Want to Know What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages? The Real Deal From a Mama Who Has Been There.

 





Want to help the homeless in your area? You can create a care package, survival kit, or blessing bag. No doubt you’ve seen these posted online somewhere, but often those items are not as helpful as you might hope. I can tell you what to include to help the widest range of the homeless, and why.How do you know, you may wonder. I’ve been homeless. I am an educated, perfectly nice, regular mom, who has been homeless. Multiple times. I’ve lived in my car, I’ve lived in a tarp tent, I’ve stayed in transitional housing. Many people are living only one paycheck away from homelessness, and this includes families in every area of every state.

Jump to the list.

Want to know what the homeless really want in care packages? The real deal from a mama who has been there.

A person is a person, no matter where they live.

(Tweet: A person is a person, no matter where they live. #actofkindness http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom)

  • The homeless are here, right now, and they look just like everyone else.
  • That man sitting in his car in the big box store parking lot, he’s not waiting for his wife to come out of the store.
  • That single mom in the grocery store, juggling children and frowning while she tries to choose something, she’s spending her last five dollars on food.
  • The kid at the laundromat, who has a job but still can’t afford rent.

At the extreme edge of homelessness are the people who are living on the street. However they got there, a little help can go a long way.

Situation is not character

(Tweet: Situation is not character. #gratitude http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom)

You should not see someone less fortunate, feel guilty, and make a care package to throw at them. Shelters and other aid agencies have volunteers who have been trained on how to deal with various types of people needing help. They have methods in place to determine that people who need their services get them, or they give them freely and have practices in place to make that process safe for all. Why not invest in the programs and services they already have in place with a donation? If you want to look into a charity you can use a resource like GuideStar or Charity Navigator to learn more about them.

If you want to make something to give to people who are asking for money on the side of the road, you can do something like this, but they may be begging and not have a real need. Is that ok with you?

There are two levels of our social strata we are dealing with here. One is the professional beggar/panhandler you see on the side of the street. The other is someone who is living without a stable home or basic necessities. The plumage of these species is often indistinguishable. Should you give them money? How can you tell if they really need it? Are they trying to take advantage of you? Are you in any position to judge, either way?

There’s no way for you to know how that person got there. Use your best judgement. Actually have a conversation with that person, as if they were standing in line at the store with you. (Always be safe.)

If you’re tied up in knots about your help going to the “wrong” people, donate to your local shelter. They know who needs help and how to help them.

What’s the best way to get to know your friendly neighborhood legit homeless person? Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. This is the place where they serve a hot meal to whoever walks in. Some of these people are just looking for company, some are poor but have a home, and some are homeless. You will find that it is often hard to tell the difference. There is no uniform for the homeless. Their plumage is the same as yours. (Tweet: There is no uniform for the homeless. Their plumage is the same as yours. #homelessnessstinks http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom) Should you ask them right out? Well, would that make you uncomfortable if the roles were reversed? Most likely, that would be embarrassing, and you should save the deep probes for when you know them better. As you get to know people, you can ask them what they need, and you might be surprised at the answers they give you.


Give Them a Ride (Kinda)

211If you can’t stand giving money to a panhandler, and can’t stand not giving help to someone in need, I have a plan for you.

Get some maps of your local bus routes (the nearest city with a homeless shelter, for you country folk). Mark any homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and free church suppers. Make a document with the name, address, and service hours for these places, plus any handy resources for the homeless. Add a bus fare. Place in zip bag.

The panhandler will take the money from your kit and toss the rest, the homeless person may save this for a really cold night, but none of that is your choice. You choose to do a good thing and the rest is up to them.

If there are no services in your podunk town you can make a list of charities that can help, and 211 is a national database you can call to find help.


So… I know the drawbacks of delivering this kind of care package personally (safety being an important one)
I don’t need recognition for this act
and I know some or all of this may be thrown away.

Why do it, then?

For one thing, I know that some part of this may be useful to someone in need, and if I give it to the shelter that’s who will get it. Making the packages can be a mindfulness exercise. And making them with kids can be about gratitude, talking about appreciating what we have and being kind to others. Just because this isn’t a grand gesture, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. (Tweet: Just because this isn’t a grand gesture, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. #homeless http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom)


Care Packages for the Homeless (the list)

*Update: Now you can download a PDF with the most important bits of this post, for your mission project, act of kindness, or community service idea.

Care Package for the Homeless PDF

Care Packages for the Homeless (the list)

Clothes

  • Gloves (ones you can layer are good, so if something gets wet you can switch, waterproof are good)
  • Socks (this is possibly the most important thing, thermal or wool)

NOT cheap socks. Socks are not available at the thrift store like most other clothes, but keeping your feet clean and healthy is important when they are your primary transportation. At one point I had regular socks, wool socks, plus a styrofoam cutout under the liner of my boots. If you know the wonder of wool socks you know that’s what you should get.

Toiletries & Health

NOT soap, if you are in a place with a shower they will have soap, public restrooms have soap
NOT shampoo, soap cleans your hair too. Travel size conditioner is nice.
NOT hand sanitizer, mouthwash, or anything else with alcohol in it. Addicts are drinking this stuff to get a buzz
NOT large bottles of anything, big bottles won’t fit in the backpack holding everything you own, include multiple small bottles they can trade or give away if you feel the small bottle isn’t enough
NOT really smelly toiletries, even if you think it smells good or they must stink and want to mask their odor. Hello, insulting

Food

  • Beef jerky (even if your teeth are junk you can suck on this until it’s mush and still get the protein)
  • Breakfast bars or cereal bars (they do crumble but you can still eat them)
  • Chocolate (sure it may melt, melted chocolate tastes good)
  • Mints (gum is hard for the dentally challenged)
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Raisins/dried fruit
  • Snack cups/applesauce/pudding cups
  • Tuna/chicken salad cracker kits
  • Water (dehydration is one of the biggest challenges, especially if you can’t get around easily)

*personal taste, dietary restrictions, and the status of your teeth limit how useful food will be
NOT granola bars/trail mix or other crunchy or sticky foods. If you want to include granola bars they will keep a long time, but they may have to be traded for something more appropriate. Many of our homeless are vets and do not have access to proper dental care. The way we treat our vets is a post for another day.

