We came across an article called Can you live on $4.20 a day? It is a challenge to the state officials and even the community to be challenged to live on the value that those who are on food stamps receive. They are challenging people to understand how difficult and near impossible it is to eat off of $4.20 a day in food.
This includes all food, including anytime you eat out and essentially anything you put in your mouth.
The challenge runs from Sept. 15-21, and we are going to be a part of the challenge. We really encourage you to be a part of the challenge too and see what you can do for $4.20 per person, per day.
Would $4.20 per person, per day go very far?
When you initially think about living on $4.20 a day, for us, it seems like a no-brainer, easy challenge. In fact, we posted an article about a mom of nine who feeds her family for $3.67 per person, per day, which is below poverty level eating. After posting this article, many people have loved the tips and ideas this moms shares, but many have been outspoken, especially on Facebook, that they can so MUCH better than $3.67 per day.
The coalition responsible for the challenge to the law makers and citizens are trying to show that you really can’t eat on $4.20 per person, per day to shed some light on the hunger crisis.
On one hand, I completely understand. In our day and age of modern conveniences and packaged foods, it seems impossible.
However, on the other hand, our family has never eaten more than $4.20 per day, per person, except when we are on vacation at Disneyland or something where that really is impossible if you want more than PB&J for the day.
For our family of eight, $4.20 per day per person is $33.60 per day or $235.20 for a week.
$4.20 per person, per day is $50 a week more than what we normally spend
We have shared our budget breakdown in the past. The grocery budget gets raised a little each year because our six kids grow and we try to eat more organic and whole foods more and more.
However, even with that the $4.20 per day is more than our grocery budget currently. We spend about $85 per week at the grocery store weekly, but we actually reserve $50 weekly for bulk purchases when they become available as this isn’t a weekly purchase, but we set that much aside for when we have an opportunity to buy something we eat in bulk (or buy a lot of it when a sale starts). For example, we only buy meat a few times per year. When we do, it is a purchase generally between $75-$150 each time. But this is where that $50 reserve comes into play. In the end, we spend about $360 on meat annually, but not weekly, but rather in big chunks.
We also by our bulk organic rice and wild rice, bulk beans, bulk oats, bulk freeze dried fruits and veggies, broths, canned tomatoes, pastas, cereals etc. with that $50 reserve.
How an $85 a week grocery budget breaks down
The $85 weekly covers our fresh fruits and veggies (this is the core of our diet, we eat a lot of fresh produce), almond milk, cheese, butter, and eggs. We typically drink about $10 of almond milk per week, $10-$15 in cheese, eggs. We generally spend about $10 in boxed/canned items for the gaps in our bulk staple food buying (like pasta, canned, cereal, etc.) and so this leaves about $50 in fresh produce each week.
If I go to Sam’s Club or Costco, I blow through $200 of our monthly bulk food reserve budget FAST! So I have to be careful in Sam’s Club or Costco. I often combine my weekly $85 with the reserve for one shopping trip to these stores. And although I am getting good deals in bulk, it is super easy to get carried away at these stores too and not have much reserve left for our bulk meats and staples later. I certainly cannot go to Sam’s Club or Costco regularly.
The $185 total weekly food budget
Between our $85 for fresh stuff at the grocery store and the $50 reserve for bulk purchases, this is $135 per week. $100 less than what those on food stamps live off of. But it is also supposed to include eating out, and our eating out budget was raised in 2017 to $50 per week. We actually eat out for more than a $50 value each week as we love to eat out, but we can stretch $50 to a nice week of dining out with this trick here.
Even with that, we are still $50 less than those on food stamps.
This will be a breeze! Or will it?
So my initial thought is that this will be a breeze. In fact, we get to eat like kings for a week!
But the more I thought about it and the “rules for the challenge” being that of not being able to use anything at your home at all and you can only eat what you buy, it may be more challenging than I initially thought.
Well, our grocery budget for our family is as low as it is, while being able to eat primarily produce and organic produce, because I have a good supply of bulk staples, meats in my freezer and other items that we use weekly and they are in my pantry and my freezer because I stocked up on them when they were cheap.
If I had to make a complete menu out of what I buy that week, it would drive my grocery bill up, perhaps significantly.
When I first started couponing 13 years ago, the first couple of months, my grocery bill was about the same as it was before couponing, but I was buying twice to three times as much.
Starting in about month three of couponing, our budget dropped significantly because we got to the point where all we were buying was stock-up on the rock bottom coupon deals and filling in with fresh produce. But since most of what we ate was already in our pantry and freezers, we could grab the free and nearly free food with coupons to add to our stockpile at home.
