June Food Stamp Challenge — Day Two

by Katy on June 3, 2010 · 17 comments

Today was day two of the June Food Stamp Challenge, where my family of four will only spend the average amount that a food stamp recipient receives, (which is $101 per person, per month.) Any money saved, or leftover from the $404 will be donated to The Oregon Food Bank.

Many readers have commented that this amount is much, much more than their family spends in a normal month. I am hearing that many readers rely heavily on coupons, which many people swear by. However, coupons are often criticized as many items, especially staples such as fruit, vegetables, flour, grains, etc. rarely if ever hit the Sunday coupon circulars.

So can couponing and eating a diet based on whole foods intermingle?

I say yes and no.

Most coupons are for pre-packaged foods like frozen meals, canned soup, cookies, chips and the like. However, it’s not a rarity to find store specific coupons for milk, flour, eggs or bread; or even manufacturer’s coupons for items such as Muir Glen organic tomatoes (there’s a current $1 off coupon on coupons.com!)

You don’t have to clip every coupon, just the ones for food you would be buying anyway!

The Safeway’s in the Portland area double up to four coupons, and print a monthly $10 off $50 coupon in the newspaper that runs for a full eight days. I almost always snag an extra one from from a neighbor, and am able to use the coupon both at the beginning and end of the week. I buy the majority of my family’s groceries during this one week, and just fill in the rest of the month with perishables and necessities such as vegetables, loss leaders and ice cream.

I have written before about my love/hate relationship with coupons, and although I carry my trusty coupon organizer with me at all times, I do not consider myself a “Couponista.” I don’t let my food choices get swayed by the slips of paper in my purse, yet I know better than to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Coupons can save you money on your grocery bills. Whether that amount is significant depends on your level of committment, your area of the country and the type of food that you buy.

Tomorrow I’m meeting up with Angela from Frugal Living NW, which is a popular frugal living/ couponing blog and we’re going bar hopping grocery shopping together. I am excited to pick her brain and let her show off her couponing system, which often yields free and “money maker” items for her pantry.

Until then, I share with you the infamous Coupon Queen from youtube:

Do you rely on coupons to bring your family’s food bill within reach? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Beth D. June 3, 2010 at 6:36 am

I don’t ever rely on coupons to get me through the week because I just don’t buy a lot of the packaged food that “normal” coupons are for. However, I live in Michigan and we have Meijer stores which print coupons at checkout, plus they have a website that has in-store coupons for selected items each week. They let you combine store coupons with manufacturer coupons which is great. Also, the coupons that are printed in-store sometimes are general “$4 off any produce purchase” or “$1 off Meijer organic brand”, etc. I have saved quite a bit of money with those. I just love a great coupon deal! 🙂


Karen @ Abundance on a Dime June 3, 2010 at 7:36 am

Coupons play a very small roll in achieving my $300/month grocery budget for our family of four (on average, I use coupons less than once/month). Here in Canada, there are not nearly as many coupons available as there are in the U.S. We don’t have stores that double or triple coupons, either. Plus most of the coupons that are available are for highly processed foods. I use store rewards a few times per year to save $20 off my grocery bill; other coupons contribute only a tiny bit of savings for me. Buying bulk whole foods at their rock-bottom price, eating meat infrequently and in very modest portions, making my own bread and yogurt and cooking all meals from scratch are the primary ways we save a lot of money on food.


namastemama June 3, 2010 at 6:40 pm

I like this post and other’s like it. I cut out HFCS, trans fat, MSG and many other foods like that almost 10 years ago. If I felt ok eating the food mentioned in the video I would be a coupon queen but I don’t. I might buy ketchup 2X a year and rarely let my kids eat pop tarts so finding a coupon for it wouldn’t do me much good plus stores in my area really limit the use of coupons. Only double coupons on certain days, only up to 30 cents etc. That being said I once spent $800 a month on food. I have cut that down and this is how.
Grow your own – we have a big garden and can. Even the first year I had to buy jars and some spices I figured a quart of homegrown organic tomato sauce cost 99 cents. After the first year you rarely buy jars. This would cost $3-$4 in the store. I also make my own jam, pickles, bread, some cheese and most recently we will try yogurt. You still have to buy some ingredients but much cheaper than buying in the store. Start your plants from seeds and save even more.
BARTER- I would love to see more discussion on this. I am currently trading rhubarb and dill for greens which didn’t come up in my garden this year. There is always something plentiful.
Find a local grower – organic free range eggs for $3 a dozen rather than the $5 in the store. Goat milk for less too. Raw milk for $5 a gallon.
HUNT/FORAGE – One still has to buy a license but my hubby hunts on a friends and land and in turn gives him 1/2 a deer. We have started to mark places we find wild berries, asparagus etc. on the GPS and will go back when food is in season.
Join a co-op – buy in bulk. We have entire meals where the food came from our freezer and garden. Not only is it sooo satisfying it’s really cheap. There is the aspect of some hard work but that’s free!


