Having been thrust into an extreme frugal life, our weekly grocery budget was reduced to $20 -$25 a week for everything.
Knowing that is all that was available made me completely redo the way we ate.
A single pound of hamburger had to last for a week. I would fry it up in a cast iron skillet and then add water and thicken it to make a gravy. I carefully doled out that gravy onto rice or potatoes to give our meal that little bit of extra it needed to feel more complete. That little bit of meat seemed to work to keep us all feeling that we weren't deprived.
I kept some sugar on hand to be able to make dessert when we had guests, but otherwise we no longer ate desserts. That was huge, coming from our Amish background where no meal, including breakfast was complete without dessert.
Some kind of hot cereal for breakfast was much more economical than serving cold cereal.
I switched from butter, to the much cheaper option of margarine for all the cooking and baking. We still used butter for our bread, but really cut back on the amount of bread we used as well.
Anything other than the absolute most basic of essentials was cut, which included cheese which I happened to love. I discovered it is quite possible to live without it, though I missed it a lot.
We had a garden, which meant that we always had an abundance of vegetables, both fresh and canned during the summer, and only canned for the rest of the year. That really helped us even as the fresh produce aisle used to beckon to me and I resolutely ignored it. We ate so many canned green beans during those lean years that by now when ever I taste them it transports me back to those days.
We saved every bit of leftover food and found ways to either incorporate them into our next meal or simple reheat them. But nothing was allowed to go to waste.
Paper products ... paper towels and napkins were out. Using reusable rags for cleaning up messes worked great in place of paper towels, and fabric napkins replaced the paper ones. As far as toilet paper, we were happy to find the Always Save brand 4 packs were less than a dollar.
Vinegar replaced all my various cleaning soaps and cleaners, and the laundry detergent was switched to the cheapest option I could find.
I always started our weekly grocery shopping with twenty five dollars in my wallet, and kept careful track of the exact amount I was going to have to pay as I added items to my grocery cart. It was always a good feeling when I had a dollar or two left over. I'd squirrel it away to be used when ever we had guests and needed a little something.
I'll talk more about how I made special meals on a budget, later.