*UPDATE: I went to a vigil for the homeless and I saw an item that looked very useful once it was dark and my hands were numb. One woman was wearing a headlamp around her neck. These are like a flashlight, but they have a strap to wear on your head, mostly intended for camping. If I had been holding a flashlight I would have dropped it and broken it within 5 minutes, a waterproof headlamp and batteries would be very useful. They range anywhere from $10-40, and you can get them at the big box stores.

Money

Yes, money. You should make the best choice for you on whether you include money.
Not a ton of money, but if you had none dollars you can make $20 go really far.

How do you know what that person needs? The best person to know that is them. They know what they need, and if you give them money they can get it. Is that person possibly an addict/alcoholic/chronic money waster? Yes. Is that person a person who can make their own decisions? Yes.

*Money and safety: There is always an issue of safety when dealing with people who might be addicts or mentally ill and possibly violent. If you are donating your packages to the shelter money can be included (you should ask the shelter). If you are handing these out personally you might want to leave the money out.

Things that can be bought with that shiny money/needs you can’t predict (you can feel free to buy these things and include in care packages):

  • Coat
  • Scarf and hat
  • Sewing kit
  • Shoes
  • Sleeping bag or mat
  • Underwear
  • Adult diapers
  • Baby diapers
  • Comb/brush
  • Feminine products or menstrual cup
  • First aid kit
  • Infant formula
  • Medicine/pain killers
  • Nail clippers
  • Razor
  • Pet food
  • A day pass to a gym, campground, or truck stop for a shower
  • A night in a hotel to sleep warmly and soundly, without worrying about someone stealing your stuff
  • Can opener
  • Flashlight
  • Headlamp
  • Gas
  • Hand warmers
  • Pay-as-you-go cell phone and minutes
  • Pillar candles, matches
  • PO box to receive mail
  • Quarters for the laundromat
  • Stamps
  • Tarp 6×8 gives good cover without being bulky

NOT gift cards. If you just handed me a gift card, how am I going to get to that place the gift card is for? Do I spend to just under and write off that little bit extra, or do I wait until I have a little money to spend over?


The two most sought after items are socks for anyone, and pads for women. (Tweet: The two most sought after items are socks for anyone, and pads for women. #homelessness http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom) Yes, feminine hygiene pads. If you had no bathroom, no stuff, no money… what would you do for that one week every month? Besides cry.

Water is also important.

Pack in a big, clear zip bag, with an inventory at the front so they can see what’s in there.
Pack this just like you would pack for yourself or your children. Put goos in zip bags. Keep food separate. Don’t give used/opened items. Don’t give really nice things that will get the person beat up and the item stolen.

If you were to receive this, you might not need it right away. You might want to save it for a harder time that month. You have no place, and your backpack is full. What do you do with it? You stash it somewhere and hope somebody doesn’t take it. What happens to it if it isn’t in a zip bag? It gets wet and gross. Bag it! For a container you can use a gallon ziploc, gently used purse, shoebox, or sock, but I say haul your privileged tushie to the store and buy zip bags big enough to fit your items in. Better yet, put it all in a backpack.

Please note, if you are handing out packets most likely what is not needed immediately will be thrown away. If you want to hand these out yourself and are making handy packages this is just the way it is.

A card made by a child is welcome. A poem or something to read is nice. A religious tract comes off as being superior or preachy (try using your actions, not paper to send your message), although a heartfelt personal message with a bible verse can show you care.

Bonus item: Sympathy and encouragement. Nothing will touch you when you are in a hard place more than honest sympathy. Not condescension or pity, but a recognition that we all could end up in that same place. Take a moment to consider being in that situation. How many paychecks away from homelessness are you?

What’s the problem with a list like this? It tries to generalize a population that is very diverse. This list contains the things that will help the most people. But every area is different, every situation is different. As a homeless mom I would have loved hand sanitizer and trail mix.

Too rural to see homeless people around? There are homeless people everywhere, but sometimes you just don’t see them. Sometimes people in trouble have to go to a more urban area to access services to help them. Call a local church or town welfare office and ask where your care package should go, or use that handy 211.

Now that you have made a care package for the homeless and delivered it, you are awesome. If everyone helps a little we can make a big change. Enjoy that little happy bubble giving provides.

But are you done? Or do you want to do more. Volunteer. Educate yourself and write to the local paper, to your representative. Be an advocate.

Why do we have banks sitting on empty houses, rotting away, while the family who lived there is living in their car? Why do we have vets who risked everything for all of us, come home to be shoved to the edges of society? Why do we shun the people who have fallen victim to addiction and mental illness?

How is any of this ok?

Links

Homeless Survival: Practical Tips And Advice Derived From Personal Experience from The Survivalist Blog
Homeless veteran survival packs and gear lists from Wandering Vets
Items to give to area homeless people from MetaFilter
Make Sure To READ THIS Before Making Care Packages For The Homeless! from TheVeteransSite.com
Printables for Blessing Bags from Thirty Handmade Days
Thanks and Giving – Paying Blessings Forward from How Does She

Have excess money and don’t know where to put it? Donate to Hundred Nights, the shelter in Keene NH.
Hundred Nights

Homelessness stinks.

gravy

Advocating for the working poor and affordable housing in New Hampshire. Championing homeless families in NH.

Follow Melissa French: More With Less Mom & HousePunkery’s board Kindness bombing on Pinterest.
Follow Melissa French: More With Less Mom & HousePunkery’s board Do Good on Pinterest.