Andrea June 3, 2010 at 8:37 am

I rarely, if ever use coupons. I buy the majority of our food through a natural foods food buying club/co-op, which may or may not save money in the long run (50 pound bag of flour anyone?) but probably evens our with miscalculations, lost items and buying stuff I don’t need off the surplus table. The rest I buy from our local, independent health food store and the farmer’s market with an occassional trip to the Hannaford for butter, cheese, some produce and junk food from their bulk foods bins…none of which lends itself to coupons. For me it’s more important to feed my family healthful, local, organic, natural food and scrimp in other areas in order to pay for it. (I will say I buy very little in the way of processed or packaged food; ingredients like fresh vegetables and grains may seem expensive, but probably end up cheaper in the long run).


Jess June 3, 2010 at 8:38 am

Oh, my, the woman in the youtube video surely buys tons of processed food, does she ever buy fresh food?
After watching that piece, I called my mom and thanked her repeatedly because as I was growing up, she only fed us home cooked meals made with fresh ingredients. Thank you, Mom! And no, my mom didn’t use coupons, she still kept her grocery budget at bay.


Linda June 3, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Katy, I can give you an authentic experience. I will tell you how it is not hard to eat well on food stamps. There is just me and one weekly guest. I have no ravenous teens. I get food stamps–$200.

Okay, I hate having to say so, but I get food stamps–$200/mth. Shocked? It is entirely doable to live on them. And, I really hate admitting this to people I do not see everyday. I don’t know why.

Another thing people on food stamps can do–go to food banks.

I do. Shocked? Whatever!

Yes, three degrees and on food stamps. I surely did not plan injuries and suffering just to get “freebies.” I would much rather be doing what I love and getting paid more than not. My physical pain is not worth $200/mth.

I never buy any food at full price! EVER! Okay, rarely. Okay, milk, fruits and vegetables. Maybe I am just dying for something and I will. I spend the EBT card and pinch it like it is my hard-earned money and get the best deals ever. I use coupons, shop loss leaders, only buy pork, chicken and beef that is reduced or a loss leader. And, you know what? I can have “luxuries” with that money. I am not eating beans from the can.

My luxuries are Cokes, box of baking cocoa, fresh fruits and vegetables, just normal things. I rarely buy chips but when I do, I buy Ruffles for a swollen, red, sore throat.

Even buying food at full price I believe I would not suffer. Using food stamps, I have still been able to stock my pantry! Twenty cents worth of chocolate will hold me for a night. I don’t have to have a $3 or $4 box of cookies to satisfy that chocolate urge.

I bought alfredo sauce as I do once in a while. Alfredo sauce was $2.24/jar, and it lasted for four meals of whole wheat noodles and chicken additions. I still ate a meal for around $1.

Eating beans is not a hardship meal. I cooked and ate those when I had plenty.

I really hate seeing friends with whom I have socialized who are working at the food bank. RATS! But, it is survival here. They are really nice to me and say they don’t blame me and relate how their children or relatives are doing the same thing in another city or state. I just don’t think it is such a big deal anymore to need help.

Some months I spend only $150 0f my $200 EBT. Some months I could kick myself because I end up spending another $50 from my pocket. But, when it comes to milk, fruit, fresh vegetables and maybe some cheese out of my pocket, I don’t mind. Frivolities and wastefulness are what puts me over limit. So, I try to eat well, have goodies but not buy expensive items.

