July Food Stamp Challenge — Day 19, Money Spent so Far and an Epic Food Fail

by Katy on July 19, 2011 · 16 comments

Costco Strawberries -- They were kind of flavorless and get stuck in a crisper drawer as they took up too much refrigerator real estate. I pulled them out last night to slice and freeze, but alas, it was too late.

Today is day nineteen of the July Food Stamp Challenge and I’ve finally gathered up all my (and my wicked husband’s) food receipts to face the truth.

The challenge is to spend less than the amount that the average Oregonian receives for food stamps, which is $101 per person per month. For my family of four, that’s $404 for the month of July, (which I should point out is a 31 day month, I should really start considering February for all challenge months!) In the end, I will donate any money saved to my local food bank.

Here’s how much my family has spent so far:

7/01/11 — $48.57 (Big grocery shopping at Safeway)

7/03/11 — $36.70 (This was when we ate out with a coupon)

7/04/11 — $5.91 (Buying food to bring to a 4th of July barbecue at my mother’s house)

7/04/11 — $2.59 (A gallon of milk at New Season’s Market)

7/10/11 — $14.26 (General groceries)

7/10/11 — $2.59 (Milk from New Seasons)

7/11/11 — $23.97 (The infamous Clif bars trip)

7/12/11 — $2.00 (A tub of Tilamook yogurt)

7/12/11 — $4.00 (Toppings plus cheese for two large homemade pizzas)

7/13/11 — $66.41 (My husband went to Costco, ’nuff said)

7/13/11 — $17.17 (My husband went to New Seasons, more ’nuff said)

7/14/11 — $7.42 (Milk and eggs from New Seasons)

7/16/11 — $7.20 (I bought treats for Star-Trek-in-the-Park. The kids and I went three hours early in order to score a good spot in the amphitheater, so good snacks were pivotal! I did bake a large baguette and bring nice Tillamook white cheddar from home, as well as glass bottles of chilled tap water.)

7/17/11 — $2.19 (Smoked oysters for my son)

Grand total? $240.98! Which means we have $163.02 left to spend for the month.

I am very relieved, as I was uber worried that this number would be higher and I would have to admit my frugal inadequacies to thousands of people.

I do look at this list and wonder if I’ve missed any shopping trips, as there’s a big ol’ gap between July 4th and July 10th. However, I do know that I was inundated with food from my sister and mother during that time. If I do come across any stray receipts I will add them to the total. I think I’ve been vigilant about saving my receipts, although I’m certainly a flawed individual, so you never know.

I now feel empowered to do another big Safeway shopping trip to stock up on essentials. We are out of canola oil and baking powder, and I have another $10-off-$50 coupon.

So . . . how are you doing? And let’s cut to the chase, how do you feel I’m doing? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

No Debt MBA July 19, 2011 at 11:28 am

We also had some strawberries go bad this week which was frustrating but no disaster. It’s always a bummer seeing things go to waste.


Daneeta Loretta Jackson July 19, 2011 at 11:39 am

Just catching up on my “stories” (as my husband calls the blogs I read ;-), and am very impressed with this challenge. Keep up the good fight.

My husband and I live in other people’s houses. I guess it’s kind of like house-sitting only people organize their holidays around our schedule because we do it for free and we love looking after the dogs/cats/turtles. It’s a win/win situation.

Anyway, as part of the deal, people tell us to eat whatever we want in the fridge and pantry. They usually apologize for not having much food in the house, but, I tell you, we hardly ever have to buy food because people stockpile more food than they think. You would also not believe the amount of food we have to throw away because it’s already gone off.

Our lifestyle makes for some pretty interesting and diverse recipes.


Judy July 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Katy, your family is eating very creatively on a foodstamp budget.
Smoked oysters, huh? Rembering last’s comments over the deli ham and the bag of chips I wonder what comments you’ll get this time
about that? Good luck with the rest of the month, enjoy reading your blog.
I too had to throw out strawberries this year and the ones just purchased and waiting to be cut today aren’t looking that great. May be the end of the season.


Barbara Marlow July 19, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Katie, I think you are doing great and you are an inspiration!


Megg July 19, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Sad about the strawberries 🙁
We get strawberries at Costco a lot and I always cut them up as soon as I get them. I put them in one of those huge Pyrex bowls, then we can just grab and go when we’re getting ready in the morning.
I’m super impressed about how little you have spent so far!


Susan July 19, 2011 at 8:20 pm

You’re doing awesome! I’ve been playing along at home and still have some cash left, but not as much as you. I’m in California and I decided to use Oregon’s $101/person figure because I could not figure out the CA food stamp website — there was a recent article in my local paper that my county (San Diego) has the lowest level of participants in the state (given the number of residents who would apparently qualify). I think it’s the morass of bureaucracy that I gave up on — can’t imagine hoping to get assistance to eat and trying to get through that system. I appreciate your on-going efforts to highlight food insecurity. You rock!


