SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge — Day Seven

by Katy on September 23, 2012 · 18 comments

Today is Day Seven of the Snap/Food Stamp Challenge, which means that tomorrow is back to business as usual. I gave my family a $112 budget for the week, based on $4 per person per day. We spent $87.35, although we’ll probably pick up a few school lunch items later in the day.

I ended up food shopping almost every day of the challenge as I’m someone who picks up a few items here, and a few items there in order to take advantage of different sales. This may sound like a huge pain in the tuchus, but it really isn’t, as two grocery stores are walking distance from the house, while the others were worked into errands I was going to run anyway. (Safeway is right next to my credit union.)

I worked two twelve-hour days this week, which is typical for me, and frankly, privileged. I know this. As an experienced labor and delivery nurse, I am far from my days of working minimum wage. Now that I think about it, the only time I ever worked for minimum wage was when I still living at home as a teenager and had no household expenses. (It was $3.35 per hour at the time.)

Having time to devote to think about and then prepare food is a privilege.

A comment came in this morning that succinctly sums up an important theme of the week:

“The week gave me a lot of food for thought about how fortunate we are to have good, lower cost sources of groceries nearby, easy transportation to get there and haul stuff home, and even things we don’t think about twice, like a proper kitchen and freezer space.”

Without proper cooking facilities, reliable transportation and a plethora of great community grocery stores, my week would have been very different. However, it is still possible to buy and prepare healthy low cost meals if you have some transportation, (I walked, biked and drove for my different shopping trips this week.) refrigeration and a stove. It’s helpful to own a food processor, standing mixer and top of the line knives, but it’s far from necessary.

The one thing that stocked my fridge, freezer and cupboards this week was to take advantage of the random food deals that came my way. If I had written out a meal plan with matching shopping list at the beginning of the week, we would not have enjoyed $2.50/pound Swai fish last night, restuffed potatoes from 99¢/10-lb potatoes on Wednesday and last night’s heavenly plum tart. (The recipe suggestion called for vanilla ice cream, but I decided we could be frugal and enjoy it as-is!)

Flexibility in shopping and meal planning can save you a ton of money!

Has The SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge taught you anything or challenged your beliefs? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Here’s how much we’ve spent so far:

  1. Day One — $0
  2. Day Two — $15.66
  3. Day Three — $6.77
  4. Day Four — $41.48
  5. Day Five — $15.87
  6. Day Six — $7.47
  7. Day Seven — ?

Total for week – $87.35, which means we still have $24.65 left to last us thought Sunday. Whatever money is leftover will be donated to The Oregon Food Bank.

Click HERE to read Day One.

Click HERE to read Day Two.

Click HERE to read Day Three.

Click HERE to read Day Four.

Click HERE to read Day Five.

Click HERE to read Day Six.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Bellen September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am

I like statistics. I have a BS in Home Ec with a major in Foods & Nutrition and was educated during Pres. Johnson’s War on Poverty. So, I was looking for information: according to the Official USDA Food Plan:Cost of Food at Home , US Average for July 2012 (the latest figures available) the lowest cost, called the Thrifty Plan for a couple ages 19-50 with 2 children aged 2-3 & 4-5 was $126.20 – that’s $14 more than the SNAP allows. And you did it with 2 teen aged boys!!

Besides this challenge being eye-opening for many, I think it will make more people aware of the problems that exist for those unable to afford even the thrifty food plan.

Our county provides free/reduced breakfast and lunches for over 4000 children. These same 4000+ children need food over the weekend. Right now the Backpack program (backpacks packed with non-perishable food for the weekend for just the one child) services only 1200.

We donate both food and cash to various programs in our county. It is becoming harder for many that used to donate to do so, especially our elder population. I wish I had an answer or solution to this but I don’t.

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Katy September 23, 2012 at 11:57 am

It sounds like we should have had more information from you during the week!

Katy

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Lesley September 23, 2012 at 11:38 am

You’re right, Katy (and Original Commenter!). In my own minimum-wage days I did NOT have a proper kitchen. I had a stove that worked about half the time, an unreliable refrigerator with a freezer the size of two TV dinners, and the closest grocery store was a mile away at the top of a huge hill. My shifts were long and I never felt like cooking when I got home. I ate one heck of a lot of sandwiches and packaged food was just reality.