As long as a person does not buy popped popcorn, huge ready-to-eat pizzas, bottles of sugary drinks-kool-aid-like, boxed mixes, bags of candy, $30 cuts of meat, 2 lb bags of sugar, cinnamon buns, cookies, and candy…all at once, I mean, this is a livable amount. Sometimes, I see the groceries purchased with food stamps and am appalled at the lack of good food or plain food.

Luckily, I really like chicken and not crab legs. Spam will not pass through my lips. I cook from scratch about 99.9% of the time…lol. Meatless meals will be because I want them, not because I cannot afford meat.

I was talking to a cashier with whom I have become friends. Of course, she knows I am buying the specials, using coupons, not spending money on prepared food. When I shop on Wed, I get another 5% off. She said there was another woman who used food stamps, had a really good education, and used her coupons to her advantage.

I did buy on-sale bologna on sale last Saturday because I just wanted it. We ate it on bread store bread and mustard free with a coupon. Friend Charlie had water; I had a diet coke. It will be six weeks before I buy bologna again. Maybe I can go two months before the urge hits.

The bread store takes food stamps. If I go on Tuesday, I get 5% off my total. If I buy $7 worth, I get to spin a wheel and get free items. I do use my freezer to help me purchase deals.

I do hope to not be eligible for EBT….working on it all the time.

I know a woman who gets $500 from her husband’s social security. She uses Medicare or Medicaid for health care. That health care money is counted as income, so she can only get $10 in food stamps. So, she gets health care and cannot eat healthy food. Does that make sense? She does go to the market and eats better than most because she pinches pennies to afford to eat.

Right now, I contribute to the church food bank fund by donating books, clothing, and household goods to their thrift store. I give eggs to people who cannot afford them. I tutor for free on occassion. When I taught GED, I learned the ropes of the welfare system because students with problems have trouble learning. Therefore, knowing the ins and outs of systems for all sorts of help, I can and do help people solve their problems–an informal social worker…LOL.

I use food stamps, gleaning, freecycle, food banks, coupons, safari, 5% off for seniors days, loss leaders, and judicious use of my “money” to make $200 stretch to more like $300 and often more. Sure, I have pangs of embarrassment. More often I am just rejoicing in how far I can stretch my money. Rght now, I have $12 to last me until June 14th.

I will make it without undue hardship since I have fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator. If I don’t have an apple, I can eat applesauce from the food bank. I have frozen bananas on the counter,strawberries, mango, and blueberries for a smoothie. (Frozen mangoes were an extravagance that I don’t often buy.) I will not run out of meat, bread, whole wheat noodles, whole grain rice, condiments, oatmeal, or spaghetti sauce. Milk, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables are the things that might run out. I do have powdered milk and canned fruits and vegetables. I cannot in any poverty situation imagine drinking powdered milk, but who knows?

$12 dollars for 11 days. Doable.



Linda June 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

PS, if I want or absolutely must have an apple or banana, I can spend cash! I often do. Sometimes, at the end of my month, I only have one glass of milk for the last day instead of my usual two or three. I don’t suffer by not having milk for that short period of time. But, I don’t often go over my $200 so that I must spend cash.


Kris June 3, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I’ll admit I do use coupons on occasion and I DO buy prepared/processed foods. (GASP! THE HORROR!) I don’t eat highly processed foods too often but I do keep a stash of frozen meals in my freezer for those days/times when I’m sick or just plain exhausted. I figure, if I’m so sick/tired that I’m NOT going to cook, having a frozen meal in my freezer which I bought REALLY cheap with a coupon will still save me money over going through the drive-thru at my nearest fast food joint. I do have a variety of homemade frozen meals that I keep in my freezer for the same purpose but they are not always replenished as quickly as they disappear (if I’m only home between flights for 10-11 hrs…you better believe I’m not spending much time in the kitchen cooking!!). I grew up in a house run by a mother who hated cooking and a father who travelled for work and was out of town five days of the week….we ate TONS of highly processed foods growing up so maybe that’s why I don’t feel so bad eating processed foods once in a blue moon. I can compare it to how I USED to eat and I still come out ahead. 😉


Elizabeth L. June 3, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Linda, thanks so much for sharing your story and how you manage to eat so well on a tight budget. I really appreciated your honesty.