More With Less Mom

Also see
An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget from The More With Less Mom
An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget

I have a confession to make: the meal plan is a lie (homelessness stinks)
I have a confession to make: the meal plan is a lie (homelessness stinks)

Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen Challenge
Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen – The Challenge

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar

Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times – Thanksgiving Blessing Bags
Thanksgiving Blessing Bags

Photo credits: Hobo cats from Adam Koford on Flickr, see more of these kitties at the webcomic Hobotopia

We hope you enjoyed our What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages post

Shared with Best of the Weekend, Busy Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Idea Box, Inspire Me Wednesday, Lou Lou Girls Fabulous Party, Monday Funday, Motivation Monday, No Rules Weekend Blog Party, Project Inspire{d}, Small Victories Sunday, Totally Terrific Tuesday, Treasure Box Tuesday, Weekly Wrap Up Linky, Wonderful Wednesday.

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Check Your Privilege – Learn 8 Hurdles You Would Face if You Had to Live in Your Car

Do you know what it’s like to be homeless?

It is happening to good people, smart people, hard workers, nice families…

To have empathy for someone in that situation it simply takes a little effort on your part. Try this exercise to get a feel for what it is like for a homeless family sleeping in their car.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.


An Exercise in Empathy: Give Homelessness a Try

An Exercise in Empathy: Give Homelessness a Try

Even stronger than sympathy, empathy allows an even deeper connection with someone. To have empathy you have to have some understanding of the struggles someone is going through. It is easy to feel sorry for someone, and to want to help. It is not so easy to feel as they feel, if you are living comfortably and have never experienced anything like homelessness. You have to actually put yourself in someone else’s shoes to feel empathy.

Many people have participated in a sleep-out, where a group will spend a night outside to raise awareness or funds for homelessness. This is another event that builds empathy. For this particular scenario you will be emulating a family living in their car (borrow some cousins or nieces and nephews if you need some kids). Note I do NOT recommend you do this as a single person without a buddy.

Many of the families who become homeless will first stay with relatives or friends, and if that is not a possibility only then will they sleep in their car. So that is the scenario we will continue with. This isn’t even the bottom of the homelessness totem pole, a car is a resource many families struggle to maintain and is an asset some don’t have.

The homeless shelter is one place you could go. But most shelters are not really a safe place. Many shelters are nice, clean places with awesome people trying to help. But some shelters are dirty, infested places. They have sick people, violent people, drunk people, mentally ill people. They have nice people, too.

Resist the urge to judge any of those people, all of those people should have a warm place to sleep at night. Situation is not character. There are many resource-poor people who are constantly on the verge of homelessness. Odds are very high that you come into contact with someone in this situation in the course of your day.

Now take a moment to appreciate the fact that you don’t have to choose between a warm, possibly unsafe shelter to sleep in, or a cold, possibly unsafe car to sleep in.


What would happen if your family were living in the car?

Work

If you have a job, you still go to work. Many homeless people have jobs, they just can’t afford a place to live. You do need to minimize gas costs, though; if you can’t afford somewhere to live you can’t afford gas, either. If possible walk to work from where you parked your car to sleep, because gas costs money.

If you do not have a job you will still need to look for work. You can print your resume at the library. You will need to have an interview outfit ready to go, even if it’s in the car in a dollar store garment bag. The bad news is most employers won’t touch you with a 10 foot pole if you do not have a physical address.

School

Your kids will still go to school. They may go unshowered and a little hungry. When we lived in the car we usually had a banana or apple when we got up (oranges are messy), and then the school provided a breakfast for the kids when they got in.

When they get back from school they will do their homework in the car right away, because once it gets dark out they won’t be able to see. If they have to type anything up or look up anything on the internet that adds a trip to the library to your day.

Homeless kids qualify for free lunch automatically. The bad news is you have to prove that you are homeless, like get a signed letter from the people you are staying with, and your car doesn’t have thumbs to sign anything. We were already on the free lunch program when we lost our home. Another time we had a signed agreement that stated it was a temporary, short-term place to live.

Clothes

If you have a big car and can fit a storage tote or two in the back then that is a great idea. We had two tubs of clothes for four people, so we at least had a couple of changes of clothes. Light layers are a good plan. We packed comfortable clothes that you can sleep in as well as go into a store in, so potty breaks were inconspicuous. The sleep clothes got smelly faster than the day clothes, I had to pack more of those.

Food

In this urban homeless family scenario you should be parked in town, most likely at a 24-hour big box store. If you were in a tarp tent or staying at a campground you could use a little propane stove. Stores don’t like this so you are limited to unheated food.

You can go to the food pantry, but most of what they give you will need to be cooked. You will get some cereal you can eat dry or with milk if you can afford to get a little one you can use right away. You will get some canned goods you can eat cold, but your kids will most likely resist these foods. You may get baked goods depending on your pantry, and yes we did have cake for breakfast sometimes.

Once a week we would buy some lunch meat and ice for the cooler, and have milk and yogurt and fruit for that day. But most days we couldn’t afford that, so for this experiment I recommend skipping the cooler. We had lots and lots and lots of peanut butter and jelly.

During the day I wet wiped any silverware we used, and at the end of the day I put the silverware in my toiletry bag to wash in the bathroom sink.

Hygiene/Potty

Most playgrounds have a restroom. Libraries and gas stations have restrooms. 24 hour big box stores are ideal for unobtrusive potty trips.

First thing in the morning we would change into day clothes (under a blanket, hard to do privately in a car) apply deodorant, and brush our hair. Then we would go into the store with a small fanny pack size bag or purse that had toiletries like toothbrush and toothpaste. You can do this outside with bottled water, but this is not being inconspicuous.

The same procedure was performed at night before bed, going in to clean up and then squirm into clothes in the car. Most places frown on you bringing in a backpack, which would fit a change of clothes.

Sickness

You will be encountering lots of germs going in and out of stores and public places all day. Food safety can be an issue. If you get wet from rain or snow you can’t just change your clothes and dry them, you have to do laundry math to figure out how to distribute that resource.

You will be too cold or too hot, it’s a very nice day when you are comfortable.

You will most likely be dirty, we managed to shower once a week at a campground. Poor nutrition is also a problem, investing in multivitamins is a good idea. You are unlikely to get a good night’s sleep in an uncomfortable car, with lights on, people talking, car doors slamming, and waiting for cops just doing their job to ask you to move on.

