The purpose of this post is not to give professional advice or make judgements about “the best” choices one can make in times of adversity. Your choices will likely be different than mine. This is meant to be an interesting exercise in critical thinking.
Nobody wants to think they’ll ever walk into a new or temporary apartment with nothing. But it happens. Maybe a natural disaster destroys your house. Or you’ve just left a women’s shelter. Maybe you’ve run from your home country because of war, and have just been accepted as a refugee. Either way, you find yourself standing in an empty subsidized apartment. You have a small amount of cash in hand, money on an EBT card, and some hungry people (including yourself!) to feed.
Well, this is a depressing post. Maybe I should skip this one…
No no no! I promise this’ll be fun. Maybe even inspiring. Because we’re going to visit the thrift store and get the tools we need to make a decent dinner TONIGHT.
It is at this point that I’m going to switch from “you” to “I”. No two people will come up with the same solution to this problem, and I’m only sharing what I could do, not what anyone else should do.
We’ll work with some reasonable assumptions. I have:
- running water, electricity, a stovetop and an oven, and a fridge for leftovers.
- paper plates, paper towels, and disposable cutlery.
- money on an EBT card for groceries
- $30 cash to set up my kitchen to make something TONIGHT.
Why can’t we just order pizza?
Because I’ve got to prioritize that $30 and invest it in my household. I need nutritious food to function well tomorrow, when I’ll have new challenges to face. And because one cannot eat the empty pizza box when the pizza is gone, no matter how much fiber the cardboard has in it.
We can do this! Let’s go!
First thing I’m picking up, regardless, is a kettle. Useful for oatmeal, hot beverages, and killing the ant colony on the back porch (yes, I’m a monster).
I ran into two unexpected problem immediately. One, there was not a single pot or pan for the stovetop! Uh oh. This means that I only have my oven to work with. So no pasta or soup. Hmm. I guess I’m roasting something. Two, there were no cooking knives. This might be intentional, for the safety of the employees. So I need to roast something that I can just plop in the pan and go. It’s ok; we can make this happen.
It was really hard to walk away from this. But at $15, it would eat up half my budget.
We can use this rectangular dish for roasting. It’s $4, and when I am able to cook pasta, I can make casseroles.
I’m probably going to need to peel something in the next few days; I can get a nicer peeler down the road.
I’m going to need dry measures soon, and these are just fine.
Rice cookers are supposedly really handy, but here’s a confession: I’ve never used one! I’m going to be too busy to learn how right now.
The pie plate is handy, but a bit small. Also, I’m starting to formulate a plan for dinner, and I know it’s not needed this evening.
Crockpots are perfect for low cost, hearty dinners. Still, it’ll have to wait for another trip.
Here we go! An electric steamer. I happen to have an old Sunbeam steamer from the early 90’s and it’s STILL going. Definitely going to consider this.
What’s the right price for a used salad spinner?
A salad spinner might seem superfluous, but I know I’m more likely to eat my greens if I don’t have to pat them dry.
$3 for one prep bowl? Pshht. We can do better than that.
Hey, that’s better! A set of two for $2.
Let’s take a second to go over what we definitely don’t need to bring home today.
So what choices have I made so far?
- kettle — $3
- Anchor Hocking dish — $4
- peeler — 50 cents
- measuring cups — $2
- 2 metal prep bowls — $2
- steamer — $10
- salad spinner — $3
Total — $24.50. That leaves me a bit of cash to search for a pot elsewhere.
So what are we making?
It’s going to be impossible for me to do a price breakdown on groceries, since prices fluctuate based on region and availability. That said, I found a super simple recipe for chicken and potatoes here. You can use any chicken pieces that are on sale (and yes, clearance meat is perfectly safe). I can use the coring part of the peeler to halve the potatoes. We’re going to also steam a $1 bag of frozen peas. The salad spinner isn’t going to be used for this meal, but tomorrow we’ll have leftovers with a salad.
We did it!
We found the tools we needed to make dinner this evening, plus items that we know we’re going to need in the very near future. And we have $5.50 left to look for a stovetop pot at another thrift store.
And for folks who are actually in a bind right now:
So this was just an exercise, but for those who are truly struggling, please get in touch with your local church, neighborhood closet, food pantry, and any other organizations that are unique to your community. You got this!