In fact, our grocery budget got down to $35 a week for four people. 85-90% of this was in the fresh produce. I was an extreme couponer, where I was “making money” on my coupon deals, that off-set some of my costs of the weekly fresh foods.
What happened when we abandoned couponing for food?
However, back in 2011, we pretty much abandoned couponing almost entirely for food, but still used them on toiletries and diapers at the drug stores to continue to get extreme prices, often still making money buy purchasing $10 razors. We stopped the drugstore game a few years ago and are still using shampoo/conditioner, razors, body wash, etc. from a few years ago!
When we abandoned couponing for food, the intent was to eat healthier, eat fresh and eat homemade. I wanted to see if I could spend about the same amount of money, and use my time to make food from scratch and fresh, rather than spending my few hours a week couponing. Sure enough, by switching my attention to making my own mixes and using the money for healthier foods in bulk, we accomplished the same goal, but had health in mind. Over the years, we have transitioned even more, while our family has grown to twice the size of our $35 weekly budget.
I will be honest and say that I do use some grocery apps and digital coupons. Our local Kroger has amazing digital coupons for their Simple Truth and Organic products. I use these from my phone app. I also use Ibotta (amongst a few other apps), which has many fresh and other foods that we love and eat and a way to save without physically dealing with coupons. So we haven’t completely abandoned couponing, but rather extreme couponing.
I give all of this history to say that, yes, it is very possible to eat well at $4.20 a day, but it takes time to get to that point. It would be a challenge to jump right in.
So I want to try to jump right in. I want to do this challenge to the full extent. I will be taking out $235 in cash for the week, not using anything I have at home already, try to feed my family well on this amount, no use of bulk foods, no use of freezer foods, unless I buy freezer foods that week to use. This also includes not being able to use flour, spices and oils in my pantry already.
It will be an incredibly interesting experiment. We are probably disattached to the reality of diving into poverty level eating because we have been doing this for so long and eat much lower than that, but only because we have transitioned and positioned ourselves into that over the years.
I may have to take up couponing again for a week. 🙂
The thing that is difficult in my mind is making a complete, well-rounded meal plan for the week.
You see with coupon shopping and bulk shopping, you make a menu off of what you have at home, only buying fresh and the essentials/gaps and stocking up on the sales. I know that we could not make a complete menu out of my current shopping habits. It only works because of what I have on hand.
The spaghetti noodles and the spaghetti sauce are rarely on sale at the same time, but both are needed to make a spaghetti dinner. Normally, one week I can stock-up on pasta, then in a few weeks, stock-up on the sauce, making that spaghetti dinner far cheaper in total for the next several months, until the pasta goes on sale at a rock bottom price again to “reload” my supply.
In one week, I could buy a 50 lb. bag of oats, rice and beans for $30 each and they will last us 6 months, but I can’t do that during this challenge.
Do you see what I am saying?
I can get long-grain brown rice for about $0.60 per lb, when I buy 50 lb of it. But if I buy 2-3 lb for the week, I will be spending much more per pound.
With all of these long-winded explanations, let’s do this challenge!
Can you feed you and your family for $4.20 per person, per day?
Here are the rules:
- You cannot use ANYTHING you have at home currently
- This includes ALL aspects of food, including school lunches, work lunches, coffee, and other eating out
Two simple rules.
Let’s do this and share our shopping trips and experiences. Join us in the Be Intentional private Facebook page so we can dive into what it is like trying to live off of food stamp value.
I do think it will be easier the more people you have because most food purchases are made
How much do you get to spend for the week?
- 1 person in the household = $29.40 for the week
- 2 people in the household = $58.80 for the week
- 3 people in the household = $88.20 for the week
- 4 people in the household = $117.60 for the week
- 5 people in the household = $147.00 for the week
- 6 people in the household = $176.40 for the week
- 7 people in the household = $205.80 for the week
- 8 people in the household = $235.20 for the week
We will share our pictures, menu, experiences and thoughts on all of this. We are looking forward to this experiment and to understand the hunger crisis in America.
The challenge is taking place online in a Facebook Event Page to share your experience, thoughts, and results. Let’s se if we can do this and encourage others into healthy, frugal eating too!
To join the challenge, you can fill out the google form with the Utahns Against Hunger coalition that has organized this challenge.
You can also download the “toolkit” they provide to help you better understand the challenge and the rules.
Also, use hashtags #UtahSNAPChallenge and #ttcfoodchallenge so that we can all see each other’s progress!
Post on their Facebook wall and say that The Thrifty Couple (tag us on Facebook if you can) sent you. We are doing this challenge to understand SNAP (the government food assistance program) and to better understand the food crisis, and if we can do better as a community and a nation to find ways of providing healthy foods for our families at a lower cost.