Earlier this week, we shared that we will be participating in the SNAP challenge where law makers and fellow citizens are encouraged to try to live off of the value of the current average food stamps of $4.20 per person, per day.
This article details the challenge and you can find the challenge Facebook page of the Utahns Against Hunger Facebook, where this challenge is hosted.
The $4.20 per person, per day is the average amount. My understanding is that some receive less and some receive more based on needs and income. We are simply doing the suggested challenge amount of $4.20 per person, per day since this is the average.
We do have one advantage in our favor, there are 8 of us. Shopping off of $235 for 8, which is $30 per person, per week, and is going to be much easier than $30 for one person for the week. We will share more thoughts on this later, but for a single person, this would likely be impossible. Read our follow-up later.
We wanted to participate and we promised to share our journey and experience. So we are sharing our shopping trip results, with the menu ideas for the week. Then at the end of the challenge, I will share our overall thoughts and experience.
It is important to read the previous post to discover the “rules” for the challenge, but basically we cannot use or eat anything in our house currently and we could only eat what we buy this week to see how it feels and how we can shop for this price.
We are a primarily natural and organic family that eats a lot of plant-based and whole foods. We do eat some meats, but not many because we just haven’t ever been big meat eaters. So I know this helps our budget, especially because the meats we buy are only a few times per year through this national meat co-op, but this week, I did buy some meats and some plant-based protein meat replacements (which are quite pricey) for our foods this week. We do buy these plant-based meat replacements occasionally, primarily when they are a steal of a deal and stock up.
But I really wanted to attempt to replicate as if we were receiving food stamps and how I would use it each week.
I also did not use many coupons. It was mostly a time issue as planning a coupon shopping trip with the current sales takes a lot of time. I simply did not have time to plan an extensive, super-frugal, shopping trip. However, I did use a few coupons from the store mailer that they send to me in the mail, with my Ibotta savings (if you want to use this app HERE, get a $10 bonus with code abqiri) which between the Ibotta App savings and a few store coupons was $10.30 in additional discounts.
We got to spend $235.20 for the week, but I am at $180 so far
If we were on food stamps, our family would qualify for $235.20 per week – which is $4.20 per person, per day based on the challenge presented. This is a lot more than I currently spend. Again, please read the previous article. But I wanted to follow this as best as I could. So I took out $235 cash.
This post is meant to be an encouragement and share ideas with each other. Out of sheer desperation, we have had to live on much less. And it is true, necessity is the mother of invention. So we have had to be very creative with food in the past and it is hard.
We shopped at two stores: one is our Kroger store and the other is a low-price and bulk foods store called Winco.
The biggest trip was at our local Kroger affiliate called Smiths. I spent $101.80 and had a full cart of healthier, organic, produce, and plant-based foods for the week.
Here’s a handful of the items I got:
- Whole Wheat Gnocchi
- Ancient Grains Spaghetti
- Blue corn taco shells
- Olive oil
- Sour Cream
- Organic mixed greens lettuce
- Dave’s Killer Bread Raisin Bagels and Raisin Bread
- Nature’s Path organic ancient grain waffles
- Simple Truth Organic Beans
- So Delicious Coconut Creamer (cannot live without my coffee and cream and my coconut cream is expensive! LOL)
- Almond Milk
- Corn Chex Cereal
- Quorn veggie chicken patties, veggie beef strips, veggie beef crumbles, veggie chicken chunks (this is the bulk of our protein for the week and these are about $3.99 per 12 oz. package, so equivalent to meat in price per lb. But they were on sale this week! YAY!
- Lots of produce like mangoes, organic celery, clementines, Gala apples, organic broccoli and cauliflower, red cabbage, red potatoes, baking potatoes, etc.
- Fresh stir-fry mixes with a mandarin orange sauce
- Sesame Asian family salad kit
- Great Grains Fiber Bread
- Tortilla Chips
- Instant Oatmeal
- Enchilada Sauce
- Animal Cookies
- Ragu Pasta Sauce
- Ken’s Simply Vinaigrette
- Fresh Greek salad mix-ins with feta cheese, olives and roasted peppers
- Frozen veggies
- Simple Truth Organic Uncured 100% beef hot dogs
- Red Robin French Fries and Onion Rings (our one bad indulgence this week! YUMMO!)
