After learning about the Mazon Food Stamp Budget SNAP challenge, reader Kelli Brown decided to try to live as if her family got food stamps. She finished the week with money to spare. Read her guest post to find out how.
During the week of July 8-14, I volunteered my family for a little challenge. We did our best to live off of a food stamp budget for one week, including all meals, drinks, and snacks. We made it with room to spare, but learned a lot in the process.
Some background: The SNAP Challenge is organized by Mazon. The goal is to eat for a week on a budget of $31.50 per person. As a family of five, that gave us roughly $155 dollars (or NIS 600 at the time).
I won’t get into where every shekel went, but in general:
- $40 (NIS 150) went toward produce, which buys a whole lot of food at the shuk’s prices
- $40 went toward staples like canola oil, eggs, milk (we go through A LOT of milk), flour, sugar, rice, beans, pasta and a few other baking odds and ends
- $40 or so went toward meat & chicken and other items needed for that week’s meal plan
- Another $18 (NIS 70) went toward a meal out and a coffee out with a friend
We came in at $138, leaving us $17 to spare. Let me explain why.
- We live in Israel: Foods and drinks, especially things that are healthier and unprocessed, are typically less expensive here. Many of the fruits and veggies are at their prime. We loaded up on the fresh stuff.
- I have a flexible schedule: I don’t work from 8-5, plus a commute each way. As a small business owner, I have the luxury of visiting the local shuk once or twice a week to stock up on bulk grains, fruits, veggies, baked goods and even candy at much lower prices than the grocery store. I would also add that this means we’re less likely to eat meals out – we’re rarely in a crunch where there isn’t anything ready for dinner, and it saves us a lot of money.
- Three members of our family are age 3 and under: Hands down, this makes the biggest difference. Our kids are almost 4, 2 and six months. My littlest one is still breastfeeding and just starting solid foods (though I was actually surprised at how much of the budget went to fruits and veggies for him).
This buys us a huge margin and I would argue it is the main reason we had room to spare in our budget. Even having to buy formula on this budget would have made it much harder. If I had a home with three teenage boys, I wouldn’t have made it through a couple of days on this meager allowance. It’s ridiculous that the US Food Stamp program doesn’t allocate based on age, gender, etc.
What we ate:
I follow a strict dinner plan that repeats every four weeks. This week featured:
- Sunday and Tuesday: Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas
- Monday and Wednesday: Homemade cheese pizza and walnut pesto pasta
- Thursday: Grilled cheese sandwiches and salad
- Friday and Saturday: Roast chicken and potatoes with veggies and rice
- Breakfasts: Cold cereal and fruit with milk
- Lunches: Black beans and rice with sautéed veggies and cilantro-corn salsa.
What I learned:
- Food costs more when you have less: When you can’t buy in bulk to save because you’re pinching every penny, when you can’t stock up on sales and when you have to always buy the smaller (often costlier) version of each product, you end of spending more per capita for each item consumed. It really is a vicious cycle. Although larger isn’t always cheaper, I was stunned at how much more a few items cost me when I tried to buy a small quantity within my budget.
- It’s depressing: Even though we didn’t deviate from our planned menu, planning meals based on what we can afford weighed heavily on my heart. