SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge — Day Three

by Katy on September 19, 2012 · 49 comments

Today is DAY THREE of the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge, and all is well. Here’s how much I’ve spent from my $112 budget so far:

  1. Day One — $0
  2. Day Two — $15.66
  3. Day Three — $6.77

Total — $22.43

What did I buy? I was low on a few different spices, so I walked my refillable jars to Fred Meyer and bought dill, curry powder and nutmeg. I also was out of cream cheese to go with the bagels that I bought on day two.

Bulk spices are almost always the cheapest option, not to mention that they’re much, much fresher (and more flavorful) than buying the pre-filled jars. And for infrequently used spices, you can buy the exact amount you need rather than buying an entire container, which then sits unused year after year.

  • Dill — $1.07
  • Nutmeg — $2.38
  • Curry — $1.58

For those of you who are trying to minimize food packaging waste, it’s a win-win situation! See that curry container? It’s a baby food jar, so you know I’ve been refilling it for a looong time!

I spent a fair amount of time cooking yesterday, and was able to prepare two-and-a-half pans of restuffed potatoes, one of which I slipped into our freezer for a later night. (Aren’t the colors pretty?) I also made a batch of red lentil soup and boiled up some chicken stock using the leftover chicken and bones from yesterday.

I let the availability of 10¢/pound potatoes guide this meal choice. Add to that the sale cheddar and cottage cheese, and this meal was crazy cheap! I was going to serve the potatoes with red lentil soup, but since I was out of curry powder, we ate these as-is.

Tonight’s dinner will be the kale pesto with a small amount of chicken from the freezer. The red lentil soup, (which is already prepared) will accompany the meal. I have a stash of clearance bags of 80¢ pasta from last week, so I’m all set on that end.

I am running low on olive oil, frozen chicken breasts and chicken stock, all of which I buy from Costco. I will be working to clean one of my mother’s rental cottages today, so I’ll probably stop into Costco afterwards for these items. (Her neighborhood is about halfway to Costco, so this minimizes driving.) I’ll make sure to drive whichever one of our cars is lowest on gasoline, as their prices are significantly cheaper than anywhere else.

By running this SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge, I hope I am shining a light on America’s food security issues, and also helping readers to glean ideas for bringing their own food costs down. I know I am in a privileged position to work part time, live within walking distance to both Fred Meyer and New Season’s, and be in possession of a well equipped and functioning kitchen. But I have made countless numbers of financial sacrifices throughout the years to make this all happen. I own very few clothes, rarely eat out, always bring leftovers to work, have zero expensive hobbies, repair or mend instead of replace and find contentment with less than perfect possessions. (I know I would love and utilize an iPhone, but for now, I make do with my non-smart phone.)

Not all of these choices have been enjoyable, but they all support my big picture goals. (Being present for my kids, having time for writing, carving out time to be alone and let my thoughts simmer, and not become a stressed out mess from overwork.)

Having the tools for frugality allows for life choices that would otherwise not be a possibility.

And for that? I will eat potatoes, lentils, sale chicken and oatmeal.

Click HERE to read Day One.

Click HERE to read Day Two.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

samantha September 19, 2012 at 9:21 am

Hey Katy, I live in PDX as well and have found taking my glass jars into Fred’s creates all sorts of confusion on how to tare the weight. How do you handle this? I started by going to the customer service people and saying “I want to weigh this so when I fill it with flour, you know how much to deduct off the weight.” I had no less than six people trying to figure out how to do this. It was EXASPERATING!!!! I really do want to minimize the plastic bag thing, so your idiots guide to tare-ing your containers would be so appreciated! Samantha


Katy September 19, 2012 at 9:44 am

It’s called a “Tare Weight.”

Yes, it’s a pain sometimes, but I don’t let it get under my skin.



Katy September 19, 2012 at 9:45 am

Oops. Just noticed that you already knew that. 😉



Lori September 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm

The author of “No Impact Man” suggests using very lightweight drawstring bags, which could be made from a light (but closed-weaved) fabric in different sizes and reused. That way, you could transport the purchased bulk items home and not use plastic bags. This idea wouldn’t for everything, but certainly beans, pasta, things like that.


samantha September 29, 2012 at 7:24 am

Yep, I understand the concept and would love to implement it. But at the Fred’s I go to, I get the jars weighed, have the tare weight on the jar, fill the jar, get to the check out line. And the checkout person doesn’t know what to do. So they call someone…and they don’t know…and well…you see where this goes. To show up in line with six bulk items, all tared, and have no one in the vicinity know how to handle it is frustrating to everyone: the people that work there and don’t know (which gives tare weight a bad rap), to me and to the folks whom got stuck behind me in the line. If everyone had the experiences I have had with this, no one would do it. Since you don’t seem to experience this kind of level of frustration…i beg of you…tell me exactly what you do! I would so love how to make this work for me….I need the Katy secret!


