Food Stamp Nation – Get a SNAP budget

I’ve worked in social services for about 7 years now.  Three of those years were spent working as a Case Manager for single parent families living within the poverty spectrum. I would say “living below the poverty line” but it’s not really a line and phrasing it as such is a big pet peeve of mine. You get weird pet peeves like that when you work in social services.

The term “food stamps” is a mild pet peeve also. Food assistance has been on electronic cards in most states of the nation for around 10 years now. Keep this in mind the next time your cousin drinks too much wine at the party, gets on her tipsy socio political soapbox, and starts telling the story of how she recently witnessed a drunk bum trade his filthy crinkled food stamp dollars for a fifth of whiskey and that’s why the poor can’t be trusted with tax payer blah blah blah…. It’s all on plastic credit cards linked to your social security number. Yes, it can still be exploited with some planning and effort but no, your cousin did NOT see that happen last week. But I digress…my social work rash is starting to flare up.

I live in the state of Missouri where the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Program aka government food assistance) is about $128 per month per person in a family that qualifies. That means about $4/day is how much you can spend on food for yourself. Yes, just food. The card doesn’t work if it recognizes non-food bar codes. Diapers, paper products, and beer will not be covered by the EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card. Again, your cousin was lying and now might be a good time to schedule that intervention for her binge wine habit – now who’s the one needing services?

Some people think this amount is too much. Some people think it is not enough. There’s fun blogs and articles out there of people claiming to thrive on $4/day for food and other articles of people barely scraping by.

The Beard and I will tell you that it’s worked just fine for us.

No, we’re not receiving food assistance. We just follow the guideline of $4/day/person for our grocery bill and it’s worked out fine. Of course, we also go out to eat approx. 2 – 5 times per month so it’s not an accurate depiction of the success of the SNAP rate.

I used to be a Whole Foods/Natural Grocers junky. I’m not sure how it started but I realized it was a problem when I looked over the bank statement back in 2011 and saw that we had somehow spent $525 on a month of groceries for just the two of us. Stunned, I immediately denied that any frivolous spending had taken place and joined the choir of Americans chanting the outrage over expensive food prices, poor economy, wild food industry conspiracies and shameful farm distribution practices.

Not long after, I was meeting with a client to go over her budget goals and I saw that her family of 4 received SNAP – around $515/month. This was a single mom with three growing boys between the ages of 9 – 15. I asked her what additional money from her job went to cover her food expenses and was surprised when she said that SNAP usually covered all her food costs for the month – some months they didn’t even use all their SNAP funds!

Feeling gluttonous and ashamed but HIGHLY motivated, I revamped the grocery budget to $250 – about what it would be if we were on SNAP. We stopped shopping at the nice overpriced grocery stores and also started shopping with more of a meal planning mindset instead of a “Oh this looks good, throw that in the cart” mindset.

We didn’t even feel deprived. Looking back, it’s been the easiest “frivolous to frugal” transition we’ve made. It helps that we buy meat sparingly (2 – 4 times per month) and shop at ALDI and Costco. Some months we come in at under $250 and some months we go over by $20 or so. But the baseline budget is the same.

It also helps keep perspective in limiting going out to eat. That $12 order of biscuits and gravy at the restaurant suddenly seems ridiculously luxurious and over the top when you consider that the price is THREE DAYS WORTH OF FOOD for one person by government standards.

I would highly encourage making the switch to SNAP standards. Not for the politics or the bragging rights, but just because it’s sensible grocery shopping and food preparation on a budget that works for most of America.

Now the naysayers are whining – “No! It’s not working for most of America! This is why the US has an obesity problem! Because eating healthy is way more expensive than $4/day!”

I used to just dismiss that comment when a friend gave that feedback. Now, I’m armored with this:

Does this look unhealthy?

What about this?

Do you get the idea yet?

All of these images come from THIS:

That’s right. This genius lady Leanne Brown had the revolutionary idea to create a cook book to show the naysayers what we knew to be true all along: glorious, healthy, delicious food can also be dirt cheap and affordable. Even on a SNAP budget of $4/day/person.

Even better, this cook book is FREE in pdf form by clicking the following link:

Yep, pretty soon all the cool kids will be SNAP budgeting their grocery bills and reaping the rewards. Trim your budget and sharpen your cooking skills!



Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires

I am poor. I work around poor people. I live in a neighborhood filled with poor people. There are poor people at the grocery store shopping around me and when I commute to work, it’s poor people driving in the cars beside me.

But they don’t know they’re poor.

They may know that their checking account is low right now or say “times are tough right now because of the economy, job market, inflation, etc.”

But it’s just “right now.” Not always. It’s temporary…

They say, “When I win the lottery….” or “Well, when I make my millions….” and “I’ll be able to pay this off when I get that book deal, earn that degree, open that business, score that better job, get famous, etc.”

It’s a special kind of insanity that plagues many people when they find themselves consistently using the twisted logic of “let me buy this NOW because I’ve decided things will be different LATER.”

They seem to avoid acknowledging their actual present lot in life. They surround themselves with things to prove to themselves that they’re not poor. “I can’t be poor if I drive this nice car and shop at the expensive boutiques and eat gourmet. I can’t possibly be poor since I have this big house, these rich friends, and I take vacations abroad.”

Never mind the credit card debt or the student loans or the mortgage loan or the car payments. You can lay it all out for them and show them the numbers and they’ll still ignore it. They live their lives in complete denial. They fuel their denial by making excuses and turning their nose up at “poor people stuff” like budgets, frugality, and doing without.

In their eyes, they are not poor. They are temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

Sound depressing? It’s because it is. Denial and ignorance are incredibly depressing. Why do so many choose to live in a false reality they construct from excuses and denial?

Because they don’t know HOW to be poor.

And let’s be honest. It’s terrifying to admit or realize that you are something that you don’t know how to be! It’s far more comforting to revert back to the habits that reinforce not the reality but the possibilities. Why live in reality when you can easily live in a dream?

The first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that there is a problem. Most people don’t make it past this step. They may acknowledge the problem when they see their balances owed on their statements. But when they’re in the store or out with friends or dreaming of a new car or a new travel destination, they stop acknowledging the problem.

Being poor is not depressing. Denial of being poor is depressing. Being impoverished is scary. But being poor is quite manageable……if you know how to be poor.

I am not a temporarily embarrassed millionaire and I work hard to avoid the mindset. I am poor. And I live my life with the intent of being poor in the best way. This is not a blog on how to get rich, it’s a blog on how to be poor.

I am not an expert. I’m just trying to figure this out and document the journey. Feeling motivated? Me, too.