The total was $101.80 after tax.
We then went over to Winco to fill in the gaps with some bulk foods and other items that I knew were a little cheaper at Winco.
We spent $69.39 and here’s what some of what we got:
- About 2 lb Fresh ground peanut butter
- Fresh produce like whole watermelon, onions, green, red and orange bell peppers, organic carrots, bananas, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, tomatos on the vine
- Whole wheat hot dog and hamburger buns
- Smuckers natural strawberry spread
- Canned and jar foods like salsa, olives, mushroom soup (for a recipe), chicken broth, mandarins, pineapple chunks, etc.
- Packaged foods like whole wheat tortilla shells, potato chips, la choy chow mein noodles, etc.
- I then got bulk foods like a bit of flour just for the week (since I already have loads of flour at home, but wasn’t supposed to use it), bulk taco seasoning, bulk Italian seasoning, dried apple rings, organic brown rice, red lentils (which are more expensive than green lentils, but a little better for you), coconut flakes, dried cranberries, popcorn, etc.
And…the grand finale was that since we had so much money left over, we wanted to make one of our most favorite meals – mushroom marsala, (like chicken marsala, but with portobello mushrooms).
The portobello mushrooms were $1.78 each and so I spent $7.12 on mushrooms, but this would be equivalent to buying chicken breast for one recipe too. The cooking wine needed was Marsala and Sherry. The bottles were $2.98 each and although I will only use 1/2 cup each, I had to “buy them as new” this week, but we will have lots leftover for future. So this was $6 in cooking wine. So this meal is easily over $13 for the main entree before sides, but as a special dinner this week. We are so looking forward to this meal as we don’t make it often because of the price!!
Again, the total was $69.39 after tax.
I will also be buying an organic rotisserie chicken in a couple of days for the end of the week meals. I will stretch this chicken over a few meals. It will cost me $8.50 as it is organic. But I normally use my whole chickens from my co-op and cook in the Instant Pot, which saves money normally. But I have more than enough leftover, so I am making it easy on myself this week.
There you have it – $171.49 + $8.50 for the chicken later for a total of $180. We have $55 left over for the week, we may need something here and there, but I am thinking we will get to enjoy a nice dinner out at the end of the week!
What do I plan to make this week with these foods?
- Dave’s Killer Bread Raisin Bagels with peanut butter, fruit
- Dave’s Killer Bread Raisin Toast with butter and/or peanut butter, fruit
- Maple and brown sugar oatmeal (2 mornings)
- Ancient Grain Waffles with peanut butter (in case you can’t tell, I love to add PB for nutritious morning protein) (2 mornings)
- Chex Cereal and fruit
- Baked Potatoes, salad, fruit
- Chicken Salad Sandwiches (with the rotisserie chicken), chips
- Chicken (with the rotisserie chicken) and Rice Soup, Bread
- Hot Dogs, chips, steamed veggies
- Quorn Chicken Patty Sandwiches with Red Robin fries
- Chicken (with the rotisserie chicken) enchiladas, tortilla chips, mangoes
- Whole wheat Gnocchi with lentil bolognese, steamed veggies, salad
- Mandarin Orange Stir-fry with Quorn Beef Strips and brown rice
- Taco night with rice and Quorn Beef Crumbles with whole wheat soft shells and blue corn crispy shells, chips and salsa, steamed frozen corn
- Lentil and Rice Sloppy Joes with Red Robin Fries and onion rings, salad
- Ancient Grains wheat Spaghetti , steamed organic broccoli and cauliflower, Italian salad
- Hawaiian Haystacks using mushroom soup and Quorn chicken chunks
- Mushroom Marsala with organic brown rice, salad, steamed veggies
- Dinner out on the leftover $$!
- Animal crackers
- Baby carrots
I do feel like I will be short on snacks this week. The watermelon will serve as a snack for a couple of days, but I probably should have gotten graham crackers and even saltines or something. But I will see how the week goes. I also generally get my kids Sourdough English Muffins for snacks each week because they cheap and very filling…I don’t know why I didn’t grab any this week as that would have been a no-brainer snack.
So we have $55 left, but I might have to make another run for a few miscellaneous and of course, anything I overlooked.
I look forward to sharing our results, some pictures of our meals and our thoughts on the whole experience.