Christine July 19, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I’ve had better luck with strawberries from Safeway this season — they’re lasting a good 3-4 days uncut in the fridge — so go ahead get some with your $10 of $50 coupon. I am thunking myself upside the head — went to Safeway late today. Did not get the oregonian, so I yet again missed the $10 Q! Arg


Mary Kate July 20, 2011 at 3:57 am


Your results are impressive. It sounds like you may have a big chunk to donate (if you can keep your husband out of the store). Our month involves a lot of travel. Last weekend involved visiting a relative that does not have much money so we provide for ourselves while we are there and provide extra for after we’re gone. We can afford it, but could not on a food stamp budget.


jana July 20, 2011 at 5:18 am

I think you’re doing great! You still have a good amount of money leftover for the rest of the month, even with your husband’s “extra” trips. It’s amazing how diligent you are with tracking your spending.

I’ve been tracking our spending for the challenge pretty closely and so far we are $3.42 under budget. I know that’s been helped by food donations from my in-laws as well as a birthday party that covered our dinner for one night. We did have one fast-food breakfast and I’m thrilled that it did not turn out to be a budget buster! This has been a terrific challenge. I am learning so much!


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary July 20, 2011 at 6:48 am

Katy, I love reading about your Food Stamp Challenge adventures. I know my boyfriend would absolutely flip at the idea of this challenge, mostly because he simply cannot bring himself to organize brought-from-home lunches to work. So instead, I live vicariously through you, LOL. Even though I’m not participating, I think I’m still learning through your efforts.


Tina (Tightwad Mom) July 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

You are doing a fabulous job! I know how much teenage boys can eat, so I am impressed you have spent so little. I am living with a very limited grocery budget this month (my hours at work have been cut in half). The groceries come out of my pay check, i.e. limited paycheck – limited groceries. I have been using pantry staples, and cleaning out the freezers. Hopefully, being grocery poor this month will clean out the freezers, so I can defrost them and refill them with garden produce.


Amy H. July 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I am extremely impressed, Katy! I think you’re doing an amazing job, and I’m actually impressed with your husband as well, in that I’ve never yet managed (in ten years or so of membership) to get out of Costco for under $100. 🙂


Eleni O. July 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm

This is incredible, Katy! I saw an excerpt in The Week that said one in seven people are now on food stamps in the US. I am going to try two things – get out of Costco with a bill under $100 as Amy H mentioned (above), — or just quit Costo maybe — and, see if I could possibly purchace decent (fresh, nutritious) foods on $101. a month/total … hmmmm….


Mayhem July 26, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Trek in the Park!! We just went last Saturday, and it was so fun. Watched the episode with the kids ahead of time so they would “get” the story and they had a great time. We spent the whole weekend in Portland, though not frugally… Hotel, eating at super yummy food carts, going to OMSI… We had fun, though.

Wow, you’re frugal AND geeky! 🙂 Good combo!


Sarah August 10, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Love your blog! I wanted to add to the discussion with my perspective. I’m not sure what the average person in my area (Chicago) receives for food stamps, but we always spend less than $101 per person per month. We are a married couple (2 adults) with a daughter. Using your budget of $101 per person, our “food stamp” budget would be $303 per month.

One’s ability to shop and eat nutritiously on your allotment depends on your access to a car to make large purchases at once – can’t take large amounts of heavy groceries on the bus. I live and love the spirit of your blog and if you have readers who are “urban poor” like we are (sounds like you live in the suburbs or at least have a yard) I wanted to share how we manage the July (or January – December) food stamp challenge here. We do not receive foodstamps (we are more than lucky) but many in Chicago do.

1) We belong to a CSA and receive a half bushel of various organic produce year round, every week. Mostly veggies, some fruit. $25 a week with an annual fee of $70 or $105.84 a month. The CSA drop off location is short walking distance from our home (most can’t afford a car in the city even if they are not on foodstamps).

“Foodstamp” laws are influenced by lobbyists hired by corporate food conglomerates so unfortunately CSA’s do not “qualify” to be able to accept food stamps however, McDonalds is (it appears successfully) lobbying the government to allow “restaurants” such as theirs to be able to accept foodstamps. These regulations push a lot of foodstamp recipients to shop at corporate supermarkets that are at least one bus trip away (out of “food desserts”) or “corner” stores (7/11, White Hen, etc.). The value of a foodstamp dollar does not go far at the corner store and can only buy “junk” food. Adding $5.00 (minimum- that is the cost of an unlimited one day bus pass) per shopping trip for the bus is also a struggle for many who receive foodstamps especially since you cannot make big buys and get the groceries home on the bus.

For those who refuse to feed their family processed chemicals for every meal (or have other reasons to want to cash out their foodstamps such as intense drug addictions) there is a “black market” for foodstamps. To learn the details how this works google “SNAP fraud”. In a nut shell, there is a trustworthy broker (or two) in every poor/working class neighborhood who will buy out all/some of your foodstamps (off the debit type card issued) for approx 80 – 85 cents on the dollar. If you can’t network enough with your neighbors to discover who this broker is, you are not cut out for survival in Chicago and foodstamp budgets are the least of your worries. Sell just enough to use the cash to pay for the CSA. In neighborhoods with large concentrations of foodstamp recipients the going rate can be as low as 50 cents on the dollar. Fortunately my family lives in Bucktown so let’s say I get 80 cents on the dollar. The exchange rate brings my monthly CSA cost to $132.50 (105.84 rounded up to $106.00 multiplied by 80 cents). The remaining monthly food budget is $197.

