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Livin' on a food stamp budget

Livin’ on a food stamp budget (Photo credit: miss karen)


I am an avid reader of the Non Consumer Advocate blog, and its author, Katy, runs an annual challenge to highlight food insecurity in America.  Usually she asks readers to participate by feeding their family on a  food stamp budget ($4 per person per day, which is $112 per week for a family of four) for one month.  This year she ran the challenge for a single week.

I must confess, up front, that I’m a very half-assed participant in these challenges.  Before my husband left, we were a family of five and I budgeted $500 per month for groceries.  That didn’t include the $120 per month for Take-Out Tuesdays (see Bad Mom Confessions).  So really, we spent $620 per month for food for a family of five.  (And that still didn’t include the cost of diet soda and wine.)  After my husband left, I needed to cut our expenses fast and deep.  I took an axe to the food budget and set a goal of $300 per month for the four of us (me and three teens).  This was migraine-inducing.  Super hard.  I generally spend a bit under $400 per month plus about $80 per month for Take-Out Tuesday.

But I’d like to get the budget down.  So I took on Katy’s challenge last month and made it my goal to actually spend half of the SNAP/Food Stamp budget for the week, mainly because I only had $100 left of my $300 monthly (goal) budget and my pantry was well-stocked.

Here’s what I learned:

*It’s really hard to stock up on a small budget.  My normal weekly shopping includes buying a few items that I may not need this week, but are on sale for a rock-bottom price.  That’s almost impossible on $56.

*Flexibility is key.  I had to be creative to make the $56 stretch to cover all the items we were low on/out of.  Instead of buying sub rolls for our (soy) meatball sandwiches, I defrosted hot dog buns.  That may violate the “rules” of the challenge, but it’s how I roll…and in keeping with the spirit of using what you have.

*Cooking from scratch is an absolute necessity.  There was no room in the $56 budget for treats, so I baked cookies and breakfast muffins from scratch.  Nobody would’ve died without treats, but they’re nice to have.

*Plan or give up.  I had to have a plan for every meal every day otherwise I’d have given up.

*It would be really hard to cook like I do if I were working full-time.  If/when I get a full-time job, my weekends will be filled with cooking and freezing meals for the week.

I could easily feed my family on $112 per week, but here in California very few families qualify for the full amount of food assistance.  You have to hit bottom to qualify, which would mean no food in the freezer, cupboards or pantry.  I’m grateful not to be in that position.  I’m even more grateful that this was an intellectual exercise, not a daily reality.