We are, understandably, budgeting a little tighter this month and one of the first things we decided to reign in is our grocery bill. To be honest, we haven’t been doing much food budgeting since we moved here at the end of February (despite all those years of keeping on top of every last penny in Nantucket). When deciding what amount to allow for food each week, Chris and I decided it would be fun to participate in the SNAP Challenge, a.k.a the food stamps challenge. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC),
The SNAP Challenge gives participants a view of the struggle to obtain adequate food that is faced by millions of low-income Americans. Most participants take the Challenge for one week, living on about $4 per day worth of food – the average food stamp benefit. Challenge participants are forced to make food shopping choices on a limited budget, and learn how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy without adequate resources.
Following the $4 per person per day guideline, for the month of December we will be feeding our family of 4 on $112 per week. If you are feeling inclined to join us, here are the official guidelines from FRAC:
- Each person should spend a set amount for food and beverages during the Challenge week. That amount is $4 per day for all food and beverage.
- All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
- During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).*
- Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions, briefings, or other events where food is served.
- Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.
- Invite others to join you, including co-workers, reporters, chefs, or other elected officials.
*Because our family will be doing the challenge for a month rather than a week, we will ignoring the third rule pertaining to not eating food we already own. We actually have quite a bit of extra food and so this week will be largely devoted to cleaning out the fridge, freezer and cabinets, thus minimizing the money we have to spend this week.
I’ll admit that from where I stand right now, I am not actually thinking this will be much of a challenge. Based upon how SNAP works, if we were to qualify we would receive a full allotment for Zara despite the fact that she wouldn’t eat anywhere near the same amount of food as the rest of us (although I might possibly make up for her share considering how hungry breastfeeding makes me). And though it has been a while and we are in a different state, I am experienced at budgeting at the grocery store; I figure that if I could feed the three of us on $65 per week in super expensive Nantucket than $112 should be a piece of cake — especially with my food costing secret weapon, Chris. It might take some slight adjusting to life without extras like Nora’s beloved artichoke hearts, but we are already so much more disciplined at the grocery store than most Americans that I am not too worried about what we may have to give up.
Today was a day spent planning and getting ready for the rest of the week. Chris and I wrote down a menu plan through Saturday, then we created a staples list and headed to both Albertson’s and Smith’s to price out the items on that list. (We don’t shop at Walmart if we can avoid it so we didn’t bother to price there.) If you are setting up your own food budget, I highly recommend taking the time to go through each store in your community and write down prices. It was something I did on Nantucket and there were weeks when I may have saved $10 or more just by knowing which items to buy at which store.
With the exception of a few items (milk, bread, eggs, and flour) everything was cheaper at Smith’s. Smith’s also appeared to have a much better selection of organic/more humanely raised meats than did Albertson’s. I had been shopping at Albertson’s, but after today I will be buying the bulk of our groceries at Smith’s and only a few items from Albertson’s. This is the first change we will be making to accommodate the SNAP budget, but it is something I have been needing to do for a long time.
Our biggest goal for the SNAP challenge is to stay under budget without compromising the most fundamental of our food values. We want to feed ourselves and our kids real food made from ingredients as minimally processed as possible. We will not buy items made with high fructose corn syrup or artificial colors just to save money. We prefer to purchase organic rather than nonorganic if given choice, and will definitely only buy organic milk, butter and yogurt (organic cheese and sour cream seem much harder to come by in Wyoming), and we will stick to organic when it comes to the dirty dozen. We will eat a largely vegetarian diet. Chris wants to plan one meal per week for himself with meat; any meat we buy for that meal will be organic and as humanely raised as possible. We want to continue to buy eggs from and support a local farmer. Aside from the the items on our staples list, we intend to shop as seasonally as possible.
Things which we intend to always have around include:
- Dairy: milk, butter, cheddar cheese, Monterey jack cheese, sour cream, plain yogurt
- Produce: carrots, celery, onions, scallions, garlic, sweet potatoes, potatoes, applesauce, raisins, frozen peas, frozen corn, canned whole tomatoes
- Protein: eggs, tofu, peanut butter, black beans, kidney beans, white beans, lentils, chick peas, chicken, ground beef, bacon
- Starch: bread, white rice, brown rice, whole wheat macaroni, whole wheat spaghetti, rice noodles, oatmeal, saltines, tortilla chips
- Other: canola & olive oils, AP & whole wheat flour, white sugar, brown sugar, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, mayo, yellow mustard, Better Than Bouillon vegetable stock base, real maple syrup, decaffeinated tea for iced tea, herbal tea, popping corn
As we move through the month I’ll be checking back in here with progress reports, weekly meal plans, and some new recipes. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on all this and answering any questions you may have, so make sure to leave me a comment below if there is anything in particular you would like to know about.