Technically, you only qualify for a portion, unless you have no income. In Louisiana, we qualified for $900/month when my husband lost his job (4 kids, 2 adults). Right now, my husband is doing fairly well at his job and working his way up. When our rent was low, we received $299/mo, and currently (rent went up) we receive $390. Also, people that receive snap benefits don’t pay taxes, so that adds up a bit.
We meal plan to save money, and coupon a little, but we don’t make enough+ snap to cover what you listed. We make our budget work, but it’s hard. One day we will be rid of government assistance. I’m thankful for when we need it, but I hate the needing.
This is a great challenge as I know it will be harder for some more than others.
As someone with a family of 7 who only recently got off of food stamps (hallelujah!), here are a few personal experiences:
– I stopped couponing after getting on food stamps. I was checking out after a grocery trip and had only purchased food items and used a decent amount of coupons for the transaction. I went to use my EBT card and after scanning it, I was asked to pay a couple dollars more. I was surprised and had not brought any money with me. The cashier said I had to pay the taxes on the coupons because I was using the EBT card. We had to void the coupons. Quite a pain, so I started avoiding coupons altogether.
– Food stamp funds were always way more than we ever needed. The left-over cash rolls over to the new month though and that nest egg came in wonderfully handy at birthday and Christmas time. Edible presents became our go-to. We also donated a lot of snacks to classrooms.
– Papa Murphy’s was our favorite EBT splurge.
– Family’s on food stamps with school children also receive free lunch and breakfast. So the amount of funds is even bigger than you’d think, especially with your size family.
– The government assistance we received was such a blessing when we needed it most. I’ll admit there are things I miss about it and I can totally see how it can become a crutch and feel impossible at times to ever rise above it. It’s both a blessing and a curse. But I feel so fortunate for our family to finally be in a position to help others who need a hand up.
This is a lot of bull. If we had access to the stores you seem to have and products you heave, it might make sense but most people have to rely on whatever store chain is closest to them, no matter what .
Also. my family of 3 get 150 a month, i wish someone would come to the real word and show us how to feed 3 people on $37 dollars a week. Believe me, its not on organic or fake meats. We eat hamburger meat potatoes and beans. By the end of 2 weeks we are broke and out of food so congratulations on your challenge, now try it using real life
Everyone has different stores, different allotments, different mindsets. I don’t think it is fair to say that it isn’t a real world scenario since she followed what her amount would be and didn’t use anything she already had on hand. Even the smallest of budgets can build up a ‘pantry’ over time to pull from weekly. Can you help me to understand how money is allocated? It is myunderstanding that it’s based on the income you cutrently have. Do they give you that amount because they feel you have other money available for purchaing food? I am honestly asking, not judging. I often hear this and am curious how they calculate what you receive.
I have a FB page and blog about being frugal and I have been posting my weekly grocery trips. Message me if you want to talk about your area and what stores are available to you. I would love to explore this with you. 😀
Hello, I understand what Hellen is getting at, just not the way it’s presented. ☺ I’ve worked in a welfare office for the past 16 years. I also live in an area where prices like the ones shown are not available. Please keep in mind that access to affordable food plays a significant role in how folks use their benefits. If you don’t have your own transportation you’re limited on what you can buy. Our bus only allows 2 bags per person. Food is often purchased at convenience stores at higher prices. There are so many variables to consider, it is real life for folks, not just a challenge. Please keep in mind many folks are working multiple jobs and lack the resources of meal planning or bargain hunting. Most are simply trying to get through the month with something to feed their family or themselves.
Where do you live? I’m in Vancouver, Wa
We have all kinds of grocery sores 3 Wincos, 4 Fred Meyers(Krogers) 2 Grocery Oulets, 1Traders Jo’s, 2 Chucks and 1 Whole foods. Also Safeway, but that is too expensive. We have a decent bus system, except on Sunday it runs every hour. I am sorry you can’t get what you need. Over here a family of 3 gets $235.00 for the month. Not much. I have been there and so have my adult kids. Thankful we are all employed right now. I will pray that you get some closer stores in your town.
Yup. Me too. My son and I get 200.00 a month. He is 13. I don’t eat at all at LEAST 3 days per week. It’s basically impossible to get food for 2 weeks nevermind food for the entire month.
