Meet Anna Marden

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Seafood citrus salad' in Aix-en-Provence, France? Slightly more than $7. Seafood citrus salad' in Aix-en-Provence, France? Slightly more than $7.

Seafood citrus salad in Aix-en-Provence, France? Slightly more than $7.

It’s a new year with new beginnings. And for the SALT Blog, that means new voices! Meet our latest contributor, frugal foodie freelancer Anna Marden.

***

“All I want for Christmas is Tupperware and a lunchbox,” I told my mother.

She laughed and told me she had a feeling that’s what I wanted.

“I want canning jars, too.”

These aren’t the typical items on the wish list of a 22-year-old, but I’ve always been pretty practical. However, as I’ve gotten older, practicality has become less about choice, and more about necessity.

Building a Budget

At the end of August, I checked my bank statement and found that I had $200 to my name. I had just received my degree from Northeastern University, was jet-lagged from 2 months in Europe, and wasn’t ready to look at my student loan statements.

In that moment, all I could do was simple math. I realized I would have to live off less than $7 a day (excluding rent and utilities bills, which I had already paid) for the month of September. I put my journalism degree to use by documenting my budget menu for an article that was published in the food section of The Boston Globe.

I received a lot of responses to my $7-a-day story. My article focused on meals, but the budget included more than just food (i.e., non-edible essentials, inexpensive entertainment, an occasional cheap beer).

I shared the details of my daily menu—I love cooking, and it was fun to see how little money I could spend on things that were healthy and delicious. I started making soups from scratch, ate kale greens almost every day (it’s just 99 cents a pound), and satisfied my caffeine cravings at home instead of at Starbucks. Most of the commenters applauded my efforts, while others told me I could do better.

Fortunately, a couple of the letters I received were from people interested in hiring me, which is how I got my current full-time job at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as a Web production assistant. Another, later email contained an offer to write for this blog.

Re-tightening the Belt

So here I am. I have a full-time job, and I’m a freelance writer talking about my adventures with food for this blog.

Last month I probably spent hundreds of dollars eating out, but now I’m serious about getting back to a tight budget. Why is that? A few weeks ago, I got my first notice about a student loan payment due—in March.

I’m fully responsible for paying my loans. In college, financial aid and scholarships covered the vast majority of my tuition. I worked part time throughout college and completed several full-time paid internships as part of Northeastern’s cooperative education program. But instead of paying my rent with my earnings, I went shopping, ate out whenever I wanted, went on vacations, and took quite a few unnecessary taxis.

Stupidly, I took out more loans to cover these expenses.

Starting Small

Now that I know I’m capable of spending so much less money on food, I’m really making an effort to do it again and put that savings toward other bills. Eating on a budget isn’t a new challenge for me, but it is a challenge nonetheless.

My resolution this year is to start packing my lunch. A few weeks before the holidays, I wanted to slam my head into my desk when I realized I’d spent over $50 on lunches that week. When I returned to work the Monday after New Year’s, I packed a meal in that new lunchbox from my mom—and it cost just about 50 cents.

Obviously, I’m cutting back spending in other areas of my life, too, but this blog, for the most part, will be all about eating (deliciously) on a budget. I’ll be sharing recipes for my favorite easy and cheap meals, tips on grocery shopping, and how to eat out more cheaply, when you have to.

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