When the Fridge and the Wallet Are Both Empty

Several times in my life, I found myself without any money at all and an empty refrigerator. Thanks to my atrocious money management, I needed food but had absolutely no money to spare until my paycheck arrived later in the week. That meant three or so days without food. I didn’t want to go to a soup kitchen, but I began to wonder if this was the only option without resorting to stealing or some other less than ethical chicanery.

It’s not. Here are five easy ways to get food in your stomach at no cost – if you’re in a pinch.

Call the local churches and ask if there are any community gatherings that evening. In almost every town of any size, there are freewill offering dinners held at a church every night of the week. Show up there and eat; you don’t have to donate, though when you have money in your pocket again, you might want to show up at another freewill dinner and give a healthy amount so that they can continue to provide this service. The crowds at these are generally elderly, so you can usually find interesting dinner companions if you put some effort into breaking the ice.

Check the community calendar. You can usually find one of these online or by contacting town hall or the local chamber of commerce. Quite often, there will be free continental breakfasts or small meals available at community gatherings, such as a meet and greet with a politician or a community meeting of some sort. Go to these, fill your stomach, and you might find some new information about your community as well.

Visit at the very end of a farmer’s market. If there is a farmer’s market near you, visit it just as people are packing up and offer to get rid of any leftovers they might have. Be aware that many people won’t want to give away anything, but some will. It’s going to be picked over, but it’s also free fresh produce that you can take home and cook in some fashion.

Visit a grocery store in the middle of the day, especially on weekends. Most grocery stores offer some free food samples during the day. If you want to maximize your samples, go to a Sam’s Club and request a one time day pass. Sam’s Club offers incredibly abundant food samples, especially on Saturday afternoons.

Visit a car dealership in the morning. Many car dealerships have free coffee, bagels, and doughnuts in the mornings. Stop by one on your way to work and tell them that you want to browse the lot a bit and you’re not close to making a purchase. Eat your food as you walk around the lot, then leave. I’ll admit that this marketing technique worked for me; I wound up buying a vehicle at the place that gave me consistent free bagels when I was particularly poor.

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  1. Bob says:

    Ask if your local church has a food bank. Many will give you a box / several bags of groceries just for the asking. You usually don’t have to be a member of the church.

  2. Alice Williams says:

    Hello I am a working 33year old single mother of four children ages ranging from 17-5 years old.I begun surfing the net in search of a food bank or church where i would be able to ask for some food assistance however i happen to stumble on this site. I belive your ideas would be great for me however i just dont have the slightes idea of how to begin managing my money or even how to begin managing my own bussiness I said to myself this might be impossible due to the fact that i only make $12.00 an hour. What do you think can you work with me or am I barking up the wrong tree? p.s. you never know what it might turn out to be

  3. Another idea that has gotten me through in lean times has been to work in a restaurant as a cook, dishwasher, server, host, cashier. These jobs have a lot of turnover, fewer hours–and there is going to be a meal during your break.

  4. Macinac says:

    If your money is not at absolute zero — say you have a buck or two — look for foods that provide high nutrition for low price. The one that comes to mind is eggs. For one dollar you might buy half a dozen nowadays, and that will carry you for two days if necessary. They are easy to cook, of course, just boil ‘em.

  5. Jim Culver says:

    If you can scrounge together the money for a Costco membership card (or get one as a gift), it can be a great place to get free food. Here in Washington state, the local Costcos have a variety free food samples almost every weekend.

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