Let's admit it ... times are rough ... here are some ideas I just set out for someone that was looking to $tretch the almighty dollar ...
Vegetables: Check and see if there are folks in your area that have vegetable gardens with extra produce, check into Community Gardens also? They are big in our area as are Farmers Markets. We planted a container garden on our back deck this summer and had green beans, basil, 3 varieties of tomatoes, 6 varieties of peppers and strawberries. We will do a bigger garden next summer.
One neighbor brought us some amazing Zucchini, we ate some right away and froze the rest for this winter. My roommates mother gave us Squash that I blanched and have frozen for meals.
Local Churches: Many have emergency food pantries available, Gift Cards for grocery stores etc. Be prepared to present your ID and personal info. In some areas they do network and limit how often you can utilize them, but it's to make sure there is enough to go around.
Meat: I only buy meat that is on the shelf w/ markdown coupons on them. The meat is still good, they just want to quick sale it rather than toss it in a day or two. I bring it home and either repackage it for the freezer or it goes into a stew or soup and then into the freezer. I try to buy the larger packages and look for sales. I also buy the BULK flash frozen chicken at Costco, it's quick and easy to use in a recipe and for the price, a great buy.
Food Share: Find a friend/neighbor that you can buy in bulk with. My sister and I do this along w/ some other friends. We belong to Costco and will make LARGE purchases and divide them between us. I'll be doing that this week with a Rice purchase, we use a lot of rice and it's so much cheaper to buy 25-50 lbs at a time.
Coupon Shop: This is a discussion unto itself, but seriously use coupons and shop the sales with them. Don't overlook stores like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens for many staple items. You can get GREAT deals there when you combine the Saver programs with Coupons. I just finished off Peanut Butter that I bought for .25 a jar at Walgreens LAST YEAR. Seriously, my family thought I was nuts when I came home w/ jars and jars of it, but no one complained when it was readily available.
Scratch Bake: Do you have a breadmaker sitting on a shelf? Put it on your Christmas list! Or pull out the cookbook and look up a quick bread recipe. One bag of flour can take you a long way. I'm even starting to make my own tortillas.
Dual Purpose Meals: This one is good, make one base dish and use it for 2 or 3 different meals. For example, last week I did a Burrito meal w/ Chicken, rice, corn, beans and a side of green veggies. The main base of the meal had enough for 3 meals. I added fresh tomatoes the next night and the third night, cheese. It was just different enough that no one cared and it was healthy!
Be honest: If someone asks if you need help, or how you are doing, let them know. I've been the recipient of food donations over the past 3 years on a semi-regular basis from neighbors and friends. It's very humbling, I'm a giver, but I've been a recipient and it's come at the most needed times.
What secrets do you have for stretching the dollar in your budget? Feel free to add them in the comments, I'm always open for suggestions!