June Food Stamp Challenge, A Wrap Up

by Katy on July 6, 2010 · 23 comments

I tallied up the final numbers for the June Food Stamp Challenge, and my family of four spent $402.75. The average amount an Oregon food stamp recipient gets is $101 per person per month. This means we were $1.25 under budget for the month. I had really hoped to blow this month out of the water, but it was harder than I expected it to be. A lot harder!

Reasons for the difficulty varied from my getting sick, to my husband not exactly being on board with the challenge. He was very concerned that the quality and quantity of our food would suffer, which is actually how someone whose food budget was in danger would feel.

I felt that I had something to prove. I could easily have shopped for and prepared really cheap meals, but I wanted to prove that not every meal needed a lentil base. That we could eat the way we normally do, (too much chicken) yet keep a tight eye on the budget.

Angela, over at My Year Without Spending wrote that she participated in the Food Stamp Challenge, but did so without mentioning it to her husband. He did notice that she seemed to be baking a lot more than usual. (He does the dishes.) I suppose I could have kept my husband and kids in the dark, but my husband also participates in the food shopping, so that would have been near to impossible.

I had been curious whether I would lose any weight during the month, so I duly stood on one of the medical scales at work at the beginning and end of the month. And guess what? I weighed exactly the same on June 1st as I did on June 30th. I think the constant thinking about food actually caused me to eat more than I normally would, so I guess I should thank my lucky stars that I didn’t gain any weight. Dang, I was really kind of hoping for some magical, no effort weight loss.

One thing that I hadn’t anticipated was what a pain in the tuchus it was to have to be constantly be thinking about buying cheap food. Making frugal choices is something that I normally enjoy. I love figuring out inexpensive ways to live my rich life, but this stopped being fun about halfway through the month.

I know that I came at this challenge from a place of privilege, as almost one in four Oregonians is currently receiving food stamps. I do not consider myself to be at a point where I no longer have to worry about money, but I can spend however much I want to on food.

So how much did I save?

I normally spend around $450 per month on food, which I don’t track down to the penny. I know that there’s money spent that slips past me, (we use American Express when shopping at Costco, and I never remember to check this when figuring out food expenditures.) so the amount is probably more like $500, which includes eating out. Although I shop carefully, I never hold back from buying the food I want to buy for my family.

I will be making a $100 donation to The Oregon Food Bank, which is approximately how much I saved by participating in the June Food Stamp Challenge.

Did you follow along with the Food Stamp Challenge? If so, was the month different than you expected and did you make a donation to your local food bank? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

P.S. My blog numbers took a dive towards the end of the month, as did my subscribers. So I’ll take a giant leap of logic and guess that you too were getting sick of the June Food Stamp Challenge.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Alea July 6, 2010 at 10:34 pm

My husband was not thrilled with this challenge either. I think he had a hard time understanding why I would “choose to deprive our family” when he works so hard to provide for us. There really weren’t any major changes to our diet, except for when I was too sick to shop or cook, but his view changed when he knew I was trying to cut back on groceries.

P.S. I don’t know how you track your numbers and subscribers but mine have been really wild lately. One day I will have lots of subscribers, the next half as many, the next day lots again. So you might be getting inaccurate numbers. In fact, I have seen people tweeting about switching to feedblitz, but I have decided not to worry about it and am sticking with feedburner for now.

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Loretta July 6, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Katy, I love your blog, but as an Australian, I didn’t really understand the Food Stamp Challenge! Looking forward to reading about the stuff you usually blog about :-)

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Kristia@FamilyBalanceSheet July 7, 2010 at 4:02 am

The good news is that the food bank is getting $100 and families that could really use the food will be getting it. And I am sure the good news for your boys is that the month is over. Congrats.

The numbers will bounce back.

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Annie Jones July 7, 2010 at 5:18 am

As I mentioned before, I did the Food Stamp Challenge unofficially, meaning I didn’t write about it or track it on my blog until it was over. We spent $241 in June, and would have been allotted $303, so were under budget by $62.

I didn’t change anything about the way I shop or cook, so staying under budget was easy for me. Most of our dinners included meat and we even had strip steaks on Father’s Day. We ended up with a surplus of food, so I’m doing a pantry challenge for July.

I can’t help but wonder how much the variance in food costs across the nation has influenced the results of this challenge. What was quite difficult for some families was very easy for others…it doesn’t seem like there would be such a large difference unless food prices are drastically different from one locale to the next.