And, you know, stress weakens your immune system.

Weather/Temperature

You have to be careful not to fog up your windows, this is a giveaway that you’re spending a lot of time in your car.

If it is raining or even snowing it is really important you stay dry, this is a good day to spend some time at the library. Librarians are awesome.

Dress everyone in multiple layers if it is cold, since you can’t afford to run the car to keep it heated. Bring blankets for everyone, or better yet sleeping bags you can roll up during the day.

If it is hot this is even more dangerous, we spent time alternating the big box stores and two area malls so we could be in air conditioning for the hottest part of the day.

What To Do

You will find that without electronics you will need to get creative. There are various splitters and cords to make your electronics work and keep them charged, except you have to run your car so you don’t run down your clunker’s battery, which burns gas. You can charge your phone and stuff in the mall or at the library. But your kids will get bored fairly quickly. You can’t just let them play in the parking lot, that will look suspicious and if you draw attention to yourself you will be asked to move on. If the weather is nice you can go for walks, or go to a park where they can play. My kids read a lot of books.


Try this exercise in empathy and see what kind of problems you come across. See how it makes you feel, with a warm bed still within your reach. See how much more comfortable your bed feels when you go a night without it. That choice to go back to your fluffy bed is a privilege that not all families have.

Want to check your privilege?

If you have achieved that feeling of empathy, what will you do with it? It may have changed you, but has it changed the life of one single resource-poor person?

  • The next time you see a homeless person and you keep walking right past, consider how close you yourself are to being in that situation.
  • The next time you read an article about affordable housing in the paper, think about writing a letter.
  • The next time there is a vote or election in your town, think about using the power of your vote.
  • The next time you hear a call for donations at a shelter, bring them a sleeping bag or some socks.
  • The next time you’re running around town doing errands, consider grabbing some extras to make a care package.
  • The next time you’re volunteering at a soup kitchen, sit and chat with the people dining. Listening without judgment is a great gift, and it’s free.
  • There is always a charity in your town that needs help, a food pantry, a homeless shelter, a church mission, or even just advocating from your comfy chair in your warm jammies.

You can do something to make a difference.


Did You Know?

7.8% of the homeless are children under 18. (1)
44% of the homeless are employed. (2)
37% of the homeless are families. (3)
In NH alone the number of homeless families rose 8% over the last year. (4) In Boston it was 25%. (5)

Have excess money and don’t know where to put it? Donate to Monadnock Area Transitional Housing, a homeless shelter in my area. Which I happen to be a board member of. So send LOTS of money.
MATS

Homelessness stinks. #homelessnessstinks

Advocating for the working poor and affordable housing in New Hampshire. Championing homeless families in NH.

Parking lot photo by Cliff Williams

More With Less Mom

We hope you enjoyed our Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless post

Also see
Want to know what the homeless really want in care packages? The real deal from a mama who has been there.
Want to Know What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages? The Real Deal From a Mama Who Has Been There.

post-explode-your-budget
An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget

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Seasonal Produce for February with Frugal Tips

It is important to know what veggies are in season. These are often the cheapest ingredients for your meal plan. Save money on groceries by buying according to the seasons. If you cook with real food you know that all you need is the basics in your pantry and a vegetable or two to whip up all kinds of tasty things.

Seasonal Produce for February with Frugal Tips from The More With Less Mom

Glorious seasonal fruits and vegetables for February:

*I have noted how long things stay fresh so you can meal plan to maximize your budget and eliminate waste

Arugula keeps 2-3 days fridge
Asparagus keeps 3-4 days fridge; save scraps for stock
Beets keeps 2 weeks fridge; save greens for stock
Bok choy keeps 3-4 days fridge; regrow from root end
Broccoli keeps 3-5 days
Brussels Sprouts keeps 3-5 days
Cabbage keeps 1 wk fridge; regrow from root end
Cauliflower keeps 1 wk fridge
Carrots keeps 3-4 wks; save tops to regrow greens, save scraps for stock
Celery keeps 1-2 wks; save bottom to regrow
Cilantro keeps 7-10 days; blech or sub parsley
Clementines keeps 1 wk pantry, 1-2 wk fridge; save peels for diy cleaners
Dill keeps 10-14 days
Fennel keeps 7-10 days fridge, it tastes like licorice and anise and you need it; save scraps for stock, use root end to regrow
Grapefruit keeps 1 wk pantry, 2-3 wk fridge
Kale keeps 5-7 days
Lemons keeps 1 wk pantry, 2-3 wk fridge; save peel for diy furniture polish
Lettuce keeps 7-10 days; save scraps for stock
Leeks keeps 7-14 days fridge; save scraps for stock , regrow root end
Oranges keeps 1 wk pantry, 2-3 wks fridge; save peel for diy homemade cleaner or simmer pot
Onions keeps 5-7 days fridge; save scraps for stock but I don’t like skins in stock, regrow from root ends
Parsnips keeps 3-4 wks fridge; save scraps for stock
Pears keeps 1-4 days pantry, 5-7 days fridge
Rhubarb keeps 5-7 days fridge
Shallots keeps 1 mo room temp; save scraps for stock but not skins
Sweet Potatoes keeps 1 mo pantry, 1 mo fridge; regrow by planting piece with eye
Tangelos keeps 1 wk pantry, 1-2 wks fridge; save peels for diy cleaners
Tangerines keeps 1 wk pantry, 1-2 wks fridge; save peels for diy cleaners
Turnips keeps 2-3 wk fridge; save greens and scraps for stock

Seasonal Produce PDF
Print out a handy PDF with all this info

Seasonal Produce Guide February

Download the seasonal fruits and vegetables guide image from The Vintage Mixer to your phone and have a handy reference with you

How Long Does It Last

Download this cute printable from Oh She Glows to keep track of what is the perishable-est.

Not sure how long your veggies will stay good? Try StillTasty.

Epicurious Seasonal produce maps by state
CUESA Seasonal vegetables by month

Use my custom Google search to scan over 150 sites for seasonal, real food recipes for your meal plan.

