bill for injured pet and home repairs. We had to replace our central heat and air, refrigerator and stove.

Now I spend at least five hours a week clipping coupons and doing what I call “budget shopping” just to get our grocery bill to fit within our budget. We no longer pick what we are having for dinner, we have whatever was on sale that I had coupons for. I completely have nothing left to take out of our budget and if prices continue to rise I do not know how to make ends meet from here.

That last few weeks the gas prices have me hopeful that there is an end in sight and we can once again resume the comfortable life we struggled so hard to get to.

Dana also e-mailed a couple other suggestions she thought of to help make ends meet

There are lots of great recipes on the internet for meals using sausage. Bulk sausage remains one of the few reasonably priced meats out there. We have breakfast for dinner a lot. One of the cheapest meals I fix for dinner now is sausage biscuits with homemade mac & cheese.

My family turned their nose up at this the first time I made it but after giving it a try they were like, "Hey, that wasn't so bad!"

Which brings me to the NO input. I used to ask before going to the grocery store if anyone had any meal suggestions for that week or I would bounce new recipe ideas off them. It is easier to shop using the sales and coupons. All us mothers want to please our families and once they say I want this or I want that, it’s hard to not come through for them. Now each of my kids gets to choose what we have for dinner on their birthday only.

Dana also shared that they now live on a budget of $50 per week for food and $25 a week for non-food expenses including pet food and diapers for her grandchild. She said that many of her best coupons for baby formula come from the Food Lion coupon kiosk. She also signed up with all the formula companies on their websites and receives coupons from them as well. She buys 3 Sunday papers so she can buy multiples of the good deals. She also has some words of wisdom for those who have kids that will eat though a month’s worth of snacks in a few days. Dana stores extra snack foods at her mom’s house to keep them out of reach! That’s such a great idea!

My great thanks to Dana for sharing her story and her suggestions for making ends meet in difficult times. Stay tuned for next Thursday when we’ll hear from another Smart Shopper reader about her struggles and triumphs. As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!


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  • pirategirl12 Jul 6, 2012

    Another cheap, tasty, and nutritional way to stretch ground meat is to add lentils to the dish. I was always a skeptic when I heard it mentioned before but it's very good....and cheap!!

  • wildfrenchrose Jun 29, 2012

    One way I saved money as a new wife was to only use 1/2 lb ground beef in Hamburger Helper dinners--I've always done it. I've tried it with a full pound of meat, and think that is wayyyyy to much.

  • braswellart Jun 29, 2012

    Love this Faye, what an encouragement! Dana, Thank you for sharing.

  • quemaster Jun 29, 2012

    Dana, Your story is an inspiration! Thanks for sharing both your story and your ideas. Faye, this is a great idea!

  • Nancy Jun 29, 2012

    Dana, thanks for sharing! Love this new addition to the blog Faye!

    Heremeaj - GREAT idea on bartering. It is becoming more and more prevalent with this tough economy that keeps getting tougher (I thought they said the recession ended in 2009??) people are going back to bartering goods and services and I for one love it!

    So if you know someone who can provide a service and you have something to offer in return, or goods/services exchange, all you need to do is ask! All anyone can say is no, nothing ventured, nothing gained :)

  • Kathy S. Jun 28, 2012

    Another way to stretch tacos or any other meal with ground beef is to mix ground chicken. If you have a way of grinding it yourself or can get the butcher to grind it it is usually only $1.99/lb at walmart. I have added ground chicken to our meatloaf and my family loves it even better now than before because it so moist. I usually use 1/2 ground beef and 1/2 ground chicken. When mixed you can't even tell that it is not all ground beef.


  • hollyh515 Jun 28, 2012

    I really like the website I have found it hard to come up with new recipes at times. I like this website because there is an option to add ingredients that you have on hand and it will come up with recipes that have those ingredients. It is a great way to use up things you already have at the house. Keep your head up Dana. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • kjsgranny Jun 28, 2012

    Thank you all for the encouragement!! (This is Dana by the way)It definitely gets tough some times. I do like the bartering idea heremeaj and am going to be thinking of ways to put that to use!

    Also, nice idea about the broccoli with the mac & cheese, I also add other ingredients to food to make it stretch. My family has not even noticed that when we have tacos I mix the taco meat with either pinto beans or black beans to keep the cost down.

    Thank you all again for all your kind words and encouragement. I love reading this blog daily getting new ideas and putting them to good use. You are all great!!

  • FlyingUnderTheRadar Jun 28, 2012

    Dana, you're going to make it...:)

    And I thought I was the only one who had a 'secret stash' to keep the kids snackpile under control...not that I don't want them to not have it, but I don't want to see it gone in two days...and if it's something that needs to be refrigerated, in the veggie bin under the veggies makes a great hiding spot...tee...hee...hee!

  • chesirekat1964 Jun 28, 2012

    Thanks for sharing Dana. I wish you and your family all the best. It sounds like your family is sticking together through these tough times. God Bless you for helping take care of your grandchild.