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Joanna @ Starving Student Survivor July 7, 2010 at 5:46 am

I think it’s a wonderful exercise to stretch your food dollars and donate the difference. In my church, we take the first Sunday of every month to fast. My husband and I skip two meals and then donate (at least) the money we would’ve spent on the two meals to help those in need. It’s a small thing, but it keeps my mind and spirit in the right place.

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Sunny July 7, 2010 at 6:18 am

I enjoyed your posts on this and think that it’s something we as a country need to think about. I managed to stay under budget a bit but I didn’t count things like the fact that I had already payed for my CSA boxes…if I included them, then I think we came in at budget or a little over. It also helped I had already done a bit of shopping before the challenge…but again, a good thing to keep in the back of my mind and it did help me manage my dollar better and better understand where people who do have to rely on SNAP are coming from!

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Molly On Money July 7, 2010 at 6:37 am

We were doing our own version of your challenge ($75/person for one year). The idea came from my husband and so it’s been a different experience for me. I have had the same concerns that your husband expressed. Because it is a bit more extreme the entire family has had to be involved.
Sorry about your #’s. I know it may not be any consulation but I do appreciate you leading this group of people through this experience!

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Sunny July 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Yikes…$75 per person for eating out, groceries, everything? More power to you! I don’t think we could do that at all.

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Louise July 7, 2010 at 7:48 am

I enjoyed the food stamp challenge posts. It’s good to be reminded that living on such a tight food budget isn’t easy for a number of reasons. Imagine that you HAD to live on food stamps and your husband STILL wasn’t “on board.” It happens, and then the family runs out of food before the end of the month. Sad.

One reason your numbers may have dropped is that many people are taking their summer vacations now and so aren’t cruising the web.

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Beth D. July 7, 2010 at 8:29 am

Maybe you got burned out by the challenge because you were trying so hard to stay under the food stamp level. Food stamps are never meant to be the only money used to purchase food. They are a supplement to either a lower wage or to other assistance. Maybe if you came at it from the angle “I know what I need to buy, now what is the cheapest and best way to buy it” it would have worked out better?

I still think you did a wonderful job and I enjoyed the posts. I couldn’t do this challenge because if I just mention to my husband that we need to cut back, he spends more (on purpose, I don’t know). This is probably why I do all the shopping and cooking. I did save about $100 though in June on food because I was more mindful of what I was buying when I thought about your challenge.

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Beth D. July 7, 2010 at 8:32 am

P.S. I LOVED the book “Snoop” that you are reading! I think about it all the time at my cube. What is my randomness saying about me? :D

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psmflowerlady/Tammy July 7, 2010 at 9:31 am

My month went crazy and I stopped commenting with my updates (family issues in another city that required 2 visits for a total of 10 days away – during some of which my kids were w/their dad) and I consequently spent very little the last 2 weeks. In one of my comments, I did note that I spent more on “going out” than I spent on food for the week. My plan is to take how much I came under (I think it was something like $27 for 2 weeks) and add the $26 that I had spent “out to eat” and double that for my donation. That would be $106. I’m still reeling from the family issues so will do that next week. In the meantime, what I learned: a) My nutitional planning suffered at the cost of frugality and we relied far too heavily on carbs – especially pasta-based meals, b) some things were actually better because I cooked rather than assembled meals, c) my kids didn’t know any different and I never mentioned it – this economizing has become almost habit d) the cooking everything became a real time-suck and I don’t know that I could have done as well during the school year when my kids are busier and most of all, e) I am so very grateful to have the food security that I am blessed with. I am grateful that I could experience this from a place of comfort – that I started the month with a full cupboard – that I know how to cook – how someone who has never cooked from scratch could make ends meet is beyond me. Saving money is hard work and I admire the person who can “make do” with what they have. I had a friend who commented about “people getting handouts don’t try to economize, they just want more” and it really pointed out to me how very disconnected the “haves” are from the “have nots”. I pointed out that I too would want “more” if my kids didn’t have enough to eat and I didn’t perceive that to be “wrong”. I will say that it made me want to do something to help people to learn how to cook and economize to maximize their benefits – not to reduce the benefits but rather to give families the best food possible on existing benefits. Do you know of any such guidance in Oregon or anywhere? I was thinking that if there was a book on frugal/basic cooking, menues, shopping strategies, etc, that I might use my $106 and purchase for donation of as many copies as $106 will buy to my foodbank. Kind of a “teach a man to fish” donation – any thoughts from Katy or commenters would be welcome. Of course, reading this challenge would be a great start too. Thanks for hosting the challenge – it was a true eye-opener for me.