If you want more tips on how to stretch your produce and food budget check out my More With Less 7 Day Meal Plans.

As always, I sort my recipes by how perishable the ingredients are. I have found I can’t stick to a rigid day-by-day meal plan. I like to stay flexible, and don’t like to waste food.

We do a monthly meal plan since our income is monthly, and do weekly or bi-weekly shopping runs for produce and dairy. For my meal plan I organize my recipes in a 3-tier order, from the most perishable ingredients to the least perishable. So when I do a big shopping trip I get most of the produce we need (not that we’ve ever run out of money for veggies by the end of the month or anything). The first tier is really perishable stuff, like spinach and mushrooms. The second tier will hold a little while, like broccoli. The third tier just uses veggies like carrots and potatoes that will keep a month. Learn more about my Frugal, Flexible Monthly Menu Planning.

Frugal Flexible Meal Planning

More With Less Meal Plan
Real Food Monthly Meal Plan

February/Winter Meal Plan Pinterest Boards:

Meal Plan February (just look at all that tastiness!)

Recipes to Try Winter


Share with me: What do you do to reduce food waste?

More With Less Mom

*Also see our
Free Weekly Meal Plan Printable Template from The More With Less Mom
Free Retro Mid-Century Weekly Meal Plan Printable Template
We hope you enjoyed our Seasonal Produce for February/Winter

Photo credits: Seed store catalog cover from Swallowtail Garden Seeds

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An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget

Do you know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck? Or worse, none check to homeless? It is happening to good people, smart people, hard workers, nice families… To have sympathy for someone in that situation it simply takes a little effort on your part. Try a mental exercise, no sleeping outside necessary.

Sympathy: understanding between people; common feeling.

An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget from The More With Less Mom

  • If you’re lucky you are spending no more than 28% of your income on housing. But what if you lived in one of the areas where housing is tight and there is no affordable place to live? What if you had to pay more than 50% of your income just to have a roof over your head?
  • If you’re lucky you have a happy, healthy relationship with your partner. But what if they began to struggle with an addiction like gambling or alcohol, or became abusive?
  • If you’re lucky you have a steady income. But what if that job was outsourced, or too many skilled people were contending for that job?
  • If you’re lucky you have a support network. You could move in with your parents temporarily, or borrow money from family. But what if you had no support network, or they had no more money than you?
  • If you’re lucky you have an emergency fund. But what do you do when that money runs out?
  • If you’re lucky you have time to prepare for a move. But what if there just wasn’t any money, and you couldn’t compete with all of the other families trying to get into housing?
  • If you’re lucky you have transportation to your work, your doctor, and your school. But what if you didn’t have gas money, or your car blew up? Or you didn’t even have money for a bus pass?
  • If you’re lucky your breadwinner is hale and hearty. But what if they got sick, or injured, or disabled?

How far from homelessness are you living? Many Americans are one paycheck away from living on the street. There are many things that could happen to your neighbors, your friends, or your family, that could cause them to be homeless. There are things that could happen to you too, and that is what we’re going to explore.

When my family first became homeless it was because my husband became disabled. They could not diagnose his issue, so he did not get the disability benefits through insurance that he had paid for. Then they finally did diagnose it, and a year later we managed to get social security disability. We lived on credit cards and my meager take-home for a few months, but it didn’t take long before they started foreclosure proceedings.

Now that we have such a small income we are much more vulnerable to homelessness. The last time we were homeless our landlord was foreclosed on. Now we are paying 41% of our income for housing, and the place we could get costs a lot to heat. This does not leave a lot of room to save for emergencies.

So hopefully you have a budget. Maybe it’s all in your head. Maybe it’s really loose, just tracking the bills you get every month and the money you get from your job. Or maybe you have a super fancy budget that tracks every everything. No matter which end of the spectrum, you should have a copy of that budget.

First, you need to explode any cushion you have. Any checking balance, any credit cards, any savings, anything you could cash out or sell, that has all been exhausted. If you want this to stick you can think of ways this could actually happen to you, which will help you remember. Like the house burned down, the banks all collapsed, world war whatever broke out… think of something.

Now you have no cushion, you are literally living paycheck to paycheck. This is how most people start out when they’re young, and many people live that way all their lives. Assume you have no support network. You moved for a job, or your family moved away, or they are just as dirt poor as you and you can’t borrow from them. Now you cut all the extra stuff. Just basics, no more Netflix, no more Starbucks, no more makeup or fancy hair stuff, no more clothes.

For the sake of illustration I made up a random budget with vaguely realistic numbers that my magic eight ball picked. This does not cover fun stuff like gas or childcare, this is a bare bones thing. This would give you a cushy $2000 a month to spend on life.

Random monthly budget with no cushion (insert your numbers here)

Income $4,250
Expenses $2,200 (Housing 1,200, Electric 150, Internet 50, Cell phone 50, Food 750)
To Spend $2,050

Now you lose your income, and you can’t get it back. You might be living on the edge, and this is really easy to imagine. Or you might have two incomes and great job security. Maybe you have to stretch your imagination muscles, but think of a way that your income could evaporate. Suddenly robots can do your job, or people can 3D print that doodad you make. Nobody buys books anymore because the library is too awesome. There are no more gas stations to work at anymore, we all switched to solar. There are no more salespeople, everybody shops online. There are no more cashiers, people use self-checkout and money is electronic. They don’t build houses anymore, robots build them as modules, deliver, and assemble them. There are no more fast food chains, we all grow our own food on windowsills. Whatever you do, you can’t get paid for it anymore. Your budget goes badda-boom.