2) Grow herbs such as basil, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, garlic, etc. on your window sills (or if you have a porch). We hang our “herb gardens” outside the windows on hooks during the warm seasons and hang them indoors in the winter. Join freecycle to source potting soil, clean dirt, containers, plant hangers, etc. Or get creative and fashion your own containers. If you grow food outdoors or in ground containers, make sure it is not accessible to rats. A neighbor tried to grow strawberries in a “strawberry bucket” but the rats stripped the plant. I also once saw rats eat my basil at night when I left a container down on the stoop instead of hanging it back up. (YIKES!! Rats on the stoop! ew ew ew ew! Lesson learned.) I got “starter plants” from another freecycler and provided starter plants for friends/neighbors. Cost $0.00

3) Split a membership at CostCo – BJ’s – Sams Club – etc. with as many people as you can. This requires effort to organize, but if you are willing to get it off the ground you will really stretch your food dollars. There is no Sams Club or BJ’s walking distance (or even in driving distance) so costco is our warehouse store option. We live just over a mile from a costco. The minimum annual membership fee is $50.00 and only those in a single household can use one membership. Appoint someone to hold the membership or try the “roommate” workaround.

We live in a four unit coach house behind a house that has been divided into three apartments. Therefore we all have the same address except for our apartment unit numbers. If you sign up for your membership and state that you are roommates, generally no one checks your license too closely as the main address is identical. Pulling the “we are roommates” works better if you all show up for the first trip together without your children. So myself and three others share the annual fee ($12.50 each household per year, $1.04 a month). This fee has to be paid in cash and I assume you did not have to run it through the exchange. If you have to pay this fee with your foodstamp dollars, the exchange rate has to be applied ($2 multiplied by 80 cents = 1.60 per month, combine your exchange with the CSA money).

You can then shop with your “roommates” to buy organic fresh bulk meats, organic milk, organic eggs, organic yogurt, etc. If you share the same tastes in food with your “roommates” you can go home and split the bulk purchases to add further variety. All of us “roommates” are strongly committed to feeding our children well and sometimes when money is scarce the adults will eat nothing but non organic pasta but we budget carefully to ensure our children always get proper food.

Load the children in a wagon and bring your push cart. One of you can pull the children in the wagon and one of you walks the cart. If you have a cooler or insulated bag, put that in the bottom of the push cart. Don’t buy ice, package all the cold items together and they will stay a safe temperature on the walk home. If you need more room that the cart, you can put groceries in the wagon and the children can walk home and get some exercise! Work out a shopping list together in advance and be prepared to do some math (don’t worry a little math is good for you). For example, organic whole milk is sold in a three pack – so you may have to divide unevenly. A huge salmon filet can be cut and weighed when you get home to split 2 – 3 ways. Bulk flour, sugar, coffee, honey etc. can be easily split up. 6 lbs of sugar (12 lbs of sugar split in half) costs almost half as much as the 5 lb bag at a the “regular” grocery store. This way our food stays fresh (could one house really use 20lbs. of flour fast enough?) and we get variety. Also we don’t have room to have reach in freezers, we save the electricity it would take to run a freezer, and when the electricity goes out for days at a time here (as has been on the news this year but it happens every year in the summer storm or no storms) we don’t have a freezer full of expired food. There is $197 left in your budget and you already have all the produce you need. Almost $200 to spend on eggs, meat, and flour/ingredients to make bread can easily buy enough food to feed a family of three.

Those are my July foodstamp challenge tips if you live in a large urban area!


Innocent August 18, 2011 at 4:53 am

Weird, perhaps it is easier as the size of your family grows to eat cheaply. Our monthly grocery bill is about $400 – $500 for our family of seven ( yes my wife and five kids ) So perhaps as you gain more people it is easier to feed them as a group? Our average amount attempted to spend for dinner is $10.00. Lunch is typically about $5.00 and Breakfast is again about $5.00.

We eat a lot of grains, pasta, etc… and cheap veggies ( broccoli, peas, beans ) Pasta with a simple red sauce goes a long way. Rice and Beans make for cheap meals with a little cheese thrown in. Home made flour tortillas are cheap to make.

The main thing to remember is NOT to buy packaged foods and sweets except as a treat. You only buy a package of cookies ( which I have found tends to be cheaper than making them yourself ) and distribute them once a day at the end of dinner as desert.

Every now and then you have a Dinner meal that is $5.00 and then some times you can spurge and do a $15 – $20 meal. I love making homemade pasta, that is a $5.00 Meal whenever I do that ( just the cost of the time to prepare the pasta and about $1.00 of eggs and flour and $2.50 for the tomato sauce and $1.50 for the veggies – typically broccoli ) The best part is it is a fairly nutritious meal as you have green veggies, protein from the eggs, and fruit from the tomato, and of course energy from the grain and all for a very small amount of cost.


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