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: https://8b862ca0073972f0472b704e2c0c21d0480f50d3.googledrive.com/host/0Bxd6wdCBD_2tdUdtM0d4WTJmclU/good-and-cheap.pdf
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!