Poor Man's Soup and the Path to Financial Freedom

Large pot on a stove with hamburger soup.
Hamburger soup soothes the soul.

On social media, I have routinely posted my grocery hauls every week for the past couple of months. Far too often, I hear folks in my circles complaining about rising prices, and I wanted to do something about it in a non-preachy way. So, I simply share how little I spend and some of the dishes I make on my own timeline. If folks like what they see, maybe they’ll follow suit.

“Cheap” is a relative term. For this week’s groceries, I dropped just under $40. Well, $39.70 to be exact. I realize that not everyone can even afford even that much, and I am blessed to have $2 to spend on every meal.

Side note: there was a time after my grandparents got married that $40 was their entire weekly take-home pay.

One of my favorite dishes to eat on the cheap is hamburger soup. It goes by many names, including “poor man’s soup.” That’s because it doesn’t cost much to make, and it’ll feed a lot of people, especially if you throw in some homemade cornbread or biscuits on the side. It’s what I’ll be eating for lunch and supper almost every day this week.

Most of the ingredients needed were picked up in this week’s grocery haul:

Groceries sitting on a kitchen counter, including potatoes, canned foods, milk, cheese, and bread.
$39.70 grocery haul.

Yes, there is a bit of a theme in that photo for those who noticed. My biggest expense is typically dairy. I made homemade pizzas and grilled cheese this weekend, and I routinely go through two or three gallons of milk every week. If I were on an extreme budget, this would be one area I would definitely cut back on. It’d slash my grocery budget in half. So, even a tightwad like me can still go even tighter. But, you love what you love, and there is no sense in depriving yourself of all the joys in life if you can afford them.

To throw together the soup, I used:

  • 3 lbs. potatoes
  • 32 oz. diced tomatoes
  • 10 oz. diced tomatoes and peppers
  • 1 lb. sausage
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 16 oz. canned black beans
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 bags mixed veggies
  • ~5 cups water
  • Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

I don’t have an exact figure, but the total would be around $15 to make an entire week worth of meals for a single person. It can be made even cheaper with less/cheaper meat and more potatoes.

I’m not going to share an exact recipe. Things like this shouldn’t have specific ingredients or steps. Essentially, you brown your meat, throw it in a pot with everything else, bring to a boil, and simmer until it’s done.

A poor man’s soup is meant to be configurable to the situation. I’ve made it with dry beans (cheaper) and without beans. I’ve made it with more and fewer veggies. I’ve made it in dozens of different ways, depending on what ingredients I had on hand.

I realize food prices have been steadily rising in recent months. I also know that preaching frugality to friends and family sometimes falls on deaf ears when they know I make nearly triple the average annual salary for my area. But, I was also once a broke college student who was scraping change from couch cushions for gas money or a value-menu burger. It wasn’t but just a few short years ago that I had a net worth of $0. I’ve lived the life of not knowing how I would afford to pay the next bill or buy groceries, and I scratched and clawed my way out of that situation.

And I still cook and eat poor man’s soup.

That mindset doesn’t just leave you when you make a few extra dollars. Not if you’ve truly lived it.

As I shopped around on Thursday (my shopping day), I had one special item on my list: a box of Totino’s pizzas. It is a guilty pleasure that I haven’t eaten in a while, and I wanted to chill out on Saturday, watch football on TV, and eat junk. As I walked down the frozen foods aisle, I noticed how outrageously expensive everything was. It was nearly $7 for my beloved Totino’s, and there was no way I’d pay that. I searched for cheap alternatives. Nothing worth getting. I turned my shopping cart around and headed back to the cheese and meat departments. I could make something far superior for far less. So, I did.

We all make choices, decisions about how best to spend our dollars. Food can be a large percentage of a household budget, crippling to some families. Or, it can be an area to save by just cooking a little more from scratch, shopping with a list in hand, and following a budget. As I continue on this journey toward financial independence, I’ll opt for poor man’s soup and homemade pizzas any day.