Kristen | The Frugal Girl September 19, 2012 at 10:06 am

My local natural food store is also usually confused about this. And I wonder if Whole Foods also would be…I’ve wanted to try using their bulk bins with my own containers, but I fear the headache.


EcoCatLady September 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm

I’ve had great luck at Whole Foods… they don’t even bat an eye. I also have some very lightweight bulk food bags that I made from rip-stop nylon, and I never even bother getting a tare on them because they’re so light. But last time I used them at Whole Foods the checker insisted on taring out her best guess for the weight of the bag. I was impressed.


Margaret September 19, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Whole Foods takes their Green Mission very seriously. And they are extremely focused on customer service. I would be very surprised to hear that they were anything but helpful with figuring out tares. And yes, they know how to do it because when they package things like cheese, olives, cut up fruit, etc. they have to enter the tare before printing their labels.


AnnDenee September 19, 2012 at 10:10 am

Most electronic scales have a *zero* button on them so you can set a container on the scale, *zero* it out and then weigh whatever you put into the container. It’s the button labelled *zero*. 🙂


Reese September 19, 2012 at 10:34 am

So would you go to the front desk, have them see that you have your own item, make them weigh it first, then go to the back, fill up with bulk goods, then have them reweigh it? How do they keep the tare weight straight? Are you relying on someone to just remember?

It seems like a huge hassle.. 😡


EcoCatLady September 19, 2012 at 12:13 pm

At my Whole Foods (the only place I’ve tried this) they put a little sticker on the container with the tare weight. I usually just stop by the customer service desk with my empty containers on my way into the store and get a tare on anything I plan to use – not really a hassle once you get in the habit.


Another Rebecca September 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Each store usually has its own method of deducting the tare from bulk goods. Some stores have you weigh your jars at the service desk and put a sticker on the item with the tare on it, so the checkout clerk knows how much to deduct. Our local coop has us do the tare ourselves before we fill our jars, and write the tare on the jar along with the item number for the clerks. Some places like whole foods, at least by us, will not let us use our own containers at all for the bulk items. So I bring in my reused bags if I go there at all. If a store has bulk, but no way of deducting the tare, like our local store, I bring my own bags, and just use the lightest plastic or fabric I can so the amt I pay for using my own bag is minimal. It still sends a message to the store that we don’t want more plastic from them.


Reese September 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm

This is SO good to know! I had no idea. I’ll look into it for sure 🙂


Megyn @MinimalistMommi September 19, 2012 at 9:23 am

I definitely agree on the give and take. And even as a family on SNAP, I still feel quite privileged! It’s all in the attitude, you know?!


Linda H. September 19, 2012 at 9:26 am

I’d love to know how you make the restuffed potatoes! Those look amazing!!!


Another Rebecca September 19, 2012 at 9:33 am

For us our biggest money saver is buying “ingredients” not “food”. Other than pasta and pretzels, we make EVERYTHING from scratch. I am a SAHM so much of my time is taken up in this, but we eat amazing foods and never feel deprived. My rule is even if its junk food like ice cream, we can eat it as long as we make it ourselves. We save money because we eat “treats” much more rarely now. And on the plus side, my new jeans are loose in the waist now! Score!


Mary September 19, 2012 at 9:34 am

I will be roasting potatoes over here…I just got my email version of Aldi’s weekly flyer and red skin potatoes are 79 cents per THREE pound bag. That is stunning! I’ll definitely be combining errands tomorrow to stock up on spuds! I can’t remember who to give credit to regarding getting on the email lists of grocery stores in my area in order to take advantage of weekly loss leaders, but that is my SNAP-frugal tip of the day!


Lesley September 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Mary, I noticed that exact same price for red spuds in the Aldi ad! cheers


Lesley September 19, 2012 at 9:43 am

I sooooo agree with the goals you listed at the end of this post. AMEN to not being an over-worked, over-wrought, stressed-to-the-max human being! No $$ is worth that.


