Living on the Cheap:

Tips and helpful hints for eating well within your budget

By Susan Drinkard
Reader Staff

I love a deal. Who doesn’t?

What’s more, I hate wasting food, wasting time, wasting money and wasting resources probably more than anyone you have ever met. If anything is really a sin, it is wasting. The amount of garbage that leaves our house every week sickens me, and when I put something in the trash, I am often stricken with guilt because I probably could have figured out a way to reuse it if I had tried harder.

I make my own laundry soap because it’s way cheaper than the store-bought kind.

I have purchased most of the Christmas gifts I will give this year because of serious bargains I found at Larsons and Penneys.

It doesn't get any uglier than this.

It doesn’t get any uglier than this.

I am embarrassed to say how many times each month—okay, week—that I peruse through the fence at the free pile at the area dumpsites. I tell Laura, a kind and friendly waste management adviser at the Upland Drive locale, that I am looking for prizes for my women’s group’s Bingo games and also for household stuff and clothing for needy people I know through my social work job. And I am. One of my hobbies is taking perfectly good clothing home, washing it and donating it to Love, Inc., or to the Panhandle Animal Shelter Thrift Store. Admittedly, I keep some of the irresistible treasures, such as the Katharine Hepburnish bobble-headed angel that always agrees with me when I tap her head. Then there’s the gorgeous (not) safety pin art candleholder that will make a sweet gag gift in my family’s hilarious annual gift exchange.

If there were an award for top garage sale attendee in the Sandpoint area, I’d be your gal, or at least tied with Syd.

So when I asked Ben Olson at the Reader if he had room for a column on living on the cheap in Sandpoint, I was happy to hear his affirmative and enthusiastic reply. And what better place than the Reader for such a thing?

This week’s issue is devoted to food. So this column is about eating on the cheap in Sandpoint, which is possible. Really, it is.

As I go somewhat placidly through my mental noise and outside haste in our beautiful burg, I have found ways to stretch my food dollar that I am perhaps unwisely sharing here.

Here is my number one secret for eating nutritious food on the cheap. Don’t tell anyone. Just before payday, when I have about $17.50 left in my checking account, I go to the hospital cafeteria and buy carryout entrees in a biodegradable container they provide that I take home and creatively build a meal from in less than 10 minutes.

John, who works at the BGH cafeteria during lunch hour.

John, who works at the BGH cafeteria during lunch hour.

For example, my dad was staying overnight recently and knowing a meal without meat would elicit a “for crying out loud” exclamation of disappointment, I quickly bought pork chops at the hospital for him—$2.75—and a day-old delicious dessert for a mere $0.50. Then I went home and added some greenery and leftover rice.

“How did you do this?” he asked. “I didn’t smell any pork chops cooking.”

When I told him about the hospital food, he was so impressed. The apple does not fall far from the tree, and if it did, I would still pick it up.

Here is something I do that seems kind of like cheating, but if it hits your frugality soft spot, then you might try it. I get a small carry-out container at lunchtime when the hospital has its amazing array of veggies in the salad bar, and I fill my container with radishes, beets, cauliflower, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, green and black olives, and a token broccoli floret and pay less than $2.00. I go home and add this to a bag of organic spinach or lettuce and I have a big delicious salad. If I had purchased beets, cauliflower, mushrooms, green and black olives, radishes, etc. at the grocery store, it would have cost considerably more and most likely the cauliflower and mushrooms would soon look like my hands—covered in unsightly dark spots.

Last Friday, the cafeteria featured tortilla soup for $1.75. Add a side of rice for $0.80 and you have a meal for $2.55.

Mmm… cheap salad.

Mmm… cheap salad.

The photo of the salad is one I bought in its entirety at the hospital cafeteria for $2.50. Sooooo delicious.

Okay, on to other food deals.

My work takes me to all the soup kitchens, and these will be featured in subsequent issues. But for people who are scared of being seen there (even though everyone is welcome at all of them) there is food—good food—that can be had for under $5 at area restaurants.

I consulted Chris Bessler, who is a generous fellow to his friends and employees but who doesn’t like to spend over $5 for his lunch. He goes to Tango in the Columbia Bank for a good-sized spinach turnover or empanada for under $5. He also suggests Winter Ridge’s lunch buffet, which is sold by weight, so you can get several salads for $5 if you go with the lighter weight ones and choose with discipline. Honestly, I have never kept it under $5 at that tempting buffet.

Then there’s seemingly everyone’s favorite: Joel’s on Church Street. You can order a bean taco there for $2.05, and if you can handle the idea of a cow dying for you, then there’s the beef taco, or a chicken taco, each $2.05. For most people two tacos is filling. One of my favorites at Joel’s is the bean tostada, a filling and delectable repast for $3.25.

Here’s to eating and living on the cheap in Sandpoint.

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