Now I cook at home–but I know how, and my stove works. When I put food in the food bank collection barrel at the store, I always include healthier versions of packaged food as well as stuff like cookies that I wouldn’t buy for myself. I remember what it was like!

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Dianre September 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm

And so many families with adults who work 2 jobs each to get by have no time to cook, much less shop around for deals. For many, it’s what’s easiest that goes onto the dinner table. Having been a single working parent who raised 2 generations of children, I can definitely relate.

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Loobie September 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm

What has struck me during this week is the importance of time – time to look for and shop for the deals, time to be creative in cooking, time to work in the veggie garden; time to batch cook and can/freeze/barter surplus. I am not cash poor (blessedly) at this time in my life, but I am often time poor and it makes me reflect on how much harder it must be for those who have to work more than one job to make ends meet to get the balance right and make it all work. Thanks for doing this challenge Katy. I have learnt a lot.

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Rachel September 23, 2012 at 3:32 pm

My main lesson from this is the inflexibility. I am normally able to shuffle dinners with no problem – swapping around the menu – but when someone rings with different plans (i.e. eat out or get takeaway) if we were really in that situation we would have to decline. No matter how good I was at saving during the week, takeaway would not work in the budget. I’m afraid we failed this challenge this week due to meeting up with friends and buying dinners (which I normally would have made at home for a fraction of the cost). I guess there is a plus side though, because we were able to spend time with friends and encourage them when they were feeling down. Thanks for the challenge Katy.

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tna September 23, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I hit a major meltdown in my life and needed junk food. It happens. So I allotted 5 bucks of my 20 for the week. I had a dollar scoop of pumpkin icecream then bought a 99 cent pack of Stax BBQ chips, 89 cent 2 liters of orange soda, and 1 dollar Milky Way Simply Caramel Fun Size candies. Junk food and a good book and all is well, better. And I shared even. But not the ice cream.
Funny how junk food is only great when you eat it, afterwards…ugh junk food hangover. So I went wacko and still stayed within my 20 dollar budget, all’s well that ends well? Fresh start next week.

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Katy September 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I am having a sympathy sugar buzz.

Katy

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Donna September 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm

I found this series to be incredibly inspirational. We are in an odd income bracket that pays high taxes despite our many dependents. I can only afford a $400 month grocery budget and we are a family of six. We do not qualify for food stamps. We try to eat a whole food nutrient dense diet and the feat of doing so on such a tight budget can at times be very overwhelming. Ironically, we used to make less, my husband just received a promotion, and before we qualified and received food stamps, but now we have less grocery money than we had on food stamps… Anyways, this really helped as a reminder to make meals starting with the food in my freezer, pantry, and fridge. I used allrecipes.com this week to help boost some ideas and was amazed how much I was able to cook with what I had on hand. We are pretty good at not letting any food go to waste, but sometimes run out of ideas and stop appreciating what you already have. I love to cook and meal plan, but due to our new food budget I have to switch my mentality from picking the meals I want to make and doing so, to finding meals I can make with what I already have, which is not only absolutely necessary, but relieves some of that overwhelming “how am I possibly going to do this without buying cheap junk” fear.

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EcoCatLady September 23, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Well, I’m not sure how strictly I stuck to the program since I did end up eating some frozen berries that weren’t part of my plan, but one big takeaway for me is how lucky I am that I’ve always had money in savings.

When I was a kid I spent a year abroad as an exchange student and since my parents didn’t believe in sending me money, the only money I had for the year was what I had saved from my various fast food and paper route jobs. Within a few months I had blown through nearly 75% of the money, and I got really scared about being stranded in a foreign country without a cent to my name. Looking back on it, I’m sure my parents would have sent me money if I had told them I was desperate, but at the time that was unthinkable, so I really felt like I was on my own. My solution was to just not buy anything. Period.

Anyhow, that experience sorta “scared me straight,” in terms of spending, and I have been a saving zealot ever since. So even in years when I made under $10K, I still managed to put money away, and I’ve never had the experience of living paycheck to paycheck.

I never really thought about it before, but having a cushion is a HUGE benefit, and it really colors how I think about purchases as well as my systems for shopping and spending in general. I think that if you didn’t have that luxury you’d be forced to shop in a much less efficient way – both in terms of food and everything else.