Pat September 19, 2012 at 9:55 am

We are having macaroni salad ( at dh request) and I will just use things out of the fridge, like 1/2 stalk of celery and 1/2 of an onion diced fine and my last 2 garden radishes chopped fine, some mayo and the mac I have in my jars. Then to go with this, we are having homemade pizza ( another dh request!) with tomatoe sauce ( left over from spaghetti last week), sliced thin sausage, and some fine chopped onion, thin sliced olives ( 69 cent a tin sale item in the pantry… the rest will show up in other meals and salad), mushrooms ( small container bought for 99 cents… will only use 3 and slice very thin), and the last 1/4 of a red pepper ( surprised it is still good!, bought 2 weeks ago 4peppers in a bag for $2.00 that was an excellent price for here). So this is a free day from the stores.
Also am making some french bread and another batch of scones this afternoon, so that when I cook the pizza I can use the oven without re-heating it from scratch.
Checking out the freezer for a chicken to pull out. I am craving sticky chicken and would like to make it tomorrow in the crock pot. And serve it with rice and some broccoli that needs to be used up. ( that was on sale for 99 cents a bunch .. 3 stalks last week).
I usually buy all my month’s meat when we get pensions. I stock up then on what ever is on clearence or is a loss leader, so by this time of the month is it use what’s in the house, and soon it will be canned and frozen veg. till payday.


Barb September 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Could you share the sticky chicken recipe? It sounds good and I love things that I can throw in the crockpot. Thanks!


EcoCatLady September 19, 2012 at 10:11 am

OK… here’s what I keep thinking. It seems like in order to keep within this food budget without a garden, one ends up having a very high proportion of grains and starches in one’s diet – pasta, potatoes, rice, oatmeal, flour (mostly in the form of bread) etc. These are all foods that I try very hard to minimize in my diet.

I realize that I am a bit of a vegephile – I consider the 5 servings of fruits & veggies that the govt recommends to be a bare minimum, and I generally aim to make at least half of each meal be fruits & veggies – preferably more. I’m realizing that without the ability to garden this would be next to impossible on a SNAP budget – in fact, I think it would be difficult to even make the 5 servings recommendation!

I never really thought about it before, but I can buy chicken for less per pound than I can get most vegetables – even frozen ones on sale. The gears in my brain are seriously smoking trying to figure out the mathematics of that one… seems like it should take MANY more resources to create a pound of chicken than a pound of green beans. I can’t help but think that our national farm policy has something to do with the relative cost of these foods.

I realize that not everyone subscribes to my “vegetables uber alle” philosophy, but still, it seems like it would be really difficult to get enough with this budget. I’m curious what others think about this. Am I completely over the top with my eating plan? Are there ways to do this on this budget? What do you think?


Reese September 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

Like you, I try to minimize the amount of starches and carbs in my diet. So I’ve managed to reduce carbs by not buying bread or baked goods of any sort. If I can make it, I do. And if I don’t make it, we go without.

For me, pasta is cheap, but I’m not overly fond of it. My family tends to reach for couscous, beans or gnocchi, all of which is fairly cheap by me. We also DO eat potatoes, but choose not to a lot. Rice is VERY EXPENSIVE by us, so we don’t buy it often. One bag lasts a very long time.

What I spent the majority of my $56/week budget (for me and my hubs) is on fresh produce. We shop at a locally owned market that has out-of-this-world prices. Spending $30 on produce often produces a number of grocery bags full of stuff. This place is always packed, so a good number of people know about it’s awesomery.

I think it’s completely possible to buy only fresh ingredients while on food stamps. It just takes some looking (took us a while to find this place!). And of course, we tend to avoid shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, because those produce items are so SO pricey. 🙂


EcoCatLady September 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Wow… sounds like you’ve hit the jackpot with that local market! I used to belong to a CSA farm, which I think would be another great option if you didn’t have a garden – although you’d have to pay up front, and I sorta doubt you can use food stamps for a CSA membership. I finally quit the CSA because my garden produces so much that I couldn’t eat all the farm produce on top of it!


Poor to Rich a Day at a Time September 19, 2012 at 11:32 am

To be honest Eco Cat lady, it is simplyhabit for me to shop and eat high in carbs, a habit I am trying to break as aim for a healthier lifestyle. There have been weeks I do not shop carbs and more the fresh produce and bean route so yeah it can be done, if you are not spending money on flour, potatos, rice and breads, that money can go for the fresh produce. Not in my area but I have heard many farmers markets and even CSA will accept Food stamps. I have had years with a garden and years without, so maybe more difficult without the garden it is still possible


EcoCatLady September 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I hear you on the carbs habit… it’s taken me YEARS to break it!


