Lending a Helping Hand, On a Budget

I thought long and hard about writing this post. I write all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, but I wanted to make sure that I'm not writing this post to pat myself on the back and show off "Look what an amazing person I am". Because if that was the intention I wouldn't be writing it. 

I already am hearing detractors responding here saying "Come on, Penny, your whole life and blog is about showing off, telling everyone how amazing you are. How is this any different?" 

To the outside eye maybe it all looks the same. I do a lot of things publicly. I share a lot of things. But overall my goal is one main thing. To help people. 

When I share things, even if they seem like I'm "showing off" my goal is to help people get ideas, to maybe inspire people, never to make people possibly feel inadequate compared to me.

But this felt different. Maybe because I worried that instead of people saying "Oh, Penny is really good at frugal living/has great recipes" they'd think "Oh, she thinks she's all that, she wants to show everyone that she's a good, kind person." And that is what made me sit a few weeks on this before posting.

The reason I decided to write this, in the end, is that one of the things I've heard people say about not wanting to be frugal is because they consider themselves givers, and they don't want to turn into a "cheap" stingy miserly person. Because people might not be aware that being money conscious doesn't mean not being a giver, but it may mean being a giver in other ways. When I started my blog, I certainly didn't have any money to give anyone, but I knew I could help via sharing ideas. And fortunately, many people let me know just how much those ideas helped them. I also have started quite a few support Facebook groups, for frugal living locally, frugal cooking, mental health, divorced women, etc... Some giving can be completely free. Especially sharing of ideas. Or giving emotional support?

But what about giving actual, tangible things? That too is possible when you live frugally. And for me, if anything, being frugal allows me to give more easily because I don't worry that by giving, my family will lose out.

Last month, after so long being exhausted because of thyroid issues, I finally started having more energy. Still low energy, but enough that I wanted to be able to give back. I live in an amazing community and while I was under the weather, I had so many friends who helped me out in so many ways including bringing us supper quite a few times. My community has a kindness initiative and they purchased a freezer via donations, to be stocked with meals to give to families as needed. So while I didn't make anything when there was a drive to stock the freezer, once I did finally have enough energy to do something extra (especially since my kids were at their dad and I got a bit of a break) I decided to make some meals for the freezer to be given to families that need a meal.

Specifically, because I am frugal I was able to make these meals with very little cost to myself. But that doesn't mean it was any less appreciated.

Before I decided to post this, in addition to my previous concerns, I decided to ask on Facebook if people think that when you make someone a meal it comes off badly to use cheap foods, and overall the consensus is that as long as its a respectable delicious meal it doesn't matter how much it actually costs. For this the effort and the final result matters far more than the amount of money that went into it. With that reassurance, I decided that this can be posted.

So what did I make?

Thai curry fish with rice.

I had some cheap fish fillets that I'd purchased on sale, hoping that it would be tasty and good to use for various recipes. But I found that the fish was not only water logged, but even worse, it had random bones in it, which meant that I was very limited in what I could do with it, since I couldn't leave the bones in. So I decided to use that fish by first baking it and then deboning it, using the fish flaked in a recipe.

I had a bunch of leftover rice from a previous meal in my fridge. And a yard full of giant sea beet greens that taste exactly like swiss chard.

I have some packages of Thai fish curry paste that I purchased from the scratch and dent store and it hit me that that would be the perfect flavor to go with the fish and sea beet.

I cooked up the sea beet, filling my large dutch oven with the greens, but, of course, greens cook down to a smaller amount. I then added the flaked fish and the curry paste. While I could have left it just like that, I decided it needed something else, so I added a can of coconut milk and a bag of frozen peas. To season I added soy sauce and some onion and garlic.

Doesn't it look delectable? Once the curry was all cooked, I added the rice and cooked it a bit more so the rice would absorb the flavor. 

I then divided it up into different disposable containers to go into the freezer for these families.

After that, I labeled them as to which different dietary needs they fit- they are all gluten free, egg free, dairy free, pescetarian, and the only common allergen in them was fish and coconut.

With the amount I made I ended up filling 3 containers with 4 large servings and another container with 2 servings.

Total cost?

The coconut milk was $1.42. The curry paste was $2. The peas were $2.85. The fish was $2.85. The greens were free and the rice was at most $1. 

Total therefore of $10 for meals for 4 families, or 14 people, or approximately 70 cents a person.

It took me less than 30 minutes to make it as well.

I was able to lend a helping hand for that many people in that little time, expending just a little bit of energy, and not hurting my pocket.

Feedback from some families who received a meal from me so far has been positive.

Just because you're frugal doesn't mean you can't also be a giver. And it doesn't always have to take so much time or energy either.

P.S. I did think of keeping a little bit of this for me, and that is a good way to be able to help others at the same time as you're doing things for your family, because generally cooking for more people at one time isn't that much more work. However, I decided to go all out and give it all away and just keep the brownie points for myself. I did benefit from this though in more ways than one. Giving makes people feel better about themselves and its a great way to do self care. Additionally, by doing things for the community I end up building the community support network and making the community a better place for my family to live in as well.

If you are a frugal person, how do you fit lending a helping hand into your lifestyle? Is that one place where you will go all out, or do you help while also being frugal? Or do you try to find a middle ground?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. That looks delicious! I think using inexpensive ingredients is great, because you can make more and thereby help more people for the amount you can afford.

  2. I enjoy how you share tips and recipes like this as well as your frugal shopping and your life issues. Gosh, if people don't then they shouldn't read your blog. As they say, you do you!
    And don't worry about detractors!

  3. This looks so delicious that I really wish I liked curry so I could make something like this for myself!

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