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K D September 24, 2012 at 2:03 am

I did not officially sign on to the challenge but I did keep track of our food spending. I caused me to just not restock certain items that ran out (not a long term solution I realize). After stopping at an orchard we were over budget for the week. We bought two half bushels of apples and two jars of jam. My family wanted the jam, I would not have bought it. I would have had to buy fewer apples to stick to the budget, but the orchard is an hour from home … I will still donate to the local food bank, as I do that regularly, and my daughter usually collects for it for her birthday (in lieu of gifts).

I have not read all the comments this week but something to remember is that the S in SNAP is Supplemental. I know some people rely on SNAP exclusively for their food budget but not all do. I would much rather not receive SNAP, I am happy with my live beneath our means middle class life.

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Sue September 24, 2012 at 6:52 am

Such a worthwhile experiment Katy. Thank you for sharing it. I am doing something similar this week inspired by your challenge. To be honest I thought a storecupboard challenge would be a bit more demanding than living off £87 ($140) but now that I’ve listed all the food I have in the house I don’t think it is going to be much of challenge either! Anyway if anyone wants to see how I’m doing,please do :)

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Julie Dinger September 24, 2012 at 6:58 am

Katy, Just wanted to say I’m enjoying reading about your current SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge. I’m learning about planning meals more based on what I already have, and especially what might be about to go bad, rather than just picking things from the universe for the week. It’s a simple concept but not one I’ve been operating from. My shopping list is a lot shorter this week. Thank you! Julie

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Jen September 24, 2012 at 8:27 am

Made your red lentil soup yesterday to have on hand for this week’s work lunches, adding in zucchini and carrots gifted to me by gardening friends. If I don’t have grab and go food in the fridge for lunch, it’s too easy to get sucked into the takeout zone.
We barely slid in under the SNAP budget last week, and that included using some meat already in our freezer. TIme for more rice & beans!

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Lucy September 24, 2012 at 8:41 am

I accidentally posted this on the day 5 post – thanks to my jerky computer!

We have an enormous 9 month stockpile on hand, so I approached this a bit differently. The actual prices of what we consumed during the week was $55.15, replacing that at current prices would have been $70.82. I made purchases of $11.04 last week for bread, bananas, lettuce, and a new salad dressing that was recommended to me. My husband and I are over 50 and both work physically demanding jobs. We both have dietary restrictions and I have food allergies to complicate things. My husband has nuts, bananas and coffee for breakfast and lunch. I usually have toast with peanut butter and coffee for breakfast and leftovers, a salad, or crackers and cheese for lunch with tea or juice. Our dinners were tuna hot dish (low fat version), oven roasted chicken breast cutlets, cheeseburgers (extra lean grass-fed ground beef), soup and crackers (hubby had fish at a work lunch, yea!), pork chops. On the weekend we had leftovers from the lunch bought for the work crew (this was paid for from the farm’s budget but came to $16.05 for the two days, wasn’t sure if that should be included in the totals or not).

Overall it was about what I expected, but I can see some room for improvement! Our one biggest item is coffee, but part of that goes to visitors to the farm and clients and should probably be partly a farm expense, but for now I figure it is fair trade for the leftovers on the weekend. Mostly this was an accounting exercise for me….all good, though!

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Corrie September 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm

The quote from that e-mail really resonated with me. When I first moved to my current city, I lived in a lower-income, inner-city area (the “hood”), and discovered the differences in food availability– particularly as that was the first time in a while I’d lived without a car, so I was pretty much stuck getting my groceries in my neighborhood (you can only carry so many groceries on the bus/nothing that needs to stay frozen for long/nothing in bulk/etc.)

My local grocery store was a) massively overpriced, compared to your average grocery stores and b) had ridiculously poor-quality food (I’m talking stuff that was near/past its expiration date, and at times literally spoiled– I recall one time looking through all the packaged loaves of bread on not being able to find one with no mold). Since then I’ve read different studies about how those price differences are a wider trend, and in some places food nearing its expiration is actually sent from suburban stores to inner-city stores of the same grocery chain (where it is then, ironically, marked up). It would be interesting to undertake a challenge like this, only shopping in areas where people may be more likely to rely on food stamps, or only shopping in amounts that could be carried home without a vehicle, etc.

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Alison September 26, 2012 at 6:49 am

Just saw a story about how the Mayor of Phoenix undertook a similar challenge to live on a “food stamp budget” for a week: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/26/greg-stanton-phoenix-mayor-food-stamps_n_1915608.html?ir=Politics&ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009

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