Reese September 19, 2012 at 1:02 pm

In Illinois they just passed a bill that allows you to use food stamps as payment at the farmer’s markets and CSAs (as long as the farm is within the State). Which is totally wonderful! 🙂 Wish every state did it!


Megyn @MinimalistMommi September 19, 2012 at 1:54 pm

You can use SNAP & WIC at most farmer’s markets here in AZ too. It’s been that way for awhile.

missy September 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm

“Vegetables uber alle” is basically the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.


Megyn @MinimalistMommi September 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm

There are definitely ways to do this! We have a store called Sprouts that has SUPER deals on produce. For example, they have red bell peppers 3 for $1 whereas our local Fry’s (aka Kroger) has a red bell pepper running $1.80 per! They also had frozen organic veggies B1G1, so I stocked up. I think it really comes down to shopping the sales, buying what you’ll actually use, etc. When we only shopped locally for a month, we got a HUGE amount of veggies and fruits for our $100/week budget. However, this is coming from the carbaholic who can easily pound back 1/2 dozen donuts & a box of crackers all in one day, so my impression of a lot of veggies may not be yours. 😉


EcoCatLady September 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Hey Megyn,

Sprouts just bought out another chain here (Sunflower Market) so I may have to check them out. There isn’t one very close to me, but it’s definitely doable, and would be worth it if the prices are really that much better!


Barb September 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

I was having the same thought as I don’t eat many processed carbs. My weight is now ideal (size 4/6) after dramatically reducing starchy carbs about a year and a half ago. I pretty much don’t eat processed white foods…breads, pastas, rice, potatoes but I don’t limit my fruits and other vegetables and it works for me. I will be interested in hearing if others can keep on this budget while eating fewer starches. I realize many folks are in areas without access to a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables so I really don’t know how they manage.


Jo H. September 19, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Some vegetables are much cheaper than others; for example, onions, carrots, turnips, cabbage and potatoes are cheaper than peppers, mushrooms, fresh beans, lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers. Are the former veggies available across the US or only in the more northerly areas? (I live in Canada at a latitude comparable to northern US)


Katy September 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

All vegetables are available in Portland, but maybe less so in other areas of the U.S. I know that some urban neighborhood are considered “Food Deserts” and residents have next to food shopping options.

Here’s a NY Times article about the issue:



EcoCatLady September 19, 2012 at 7:46 pm

That’s a really good point. I’ve got a TON of weird food allergies, so it limits my choices quite a bit, and takes a bunch of the cheaper options off the table, but “normal” people wouldn’t have that to contend with.


Karen September 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

Re;the iPhone. It is that old case of “need versus want.” Since it is not a defined need, it must be a want. Sigh, sigh. Wish I could have one, too, instead of my make-do non-Smart phone.


Mary September 20, 2012 at 5:37 am

I still have a flip phone!


Paula in the UP September 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Well thats pretty neat about how you buy your spices. I didn’t know stores did this. I usually just buy the $1 spices and yes I end up with containers of spices that seldom get used and then thrown away! I am going to start making more of our own seasoning packets, like taco and chili seasoning.

Your doing remarkable with the challenge!


Poor to Rich a Day at a Time September 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I so wish I could buy spices in bulk locally! a tiny tiny spice of say curry or ginger is $5 in my area! Love your potatos Katy those look great!

Today for the challenge since I already did my shopping for the entire week for this challenge I made a mama original tonight.

I made Chicken Meatballs and Pina Colada Rice balls served over bean sprouts the recipe is posted here

breakfast was simply left over oatmeal carrot spice muffins and lunch was tomato sandwiches from our garden , nothing earth shattering there! but it fills the tummy.


jennifer September 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Great idea – love the way it helps others realize you can eat well on a budget! I’ve know this for years too – yes, it takes a bit of sacrifice like you mention (to live well, be present for your kids and not stressed out…) but it is worth it – I agree. I look forward to reading more of your posts as we are of a like mind set…we met last year around this time too – you commented on a story about my family and our lifestyle featured in the NYT.
So pleased to be following your blog and looking forward to sharing your tips with my readers too! all the best.


