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Sugar House Journal

I am Grateful for the Poor Man’s Casserole

Jan 04, 2016 14h48 ● By Bryan Scott

By Joani Taylor

It slapped me in the face, like an old Three Stooges movie. Last month my husband came home from work holding a large envelope. Handing it over, he simply stated, “Read this.”  My heart sank. You see, every year in December, his company does their annual, “Merry Christmas layoff,” and I was certain it was his turn. I began to hyperventilate, sweat trickled down my forehead as my trembling hands opened the letter. How could they, after 26 years of company loyalty? They can’t! We are only four years from retirement! As I read and re-read the words on the letter, my mind began to compute: not a layoff letter, but a retirement letter. In two weeks, TWO weeks, my husband would be retired! Could we do it a full four years before we had planned? Yikes!

Now, I have a confession to make. We have not always enjoyed a frugal lifestyle; in fact, in the early years of our marriage it was quite the opposite. We lived to the point of an extravagance that almost sent us bust.  We lived right at the edge of our means, throwing caution to the wind, buying now and vowing to save later. Then it happened, our turning point: my husband lost his job. It was the 80s. Remember those days? With 14 percent home interest rates, no jobs and two kids, we quickly discovered our skinny bank account and high debt had put us at the brink of disaster. 

What could we do? We had officially hit what we call our “Poor Man’s Casserole” days. 

One only needs to Google “Getting out of debt” to find a plethora of advice from financial savvy experts: refinance the house, make budgeting lists and spreadsheets to track payoffs, start by paying off the highest interest loan rate, etc. All good practices, but what if you don’t qualify for said refinance, or your budget doesn’t cover your bills, let alone allow you to make extra payments? How will making a list help when what you really need is money today?

The fact is, finding immediate money in a set budget takes sacrifice, creativity, work and commitment. Here are some practical tips for increasing your finances that I’ve learned and used along the way.

#1 – Ditch the luxuries. Cutting cable TV, gym memberships, and eating out top my list of quick ways to save some serious cash. Brown bag it for lunch, discover Hulu for TV entertainment and take a walk instead of utilizing an expensive gym treadmill.

#2 – Sell your stuff. Cleaning out the clutter not only can bring in some extra cash, but it clears the mind of clutter and helps you get organized. Utilize your local consignment store (check for a list of several), make use of online classifieds or give Ebay a try.

 #3 – Find alternative ways to travel. If you have two cars, sell one. Try taking TRAX or carpooling to work.  

#4 – Cut your grocery costs. Groceries can be a huge part of the family expenses. Instead of planning your shopping for the meals you want, plan your meals to what’s on sale. Clip or print coupons. You can check’s “grocery” section for a list of resources. Cut your meat portions in half. For years our mainstays were casseroles and Mexican and Italian dishes like lasagna and pizza. It’s easy to decrease the meat in those kinds of dishes. One of our favorites was called Poor Man’s Casserole, a mixture of ground beef, green beans and mashed potatoes.  

#5 – Find contentment with what you have. This was a turning point for me, and one of the best pieces of financial advice I have. In my own personal experience, it took me years to feel contentment with what I have. Once I did, I found that the longing for things grew smaller, and I was able to learn to experience what life had to give. I am grateful for the Poor Man’s Casserole days and the contentment it brought me.

Poor Man’s Casserole: 

Brown 2/3 lb of ground beef or turkey with ½ an onion, salt and pepper to taste and place in the bottom of a 3 qt. round casserole dish. Drain 2 cans of green beans and layer on top of the beef, layer
1 can cream of mushroom soup on top of beans, top with about
3 cups of smashed potatoes
(about 5 potatoes boiled in salty water and smashed with a little milk and butter). 

Microwave on high until hot
(about 10 to 15 minutes).