I’m thankful also but I am working my ass off to get off assistance.. the more money i make from work…..the foodstamps get lower so basically I gain 30.00 for working and loose 87.00 per month. It’s so hard telling my son we can’t buy the healthy items he loves because they are just too expensive….Thanks for listening,
I can help you with this! If you would please send me the stores you shop at and where you live I would love to help you find a way to stretch your grocery budget.
When we learn to shop the outer isles/ ring of a store; meal plan; freeze and preserve food and work with sales, we can achieve ALOT! My favoriite cookbook is, GOOD AND CHEAP… many farmers markets also take SNAP and will double your SNAP dollars so you do have access to fresh, natural, organic, local produce…. a bit of research can open lots of doors! My family does not qualify, we feed our elderly neighbors, I pack my children lunches daily, we eat as much natural – organic- sustainable as possible and I spend less than $100/ wk on average. I buy into our CSA and preserve anything I don’t use that week for later use, I MAKE food- not prepare food that’s already been made. I realize not everyone has these skills and I wish SNAP came with shopping, cooking, and preservation guidelines and tutorials.
I was a social worker for many years for a HUD subsidized housing for low income. I offered cooking classes on how to use foods on the commodity boxes, and for a while had a program where a store donated out of date veggies etc. There is an unusual mindset. No one seemed to be interested.
Some wrote about the region you live in. It is true I used to live where there was winco, Fry’s etc. I moved to a smaller town here in As the farmers market is ridiculously priced, and you are at the mercy of your area. We live on fixed income now so my primary job is to stretch the food budget as far as I can. We eat mostly unprocessed foods! Coupons aren’t readily available here like they were in Phoenix. It is a challenge, but can be done.
Soap? Paper Products? Laundry Detergent? Deoderant? don’t those items also have to fit into the budget?
I am curious as to whether toiletries, laundry, medicine etc… are supposed to be part of this budget. I keep these items as part of my grocery budget. With these items I can keep our budget to about $5.50 a person per day shopping at Aldis and supplementing with other grocery stores. We eat meat, but I wait till it is on sale and barely ever buy anything over $2 a pound. Ground beef, chicken and pork loin it is!
SNAP only covers food, no toiletries or cleaning supplies.
It would be nice to get those prices in California though! Farmers market here does not double your dollars but give you an extra $10.
At the end of the day, everyone’s situation is different and location makes a BIG difference!
Due to injuries , I have applied for benefits. This is after using all my savings and maxing out my credit. We received 450.00 for 6 weeks. I bought
150 lbs of meat
25 lbs butter
100 lbs sugar
Spices, boullion, and herbs
50 cans tomatoes
I can cook everything from scratch and believe I have enough food for 3 people for a year. I did not buy soda, juice, chips, cookies, ice cream or frozen foods. Those are luxury items we can do without. If I get them another month, I will stock up on any items needed to pad my stockpile. They may end at any time. I used them wisely. I shopped every loss leader, bogo, and used many coupons. The pennies I spent on tax is well worth the food I got. I have a small amount left that I will use each week on great deals. This week I will be doing a BOGO n coupons and getting loaves of garlic bread for 45 cents. Those coupons are getting me 40 packs of fruit cups. Yes, tax cost me 2.80 op. Now, if I actually get them next month, I have a list ready. I find DFCS to be unpredictable. We have great meals, full tummies, and most of what we want.
The S in SNAP stands for Supplemental. Supplemental is not intended to be a person’s food budget. While this is one person’s test case study, like anything else, your mileage may vary. There are far too many variables for any “one size fits all” plan so this article shows that with a little planning it is possible to live within a tight food budget, SNAP or not. SNAP is assistance. The guidelines for qualifications are income based, not expense based. It is a matter of thresh holds that a single penny over or under the requirements determine eligibility. There are many thresh holds like that… housing assistance, medicaid (free medical) and so forth. One penny is the difference between a no cost medical plan or having to get a $50, $100 or $300 a month adequate health care plan plus copays and deductibles and medications, etc. One penny. There are people without the regional stores used in this case study but there are other people to even less expensive stores for even better scores. Some people have cars while others do not. Some people are smokers, others are not. Some people… Well, each of us and our situations are different. The purpose of this article is not to analyze anyone’s budget… it’s to give one of millions of scenarios with the moral, “if you can’t have the best of everything, make the best of everything that you have.”