Random monthly budget with no income

Income $0
Expenses $2,200 (Housing 1,200, Electric 150, Internet 50, Cell phone 50, Food 750)
To Spend $-2,200

How many times could you float that $2200 you need to pay your monthly bills? None, because you blew that up already. You already fed your kids off your credit cards, you already sold your fancy car for a beater. You already started babysitting the neighbor’s kids but the beater is sucking up more money than you are making in gas. They only give you 60 days before they shut off your power. In some places just having your power shut off means your home is unfit for habitation and you can be evicted. Then odds are 50/50 if you don’t have power, you won’t have water. If you don’t have water things will get dirty and smelly pretty fast, and once you let bugs in you can be evicted. Meanwhile, you are cold and hungry. You pound that pavement in your clothes that don’t quite fit anymore, looking for a job, you stop at the library to check for new employment listings and print out your resume, and you walk home carrying three bags of food from the weekly food pantry.

Soon enough, you find yourself without home. The good news is, you don’t have all those pesky bills to budget for anymore. The bad news is, they’re still there, and they’re now on your credit report. You are living with a friend, you are living in your car, or you are living on the street. You are cold, tired, and uncomfortable, you are more likely to get sick, you are more often in danger, and you are much less likely to get hired. If you manage to win the lottery, or somehow land a job and save some money, you still have to compete with all the other families looking for affordable housing, with your lack of address and your besmirched credit report.

How would that make you feel? Can you sense the desperation that would come with each interview rejection? With each utility shutoff notice? Can you imagine how tired you would get, fighting every day to make it all come out ok? How much would your pride smart as your poor started to show, in your clothes, your car, your hair, your rumbling stomach – you take it with you everywhere. How frustrating would it be to jump all the hoops they make you jump through to get help, new hoops for each group you are referred to? How long before you just gave in to apathy and depression, or worse, turned to substances for comfort when your body could find none?

So, to extend this exercise even further, you managed to turn things around. Lucky schmuck that you are, you found yourself a job and your income is restored to what it was. But because of your credit and the lack of options, you are now paying 50% of your income for housing.

Random monthly budget with no affordable housing (insert your numbers here w/ increased housing)

Income $4,250
Expenses $3,100 (Housing 2100, Electric 150, Internet 50, Cell phone 50, Food 750)
To Spend $1,150

Now there’s child care, heat, gas, car insurance, prescription drugs, etc. You keep adding your regular expenses and see how soon you go into the red. With my budget, that’s pretty dang fast.

  • So the next time you are working on your budget and debating an expense, bump up your savings.
  • The next time you see a homeless person and you keep walking right past, consider how close you yourself are to being in that situation.
  • The next time you read an article about affordable housing in the paper, think about writing a letter.
  • The next time there is a vote or election in your town, think about using the power of your vote.
  • The next time you hear a call for donations at a shelter, bring them a sleeping bag or some socks.

There is always a charity in your town who needs help, a food pantry, a homeless shelter, a church mission, or even just advocating from your comfy chair. You can do something to make a difference.

Have excess money and don’t know where to put it? Donate to Hundred Nights, the shelter in Keene NH.
Hundred Nights

Homelessness stinks.

gravy

Advocating for the working poor and affordable housing in New Hampshire. Championing homeless families in NH.

More With Less Mom

We hope you enjoyed our Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless post

Also see
Want to know what the homeless really want in care packages? The real deal from a mama who has been there.
Want to Know What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages? The Real Deal From a Mama Who Has Been There.

Learn 8 Hurdles You Would Face if You Had to Live in Your Car
Check Your Privilege: Learn 8 Hurdles You Would Face if You Had to Live in Your Car

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar – RACK Printables, Cover Photos, and Links
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar – RACK Printables, Cover Photos, and Links

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You can’t chase happiness

You can’t chase happiness, you have to find it where you are.
FIND IT. Where you are.

Sometimes this is easy, and that’s great. Sometimes this is really, really hard.
Sometimes there are huge, horrible things in the way. Or regular, that’s life, ordinary troubles by the heap-load.
Some things you can change and do something about, some things you are stuck with.

Happiness isn’t going to land in your lap. Happiness, like any relationship, takes work.

You can't chase happiness. You have to find it where you are.

But you can start small. You have to cultivate positivity, water that seed and make it grow.

  • First thing, while you’re brushing your teeth, think of 5 things you are grateful for. Like toothpaste. Or running water. Running water is one of the most wondrous things in our lives.
  • Change your haves to gets. I get to shower with lovely warm water. I get to drive my kids all over the planet. I get to pay my rent. I get to go grocery shopping.
  • Embrace your mistakes. Accept your challenges. You can turn anything into an opportunity to learn and grow. Or at least, an excuse to eat some chocolate.
  • Do like Mr Rogers does and find the helpers. Not just in an emergency, but in your daily life. Lots of people are out there doing little things that you won’t even notice if you aren’t looking.
  • If you just can’t find a way to feel better about the abyss that is your life, maybe you need to make someone else feel better first. Get a smile out of someone and add a little to your karma.

10 Simple Habits to Grow a Positive Attitude from Fulfillment Daily
The 31 Benefits of Gratitude from Happier Human
Bliss Gratitude Journal App (for Chrome or smartphone, I love that I can use whatever I am on and go back and forth) from Bliss31
Printable Gratitude Journal from Zen and Spice

More With Less Mom

Photo credits: Cherub from The Graphics Fairy

We hope you enjoyed our You can’t chase happiness gratitude and positivity post

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I hope you make mistakes

For me the new year is a time for exploring new things, not so much dwelling on what has gone wrong thus far, but what new things I can muck up fabulously. Preferably with glitter.

I hope you make mistakes

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes,
then you are making new things,
trying new things,
learning, living,
pushing yourself,
changing yourself,
changing your world.
You’re doing things you’ve never done before,
and more importantly,
you’re doing something.”

~ Neil Gaiman

Happy new year to you and yours, and may blessings be heaped upon you!

More With Less Mom

Photo credits: Bubble dancer from The Graphics Fairy

We hope you enjoyed our I hope you make mistakes inspirational graphic thinge post

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2015 Year in Review from the More With Less Mom

2015 has brought some major personal challenges, and way too many moves. It has also brought a ton of support I didn’t know I had, and a feeling of community I have been lacking. The blog has gone from “taking it seriously” and swearing I would post every week, to completely missing a month when I had nowhere to live. I bounced all over the place with the meal plan, I tried some lame humor, I neglected my Etsy shop, and I started an editorial calendar and then abandoned it. Despite being a hot mess in both my blogging and really real world, I have had a lot of traffic (320,000 this year), and a lot of Likes on Facebook (I reached 2,000!).