My family of three has a budget of $400/month. That’s pretty generous as far as I can tell. Food budgets are a foreign concept to my mom, who does the grocery shopping. I make the menu plan and the lists, but she isn’t so good about only buying what’s on the list. We use coupons when we can, and only for the items that we would buy anyway. I try to combine them with sales when possible, but isn’t easy and I often run of things before they go on sale again. I like coupons, especially for toiletries, but I don’t live by them. I use them when I can.

Katy, I’m looking forward to hearing about your shopping trip!


Rebecca June 3, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I am starting to use more coupons to help stretch our budget, as kids get older they eat more! Katy understands, I’m sure.

We buy a lot of loss leaders, and I keep a cheat sheet of “must buy” prices to let me know that if an item goes below that number, time to stock up. Like cheese for $2/lb or butter for $1/lb, etc. I collect coupons of all sorts, and although our family doesn’t use a lot of the products, I try and pick up items that come out free and donate them.

I am very picky about preservatives, etc in foods, and so I am fairly brand loyal, once I find one, or several, up to my standards (a lot of the time its not the most expensive one!) 2 of my kids are autistic, and are incredibly picky eaters, ex: they only eat chicken patties, and only one brand, etc. So I and family members esp watch for coupons for those items which I know I have to have regardless of cost.

I also try to find cheaper alternatives to more expensive items, if I can. My kids won’t eat home made granola bars, but they will eat the ALDI version of NatureValley bars, which are much cheaper. A splurge for me is GF bread crumbs for breading items and topping caseroles, but it is really expensive, and making GF bread and then crumbs is labor intensive, and also not cheap. But I have 2 kids on WIC, and we get a lot of cereal every month that no one eats! So I buy GF cereals that are WIC approved ( Chex, esp) and put them through the food processor for GF crumbs.


Rebecca June 3, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I just need to say that I love that Katy finds “vegetables, loss leaders and ICE CREAM” as necessities. So true.

A word to those of you who are on food stamps. My family has been there in the past, we went off them for a couple of years, and now are back on them, though right now they supplement, rather than being our whole grocery budget.

If you pay taxes, then you have been giving that money to our government to help out those that need it. So if you need it now, use it without shame! When we first starting receiving them, my mother was so ashamed that I would admit to people we rec’d FS. I’m like, why, I pay hard earned money to the gov’t so I can get the help I need. Most of us work good jobs that just don’t meet our families needs. Or we can’t work, due to health challenges. I know it has a stigma about it, that those on FS don’t work even though they could, or are taking advantage of the system, or are lazy. But we know it isn’t true.


Lisa P. June 3, 2010 at 4:57 pm

The key to using coupons is to use them on items you would normally purchase in conjunction with sales. It takes practice, patience & a while to get the timing down but it does work. I’ll never get to the point of true coupon queens who get their grocery bills to under $10 etc. but I save a lot on kitty food (we have cats, no kids), always have a great stock of toiletries & paper products (probably more than I need since I’m now hooked on using towels LOL) and a few frozen items such as pierogies and tortellini for nights I just want to prepare an easy meal. I also find many yogurt, cheese and baking coupons (these are prevalent during the holidays) and I stock up on these items at that time. Lastly, during the traditional nor’easters in New England ~ homemade bread & a can of veggie soup beat out icy roads any day. 🙂


Deena June 4, 2010 at 12:25 am

We almost never use coupons, because as others mentioned, cutting out foods with HFCS, gluten, trans-fats, and BPA-lined cans cuts out most coupons right along with them.

I haven’t really noticed our grocery bill going up much, though, since we cook from scratch more than before. We’ve also learned to have more flexibility in our menus, which cuts down on costs tremendously. We had fresh cherries at dinner tonight because they were an unadvertised special at the market today.

Over the years, I’ve found a few Depression/WWII-era cookbooks at the thrift store which address “making do” and the opposite, having surpluses of seasonal foods. More than anything else, they’ve helped me economize by being able to buy, use (and not waste) inexpensive seasonal foods.


