Surviving on a 20-pound Bag of Rice Due to Budget Cuts

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So here I was, in New York City at 22-years-old barely making enough money to keep a roof over my head and put food in my mouth. Luckily, I can be a pretty resourceful person, please remember the hoarding of hotel toiletries, and found ways to feed myself for little to no money.

Many of my formative years were spent in Asia which influenced a lot about me, including dietary habits. A bowl of Japanese sticky white rice is my soul food so I came to New York armed with a rice cooker, pillaged from my parent’s basement of course.

IMG_3112(Still my pride and joy.)

Fortunately, the local grocery store (Trade Fair) catered to the diverse neighborhood I found myself living in. For those who haven’t been in a New York City grocery store, it’s quite an experience. Aisles are barely wide enough to fit a small grocery cart and two standard size humans can barely fit side-by-side, it’s almost enough to make you run screaming for the suburbs. For those of us who dislike being touched, particularly by strangers, it’s a nightmare.

Packed subway(Subways are also a treat. Clearly he agrees.)
Photo credit to Jessie Jay

Bracing myself, I entered the store and after anxiously hunting, finally found my holy grail: a bag of rice. She was a beauty, all 20 pounds of her. The $12 price tag threw me for a loop because I had only budgeted for $30 of grocery spending money. The idea of spending nearly half my budget on just rice caused me to break out in the kind of cold sweat only a financial problem can induce. After several minutes of mentally debating the purchase, and majorly clogging up the aisle for all other standard sized humans, I threw the sack over my shoulder and headed for checkout.

Army(Trade Fair is still my Vietnam.)

It was an excellent purchase that I proceeded to survive off of for many months while my finances continued to take a beating.

IMG_3110(There she is.)

In addition to eating copious amounts of rice (don’t worry I usually added eggs or veggies) I also became something of a scavenger. As a babysitter, cupboards of children’s snacks were at my disposal, even if they were mostly the organic cardboard tasting kind of snacks that Manhattan parents are partial to.

In page life we were fed pizza on Thursdays during double-show tapings. There were usually leftovers and, after the first week, I wised up and started bringing zip-loc bags with me.

Cold Pizza(I wish I could say it looked more appetizing than this.)

The real haul came from my barista job. Not only I would get free beverages at work, but I could also take home “expired” food when I closed up shop. Needless to say, I enjoyed closing. Sure it was mostly scones, microwaveable breakfast wraps and the occasional bistro box, but free food just tastes so good. With all three of my jobs being of the moving-around variety I didn’t have to worry about packing on the pounds from cake-pops and pumpkin loafs.

Starbucks-NYC-Other-Food(Yes, I have sampled all the above products.)

My rice and scavenging days taught me a lot about how to budget money and gave me an appreciation for a meal with decent nutritional value.

The term budget causes some people undue stress. For me, it’s empowering. It’s important to understand how much money you earn after expenses and then figure out where to allocate your remaining funds.

For many millennials, standard expenses include rent, utilities, cell phone bill, transportation, food and student loans. In New York my expenses averaged out to$1,174 a month, before food. Even though food is obviously an important category it was where I could scrimp because I scavenged elsewhere.

Some financial experts recommend writing down every penny you spend throughout the day to keep track of your spending habits and learn where cuts can be made. It’s great advice but often disregarded after a day or so. Others recommend just understanding your financial parameters and living within them so you can begin to save and invest.

Money Journal 2

(Be sure to include the price of your new notebooks and pens.)

I’m partial to the latter, live within your means. If you earn $2,000 a month then don’t spend more than $2,000 a month, including all your expenses. Sounds simple, but if you aren’t paying attention to your finances all those dinners out, Starbucks coffees and drinks at the bar add up, fast.

Bonus: My favorite recent blog post about budgeting can be found here (Budgeting: the no budget approach) from Reach Financial Independence.

11 thoughts on “Surviving on a 20-pound Bag of Rice Due to Budget Cuts

  1. Sean and I rarely ordered drinks out during the lean years and even now I feel like I’m splurging when I do it. We were big fans of the rice and stir fry also which explains why Sean will never ever eat it again, had his fill. You are building such character and these lessons will make you appreciate the “less lean” years, I promise!!
    (ps you have a great voice as my writing teachers would say, this will keep people coming back!)

  2. Thanks for the mention! I was lucky to have hospitality jobs as a student as well, McD, haagen dazs (survived on ice cream for a while), a hot meal at the end of the shift is a blessing when you make minimum wage in a big city.

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  4. Great post. I find budgets empowering too. 🙂 It’s always good to find a kindred spirit. It’s always amazing how ingenious we can become when we have to make ends meet. Thanks goodness you had the right kind of jobs to help you stretch your food budget!

  5. I have one of those 20 pound bags of rice. I looove rice. We either have that or pasta with almost every meal. So economical!

    Minute Rice or boil-in-bags of rice are one of my “costs worth avoiding” coming up in a future post.

  6. being chinese, rice is a staple for me, and you are right, it is the perfect staple for frugal types like us. it keeps for ages, so u can buy in bulk, and it takes very little fuel to cook. and there are lots of ways to eat it so u dont get fedup of it. and it is very filling. what not to like.

  7. I remember times when I only had ramen noodles and leftovers to eat during and a bit after college. Now, its full circle, focusing on what matters. I started living on $10 a day recently to focus on my startup, Phroogal. Although, $10 = $70 in a week which is pretty sizeable, I try and not to spend that at all.

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