illustration / opinion / regular

How to eat when you’re broke

Words by Brodie Lancaster, Illustration by Chrissy Lau

In the past four years, I’ve been a full-time university student and a low-paid editor, in both Melbourne and New York. I’ve also developed what the Masterchef judges would call a more “sophisticated palette” (feel free to punch me in the face for using that phrase), which means my foodie instincts are often compromised by the balance of my bank account. When even the cheapest options — like $4 banh mi  or $7 all you can eat Hare Krishna food — are out of your price range, follow my five tips below and you’ll go to sleep patting your big, full tummy like Winnie the Pooh.

Note: If you’re broke enough to be taking my advice, you’re probably a student or low-paid worker who lives in a shitty sharehouse. If you live at home with your parents and they refuse to feed you, you’ve got bigger problems I don’t know how to solve. Soz from the bottom of my stomach.

1. Live with foodies.
If your housemates are more responsible than you and keep the fridge stocked with basics and a few fancy treats, there’s no harm in picking at their supply until you’re back on your feet. Just tell yourself you’ll pay them back with home-cooked meals when you’re back on your feet. NEVER actually tell them this, as they may hold you to it.

2. Make your own basics.
I’m a big fan of baked beans, but at around $2 a can, I can’t justify eating that shit for breakfast on weekends! I live in struggle town! Instead, add a cheap can of plain beans to a pot of crushed tomatoes. Add sautéed garlic, onion and whatever herbs your housemate has in the pantry (I suggest fennel and oregano). It tastes better and makes you feel less like you’ve fucked up your life.

3. Do your shopping late at night.
You might have gone to the supermarket on an emergency toilet paper run, but that $5 note in your hand can open you up to a world of discounted, end-of-day foodstuffs you didn’t even know you wanted. I’ve never considered myself a fan of cold, stale brioche buns, but when they’re marked down 80%, filled with cream and jam and labeled as “Briosh”, I’m open to whatever digestive issues they might bring.

4. Don’t get fussy.
My favourite meal in the world is a spaghetti dish I make with parsley, anchovies, garlic, chilli, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. While it’s great to eat once in a while — perhaps with a cheap piece of steak if the bank balance allows — it becomes less exciting after I’ve eaten it for 5 consecutive meals to save time and money. It’s the single stone I use to kill five birds of hunger, and it’s the stone I’ve come to resent because of that. You will hate everything you eat — no matter how much you once loved it —after it’s become your old option for half a week. Accept it. Eat it. Hate it. Move on.

5. Fight with your friends.
If you insult someone you love, they’re less likely to invite you to a dinner that’ll set you back upwards of $30. Better yet; if it’s a group dinner, make sure everyone on the guest list is mad at you. I don’t know what you could do that would be bad enough to warrant this (deciding to be that awful person who goes on detoxes and cleanses and claims the raw food movement as the only thing they can get behind is probably a good start). You’re gonna have to use a bit of imagination here.