2015 Year in Review from the More With Less Mom

Top Post of 2015

Want to know what the homeless really want in care packages? The real deal from a mama who has been there.
Want to Know What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages? The Real Deal From a Mama Who Has Been There
(56,000 hits!)

This post has only been up since the middle of November, but is already one of my top posts of all time. It is all over Facebook. I have wanted to post something like this, as well as up my advocacy game from letters-to-the-editor, for quite a while. Posting something like this has its drawbacks, however, since potential employers and landlords are just a Google search away from knowing I was homeless, and there is still stigma attached to that. I have been encouraged by the positive reception of this post.

Highest Traffic of All Time

Link Party Features

Top Referrers

My Top Pins



Other Fabulous Pins





Facebook Posts

Want to help the homeless in your area? You can create a care package or blessing bag. No doubt you’ve seen these posted online somewhere, but often those items are not as helpful as you might hope. I can tell you what to include to help the widest range of the homeless, and why. A person is a person, no matter where they live. http://www.morewithlessmom.com/index.php/2015/11/18/real-deal-care-packages-for-homeless/

Thou shalt not park your cart in the middle of the gosh dang aisle! The 10 Commandments of The Grocery Store http://www.scarymommy.com/the-10-commandments-of-the-grocery-store/

Aww this is cute. I Let My Toddler Dress Me For A Week http://www.babble.com/style/i-let-my-toddler-dress-me-for-a-week-heres-what-happened/

I shared this before, but it’s working so well for me I’m sharing it again. I’ve been fighting hoarder tendencies and have tried a lot of different methods for sorting and organizing, but the stuff always creeps back in, and honestly it never really left in the first place. The keep/toss method just doesn’t work for me, I can think or reasons I might NEED something for, like, everything ever. This woman, Marie Kondo, says that you should not be choosing what you want to get rid of, but what you want to keep. You ask yourself if it “sparks joy.” This is language I highly identify with. Not just something you like, something that makes you happy, but that extra burst of happiness. If it does not, you thank the item for its time with you, and then you can say goodbye to it and any guilt or worry attached to it. The thing that is motivating me is the thought of having an entire house full of things like that, that spark joy and make me squeal. Not a house full of piles and mountains of things that make me tired before I even crack the box. This is the most successful method I’ve ever tried and might be my forever friend. De-Cluttering Your House With Love http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/12/09/tidying-up-kondo-westmoreland

Oooh drool! Apple Churro Cupcakes http://www.littlefamilyadventure.com/apple-churro-cupcakes/

At least the pet hair is gone. Why Wives Who Take Care of All the Housework Don’t Want Sex From Dr. Psych Mom. http://www.drpsychmom.com/2015/10/26/why-wives-who-take-care-of-all-the-housework-dont-want-sex/

Frugal Road Trip with Kids – Tips from a Mama Pro. A series of articles full of 244 fantabulous tips for your car trip! http://bit.ly/18EnsLt

Just in case you felt left out in the outrage department, here are some options for you! 30 Worrisome Things with Which to Concern Yourself that Are Not a Starbucks Coffee Cup http://abandoningpretense.com/2015/11/30-worrisome-things-with-which-to-concern-yourself-that-are-not-a-starbucks-coffee-cup.html

People die. Every year. Just from being stuck outside with nowhere to go. If you’re cold, your dog is cold, and you bring him in. What about the neighbors you have that you never see?

You may have noticed a lack of Black Friday deals shared here. That would be because some moms didn’t have enough money to cover the Thanksgiving meal, never mind have anything left over. I would much rather support them than the stores.

Favorite Twits

Helen E Boulos of BubbleGumChic.com

Deborah Smikle-Davis of Urban Naturale

Christina Wiley of Juggling Real Food and Real Life

Bestest Tweets

More With Less Mom

Also see 2014 Recap from The More With Less Mom
2014 Recap from The More With Less Mom

Photo credits: New Years gnomes from The Graphics Fairy

We hope you enjoyed our 2015 Blog Year in Review from the More With Less Mom post

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The Pecan Pie That Wasn’t (I Made a Thanksgiving Funny)

This is a story about a pie.

The Pecan Pie That Wasn't (I Made a Thanksgiving Funny) from The More With Less Mom

I was in my teens, and through some complicated-ness was the cooker for our family with four kids. We had invited my grandpa to come for Thanksgiving.

Now this was a very, very special grandpa. He was the one that called the house and pretended he was Snuffleupagus, who was my special friend when I was little. He was the one who always let me win at checkers, but made me fight for it. He was also the one who had owned a little clam shack and knew a thing or two about cooking.

Now this grandpa loved, loved, loved pecan pie. I was not a pie baker. I could make chocolate chip cookies (how I hooked my future husband), I could do pasta and probably not burn it, I could even cook the turkey passably (dry but edible). But I wasn’t even clear on which pie pecan pie was.

Even so, I valiantly bought the ingredients and pre-read the recipe. I had no idea what I was going for. How do you explain pecan pie to someone? It’s goo with nuts in it? Well, I got goo. But then it got hard. Like, hard to cut hard. I suspected that this was not the desired result.

Still, I couldn’t just cut out a piece of his pie and try it. I’m guessing he knew from the first glance that it wasn’t right. Suddenly he was full. Yes, it was his favorite pie. Yes, he knew I baked it just for him. No, he couldn’t possibly.

Somehow it had become imperative that he knew that I loved him, and the only way in the universe he could know that is if he tried that pie. I needled and cajoled him until my dear sainted grandpa took a bite. He didn’t make a face. He didn’t say anything.

He didn’t take another bite.

It took me YEARS to try pecan pie again.

Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie

Want to try it yourself (and do it right)? Try this recipe from The Kitchn: Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie (Without Corn Syrup)

Shared with Inspire Me Wednesday.