J. Smith June 4, 2010 at 5:39 am

My husband and I have a food/grocery budget of $150 a month (this includes our cleaning supplies and toiletries). That’s for 2 people. I do not use coupons. I would be thrilled to have $220 a month for our food budget, but that’s not what is in our budget. We order the bulk of our food in advance through a CSA (each week we get a half gal. of milk, a dozen eggs, and a speciality item like local honey or mushrooms. And every other week we also get 3 lbs of beef -various cuts ranging from filet down to ground chuck and a whole chicken). We have a VERY small garden (a 3×7′ raised bed) and a deck with some container gardening and I am able to can vegetables for us to eat all winter long using the square foot method. We garden organically so the cost for supplies is minimal, just the seeds each year and we share with a neighbor – she buys half and I buy half then we trade so we have a good variety at half the cost. I also make our own bread using bulk yeast and flour purchased at a warehouse club (we get the membership free as a benefit of my husband’s job). The rst goes towards staples like rice, sugar, oil etc and then our toiletries. We do get a 10% discount on taxable items if I shop at my husband’s store so that helps, but it’s nto much. We do NOT buy any convenience foods. At all. None, zip, nada. No chips, no granola bars, no cereal, no cookies, no canned soups (we can our own), etc. It can be done and I really don’t work that much harder to do it. It’s like Amy Dacyczyn (the Tightwad Gazette!) use to say, you should pick hobbies that have a benefit. For me I really enjoy our little garden and putting up food for the winter. So my hobby actually pays me, not the other way around.

We live in the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky. It is pretty low cost of living when compared nationaly, but higher than the rural areas in our state.


Deb June 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Reading this post and the comments is very inspiring…I sent a link to my friends and family.
I have a family of two; myself, my college age daughter, and once or twice a week my daughter’s boyfriend. I wasn’t able to help my daughter pay for college, but I can provide a roof over her head and food to eat while she goes to a local state college. Anyway, we have a budget of $65 per week for food (including eating out), household, and toiletries combined. That’s about $281 a month.
I split a half share in a CSA with a friend, which will provide produce, eggs, honey, some bread, and “surprise” items. I have lettuce, kale, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, chives, green onions, and oregano planted in my garden this year (4′ X 8′, and some containers). I’m hoping to be able to can and dry the surplus for the winter.
Since I use the envelope system for my weekly bills, it’s easy for me to know exactly what I have available when I shop. It’s not always easy keeping to my budget — I come from a long line of foodies and cooks –but I have goals I want to meet, and this is one of those ways I can do it.
I have some friends, childless, who spend $150 per week on food for 2 people! That does NOT include eating out. They can afford this, the expense doesn’t bother them, and to each his own.
That said, I think it would be a big challenge for the average person to feed a family of 4, with growing children, on $400 a month. I’m sure once they adjusted, it would get easier, but some people don’t have the knowledge needed to make the choices that will help stretch their dollar.
I taught a budget course last year, and had a newly widowed person, raising a grandson, who was on a fixed income for the first time. She didn’t know how to do many of the things that the readers of this blog and others take for granted, or think are common place, or common sense. While teaching that course, and co-teaching another, I questioned the participants about strategies for saving on groceries, or stretching their food dollar. I was surprised by how many people didn’t have what I thought of as basic skills with regard to providing the food for their family.
Decided to challenge myself this month, and try to keep my grocery/eating out/household/toiletry budget to $50 per week. I can’t afford to donate food I already have in my pantry and freezer, so I would probably have to extend this challenge into July to get the real feel of it.
You know what? While it’s obviously healthier for us and the environment to eat organic, non-processed foods, once in a while that yellow-powder boxed mac & cheese just hits the spot, and reminds me of when I was younger (my sister and I thought it was a real treat, and we were in high school!).


Melissa June 4, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I don’t use a lot of coupons, because we don’t eat a lot of processed foods, either (except cereal – sometimes cereal is just the perfect quick breakfast before the rush to school). However, I haven’t really ever tried to hunt down coupons for items I actually use. I just wait until they come to me (in the Sunday paper, catalinas, etc.). Maybe I should try.


Debbie June 5, 2010 at 10:39 am

Just thought I’d add that we are currently getting food stamps because our business is being heavily effected by the constant rain and the economy. Leaving us struggling with no unemployment. I started couponing last month to help make them stretch and to get things that make life more fun and easier. Like ziplock bags, the solo plates, deoderant and things like these. Even snagged some Fred Meyer Mirra products for my teenager…life is good when the teenager smiles! Couponing has been very fun and helpful to the moral when things are tough.


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