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Linda July 7, 2010 at 2:50 pm

In Alabama there are nutrition classes that no one will attend in this county. There are basic recipes that people throw away if they take them at all. There is a whole four or five sheet handout on shopping to get the most nutrition and lowest prices. Yes, they will teach people how to cook. But, fs recipients here are not interested. The social worker did not tell me why, she just said no one will participate. By the way, this is for only one county, so I don’t know about the rest of the state. Maybe if they had to attend classes before they got food stamps…? Then there are the transportation and child care and work issues. So, that idea would be difficult to implement even if it were withing guidelines of the fs program.

A nineteen-year-old mother of two exclaimed to her grandmother (my friend) that she had cooked for the first time. She had bought a frozen pizza and sprinkled extra cheese on top. The girl was very proud of herself and kept saying how thrilled she was with what she had “cooked.” There is a bit of a problem when a mother of two does not even understand the concept of “cooking.”

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Laura July 7, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I have a friend with two children who has been on unemployment for several months and also receives other benefits, including Oregon Trail. She had help from some organization in Oregon who helped her get a garden ready and would also be teaching her how to can later on in the summer and to cook using food from the garden. I will try and find out more about this.

Like you, I started with a full pantry, but it was hard work the rest of the month having only a limited amount of funds for food. We did OK, but it would be very difficult to sustain month after month.

Katy, my numbers also dropped toward the end of the month, and have been erratic otherwise. I’m guessing it’s because people are on vacation or outdoors more and are maybe not sitting at their computers reading blogs?

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Katy July 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Yep, things are always a little quieter all over the internet during the summer…I’ve seen the same thing happen on message boards.

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BarbS @ 1 Sentence Diary July 7, 2010 at 11:46 am

Can’t speak for others, but I thought the challenge was a great idea. I was unable to participate this month, but I enjoyed and looked forward to the posts (both Katy’s and some of the others that you linked to). And I definitely thought about food costs and budgeting in a whole different way. And as others have said, it made me even more grateful that I am currently in a situation where I don’t have to worry about the cost of food on a daily basis.

Maybe being so sick in the middle of all of it was part of why you feel like it was too much or too long? I know for me, when I’m sick, *everything* seems overwhelming.

I’m just glad you are feeling better!

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Angela@MyYearWithoutSpending July 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Thank you Katy, for bringing the issue to our attention, and for continuing to blog about it past when it was comfortable, interesting, or fun. I think we all learned a lot from it, sometimes not what we expected to learn, and I am especially grateful that I was able to CHOOSE to do it, as an exercise, and that I am otherwise able to buy the food we want and that is healthy.

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Annie B. July 7, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I throughly enjoyed your postings on the food stamp challenge. Let’s face it–living within a budget of any type requires almost constant vigilance and attention. Food is one of the easiest places to cut costs, but it still takes a lot of skill and most people don’t have that skill, probably because they have never had to acquire it. Your blog is great and I am constantly getting ideas and inspiration, but I suspect most people just aren’t interested or don’t know where to get help and information.

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Tracy Balazy July 8, 2010 at 8:11 am

I enjoyed reading about the Food Stamp Challenge. My husband and I are 42 with no children. I spent around $215 yesterday at Kroger on a vast quantity of food that will take us through the next month. Pasta was on sale for $1 a box, a decent price here in metro Detroit, so I loaded up. Lundberg’s brown basmati rice, brown jasmine rice, and wild rice mixes were buy one, get one free, and at $3.50 a bag, this was a great savings, so I also stocked up on these.

We don’t eat meat, and I’m trying to limit the dairy I buy to products from local farms that eschew growth hormones and treat their animals humanely, but I can only find these items in limited places.

While we stock up at the grocery store, we make frequent trips, at least three times a week, to the farm market on the corner, sometimes for nothing more than a bunch of bananas, other times for fresh greens, garlic bulbs and other meal ingredients that can’t be stored long.

I don’t drink soda or eat candy, but my husband does. The only frozen food we buy is the occasional bag of Mrs. T’s pierogi. The only canned foods we buy, and we use a lot of these, are diced tomatoes and various kinds of beans. We also buy a boxed organic vegan vegetable broth that we use in soups and to saute greens.