More With Less Mom

Also see
Attack of the Killer Mousie
Attack of the Killer Mousie

Thanksgiving Dyed Eggs – A Frugal Holiday Activity
Thanksgiving Dyed Eggs – A Frugal Holiday Activity

Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times – Frugal $50 Thanksgiving Meal
Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times – Frugal $50 Thanksgiving Meal

Photo credits: Weird girl pie postcard from The Graphics Fairy

We hope you enjoyed our The Pecan Pie That Wasn’t (I Made a Thanksgiving Funny) post

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I have a confession to make: the meal plan is a lie (homelessness stinks)

If you follow this blog, and possibly you enjoy my meal plans (they’re the best thing since sliced bread, yes?), you may have noticed that we missed a couple posts recently. We missed a lot of things, and homelessness is why. Not a fun thing, being homeless, and the best thing you can do is to learn a little more about the families who struggle with this issue and what they go through.

I have a confession to make: the meal plan is a lie (homlessness stinks) from The More With Less Mom

What do you mean, you liar-pants, you ask.

Shocking, but true. For months I created a meal plan full of tasty things that are good for you and cheap. But that’s not what we were eating. Oh, no. I drooled over those meal plans. It was torture window shopping for food.

What were you eating, you ask.

We were eating lots of white food. Lots of things from boxes. Whatever we got from the food pantry. Pasta, potatoes, rice, cereal, bread. Starch and carbs and gluten, oh my! We were lucky, you get a lot of protein in this area. But almost no vegetables. What’s the biggest section of the USDA’s My Plate plan? Vegetables. Not that your body needs those or anything.

Why would you do that, you ask.

Because we’re poor, that’s why. Normal, educated, perfectly nice people can be poor, too. And when life throws a curveball at poor people, they tend to get even more poor. We went from mostly comfortable, if not roomy in our budget, to oh-sweet-jebus I need more money right freakin’ now. While we recovered from our financial boo-boo, the food budget was exploded.
Normal, educated, perfectly nice people can be poor, too.
(Tweet: Normal, educated, perfectly nice people can be poor, too. http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ #homelessnessstinks @MoreWithLessMom)

So why should I care, you ask.

You should care because it can happen to anyone. Your precious little bundles are well-fed and warm and happy. But what would happen if you lost your job, your house burned down, you got hurt, your spouse passed suddenly, or some other calamity befell you? In the blink of an eye you can lose everything. The support of food pantries, and the other charities out there helping, is vital to families who are struggling.

So what can I do, you ask.

You can donate to or volunteer at your local food pantry.
You can extend some kindness to someone you know is struggling.
You can make an effort and step in the next time you see someone in need. The single mom at the grocery store, the neighbor in the run-down house, the guy sleeping in a doorway on your way home from work. You never know another’s troubles, or how much a small gesture might mean to them.

Great American Milk Drive

Donate to Feeding America’s Great American Milk Drive

Homelessness stinks.

gravy

Advocating for the working poor and affordable housing in New Hampshire. Championing homeless families in NH.

More With Less Mom

Also see
Want to know what the homeless really want in care packages? The real deal from a mama who has been there.
Want to Know What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages? The Real Deal From a Mama Who Has Been There.

Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen Challenge
Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen – The Challenge

An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget from The More With Less Mom
An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar – RACK Printables, Cover Photos, and Links
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar – RACK Printables, Cover Photos, and Links

Photo credits: Cooking housewife from The Graphics Fairy

We hope you enjoyed our The Meal Plan is a Lie (Being Homeless Stinks) post

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Quick Haunted House Craft for Halloween

Quick Haunted House Craft for Halloween from The More With Less Mom

This is a quick an easy craft you can do with the craft materials you have at home. We did this while I was cooking lunch. It is easy to scale this to the ability of your child at whatever age. Mine happen to be in first grade and preschool. Ours are now fridge art.
This is not an original idea, we used to do this in elementary school.

Slightly more thorough step-by-step instructions:

  1. Kidlet selects two contrasting colors of paper, they just need to be the same size. You could use scrapbook paper for a really pretty house. Six year old tore out her own, as evidenced by the fringed edges. She didn’t care.
  2. Liebling draws haunted house with windows and door. Sketch the outline for your littlest littles first. Make sure the cutouts will be big enough to actually cut out. Six year old actually spent a really long time on her drawing. Minecraft theme optional. Three year old went for a more abstract look.
  3. Mom cuts out shutters and door. I flipped over the construction paper pad to use to protect my table, then used open scissors to score the front, then flipped it over and scored the back again to cut through. Six year old could have “helped” by going over the lines repeatedly with a pencil to score the front. Do not recommend letting little ones score paper with open scissors. Craft at your own risk.
  4. Mom places cutout picture over contrasting color paper. Somebody traces openings with pencil or chalk so kiddo can find where to draw.
  5. Rugrat draws in shapes you outlined, inside critters like cats, ghosts, pumpkins, cobwebs, curtains, skulls, mice…
  6. Munchkin makes a loop with tape, we like painters tape to get some dimension. Even the three year old did this with some patience from mom. Application of chocolate to mom is encouraged at this point.
  7. Child places one piece of paper on top of the other in a sandwich, success relying heavily on age of nipper.
  8. Tyke applies glitter, stickers, tiny sticks, cheap cobweb stuff, more glitter…

Three year old's abstract haunted house with creative placement of tape
Three year old’s abstract haunted house with creative placement of tape

Six year old's Minecraft themed haunted house
Six year old’s Minecraft themed haunted house

More With Less Mom

Halloween Pinterest Board

Crafts – Fall Pinterest Board

Also see

If I Should Die by Emily Dickinson Halloween Printable
If I Should Die by Emily Dickinson Halloween Printable

Halloween Dyed Eggs
Halloween Dyed Eggs

141021_youve_been_booed4
You’ve Been Booed Halloween Printable

Photo credits: Me

We hope you enjoyed our Quick Haunted House Craft for Halloween post

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