Susan Robinson September 19, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I haven’t been following your blog very long so maybe you have already mentioned this. Have you seen the documentary “Food Stamped”? It really opened my eyes to the fact that lots of people on SNAP use so many carbs and not much produce because it is cheap! Then some people generalize that those on food stamps are heavy because they are just sitting around and not working. What a farce! When people are trying to fill the stomachs of their family on $1.00 each per meal, making healthy choices takes care and education. I wish there were classes for those receiving SNAP on how to extend their allotment in the best and healthest ways.


Sandra j September 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

There are! It’s called SNAP-Ed (education) – checkout the extension Division of your state’s public land grant university and they can give you lots of information – or google SNAP-Ed and FNS. They offer classes, do demos, have newsletters, there are on line resources, they go to schools, senior centers, libraries, wherever they can – great folks doing a great job while dealing with program cuts and layoffs. You don’t hear about the program a lot as it is funded at $375 million verses billions for the SNAP program. The resources are there , but it is hard to reach so many people.


NMPatricia September 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm

And I am glad that you do take time to write!


John Benton September 19, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Katy, let me apologize for coming on so strong with my post the other day. I now realize that your motives are genuine and you are trying to help. I wish that you and your like minded followers could develop a mechanism to actually go out in your respective communities and teach your skills to the disadvantaged that need them. What you do in your meal planning and budgeting is a very valuable exercise, but somehow it needs to trickle down to those that need the information. Unfortunately those in the greatest need are the least able or interested in accessing your blog. The tragedy is that a welfare receiving drug mom could care less. The kids suffer and will repeat the cycle. Somehow our energies need to stop this madness.


Another Katy September 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I have to reply, John. “The tragedy is that a welfare receiving drug mom could care less.” The great great majority of SNAP recipients are not drug users, including many of the commenters on this blog. Of course there are people who game any system (Wall Street bankers anyone?) but falling back on that old stereotype is fuzzy thinking, as well as harmful to the great majority of honest people who need support in rough times.

It’s not just poor people who can learn to shop and cook in a more healthful way. Our whole country needs some serious re-education. Thanks, Katy, for the part you play in helping all of us become more aware.


Rachel September 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm

In response to the earlier posts about high carb diets – I think it is rare not to include some form of starch in the majority of meals – breakfast is normally oatmeal (porridge), toast, cereal, etc. Lunch is normally a sandwich or some derivative of it (roll, wrap, etc) or leftovers from the previous night, and dinner is meat, veg and some form of starch – rice, potatoes, pasta, bread, noodles, etc. It would be rare – at least where I live – to avoid carbohydrates unless you are on a specific diet (e.g. low carb for weight loss or IBS/Coeliac diet). To include carbs with each meal makes sense – that’s what fills you up. They type you choose will depend how healthy or unhealthy it is for you – e.g. choosing wholemeal bread rather than white, unrefined foods, etc. Most of what is considered low GI foods are minimally processed which means it takes your body longer to process, so you don’t get the sugar highs when it is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. Most starches have a low GI equivalent, which means if you don’t have dietary requirements, these are normally a better alternative for minimal or no price difference. It can be as simple as changing the variety of rice you buy from Jasmine to Basmati. Incidental, I can buy a 10kg bag of Basmati rice for AUD$10, which lasts us months and we normally have a rice meal at least once a week. Using 1/3 cup (uncooked) per person as a serve this works out very cheap, filling, and not at all unhealthy.
Our dinner last night was chicken soup with rice noodles in it. You can check it out on my blog.


dusty September 20, 2012 at 3:11 am

Just wondering what you would do about milk? It’s only me and my partner and last week we spent $10 on milk (gallon of 2% for him, 1/2 gallon of almond milk for me and a quart of store brand 1/2 and 1/2 for our coffee, tea). What do families with children do in this case? I would imagine that two teenage boys could drink a gallon of milk per day. Just curious.


emmer September 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm

to get a tare weight, i go to a checker when i enter the store and have them weigh my glass container and mark the wieght on the container with a grease pen or felt marker.
i make lightweight produce and bulk food bags from old sheer curtains and other lightweight fabric. they are usually tightly woven and will hold most anything. i hand sew thin cord or full strand embroidery floss with a running stitch near the top so that i can easily draw the bag closed.


Vicki September 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm

We buy our spices in bulk (from an Indian Grocery Store) and keep them in whatever jars we have. Our few babyfood jars (I pretty much just used babyfood when we were travelling) didn’t last, but we have honey jars, peanut jars, and other little vials out the wazoo!


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