I did buy seven pints of Ben & Jerry’s Karmel Sutra yesterday at $2.70 per pint, which is about a 40% savings over its usual price here. This was my big splurge, but they’ll last a while. They better! The only other snack food we buy on a regular basis is Garden of Eatin’ blue corn chips, or sometimes a local brand.

When someone in line behind me at the store loads the conveyor belt with nothing but processed foods, I often wonder who spends more, Chris and I with our relatively expensive ice creams and cheeses, or the people who buy a lot of pre-made meals and cuts of meat on sale? We think we’re using our grocery money wisely because we’re giving ourselves a good variety of tastes by cooking from scratch, and we like our cooking better than eating out except in rare cases anyway.

I think a lot of people who rely on food stamps and are spending their budget on processed foods just need to learn about the fresher, more healthful alternatives. When I was in college, I ate my share of ramen noodles and TV dinners!

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The Saved Quarter July 8, 2010 at 8:24 am

My husband wasn’t on board when we needed to apply for food stamps just to make ends meet. It was a really big hit to his pride that he couldn’t provide enough for our family, and it took several months for him to be willing to go apply with me. It was not the best time in our marriage, but he admits that it has been the right thing for our family at this time.

As for processed foods, I’ve been surprised in the Scratch vs. Store Bought comparisons I do for my blog to find that they’re often no quicker than home made and certainly aren’t cheaper serving for serving, but the impression is there that they’re inexpensive and easy. I compared Tuna Helper this week and found that it was faster to cook from scratch! But that comes back to access – I have access to cooking facilities, supplies, and some cooking ability, and the time to find recipes and shop for ingredients because I don’t have to work full time while raising kids. I can buy a block of Parmesan cheese and refrigerate it for later use, etc. All of those things, in addition to cooking and nutrition skills, effect how people use their food stamps.

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Mary Anne July 8, 2010 at 8:47 am

I, too, am into saving wherever I can but you were right on with the June drop off… I found myself bored because your family was doing it, but not really, and your husband does or doesn’t go along, and maybe the kids do or don’t, and then you were sick and frankly it became uninteresting in the extreme.

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Kelly August 29, 2010 at 8:58 am

I really did enjoy reading about your Food Stamp Challenge. However, I have to disagree with one or two of the responses on here, and make a suggestion for someone wanting to do this challenge again. In theory, yes, Food Stamps *is* supposed to be supplementary to a budget however, a lot of times that is not the case. I’m 36 weeks pregnant, and my fiance and I are living off of one minimum wage check and $220 a month in Food Stamps. The wage covers rent and utilities, and if you add in needing gas to get to work and gas to go job hunting, plus car insurance (thankfully car is paid off) and co-payments to the the doctor, there *is* no other food money but Food Stamps. Just saying.

About changing the Challenge a bit….I’m not sure how it is where you live, but here in my county in GA only a 1/3 of the stores accept Food Stamps, and b/c that 1/3 happens to be coporate, good foods like fresh fruits/veggies/meats are extremely expensive compared to the mom and pop stores, the local butcher, and the farmer’s market. Were you buying your food from places that accept Food Stamps?

Also, you have to take into account something very important, at least when first receiving Food Stamps, or your case, starting the Challenge.
Unless you fit into a very small category of recipients (no money at all in bank or homeless, regardless of whether or not the 550 in the bank is the 550 due for rent tomorrow) it can take a while to receive benefits–they don’t just automatically hand them to you. It took two weeks to hear back from them for me, and even then they said I’m not eligible for August, mine would start in September because we made 23.45 over the limit for receiving them….the one time my fiance had found a week-long temp job that covered the house deposit, it screwed us out of getting food assistance. He hasn’t had any job luck since.

Also, you have to go buy the random number assigned to you. Go by your SSN’s last digit. If it’s a 5, you receive you benefits on the 5th of the month, all the way until the 14th for a 4.

So say you applied August 3, got your letter on the 16th saying your benefits started the next month, and your last # happened to be 4 (like mine) so you don’t get benefits for almost a month and a half. That’s a long way to go off of what ever you have (if anything) before actually being able to start the challenge. Just saying, that kind of thinking would make it a bit more realistic.

Luckily we had a decent amount of food already when we moved, and my mother brought over some staples like milk and cheese one week. Oh, and butter. It’s all fine and dandy to have 6 boxes of mac-n-cheese, but not if you don’t have the rest of the ingredients and have no leeway money to buy more food for 5.5 weeks.

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