Money To Live

October 7, 2009

Life on an AmeriCorps Stipend: Cooking Dinner

Filed under: Uncategorized — by moneytolive @ 5:00 am

This year, Sept 2009 – August 2010, I am serving as an AmeriCorps member in Seattle. For my commitment of 18 hours/week, I receive a stipend below minimum wage. Way below minimum wage. About a third of Washington state’s minimum wage. My small living stipend is supplemented by part-time work and (hopefully not for too long) my savings.

Before grad school got stressful and I later took a job that required long hours, I used to cook. I cooked dinner several days a week and had leftovers for lunch most days. I had friends over for home-cooked meals. For the past three years, though, I hardly cooked except for a few dinners for friends and around the holidays.

With a limited budget and lots of time, I have returned to cooking with the attitude that I will make tasty and healthy food. I started with some meals from Real Simples – they have healthy and “fast” meals. “Fast” is a relative term – it takes me at least twice as long is claimed to make most recipes.

Last weekend, I made a shrimp risotto. The raw ingredients cost under $13, and it took me 1.5 hours to make it (not the 35 minutes that the recipe stated). Though $13 does not make a “budget” 4-person meal, I think it’s pretty reasonable because

* I like the shrimp risotto more than I would at any restaurant, because
* It’s not too creamy, and
* The shrimp to serving ratio is very high.

At a restaurant, I might get 3-5 shrimp in a shrimp-risotto entree. At home, I got 1/4 pound of shrimp with each serving. Portion sizes of expensive ingredients is a great reason to cook at home.

Have you ever ordered a pineapple pizza? At a restaurant, there might be 2-5 pineapple chunks per slice. When I make pineapple pizza at home, though, I pile on the pineapple and can still make a pizza for cheaper than buying one from a restaurant.

Of course, there is a trade off with cooking at home: the time and effort. If I later take another high-paying, long-hour job, I admit that I will probably cook less. For this year, though, I will enjoy making my own food and getting it exactly how I like it.



  1. I never understood why people didn’t cook at home…….until I lived in Berkeley 🙂 Tonight I wanted fries from my local uber-burger place, but made my own to save $. Still very yummy, and just the way I wanted them 🙂

    Comment by anita — October 8, 2009 @ 11:27 am |Reply

  2. I know a lot of people who don’t cook dinner (I used to be one of these until recently) and that’s mostly because they work for a high paying job that requires them to bill 10 hours a day and they have dinner stipends. So, they end up eating take out at their desk while working.

    And you are so right about food packages totally underestimating the actual time in makes to cook something!

    Comment by — October 16, 2009 @ 7:48 pm |Reply

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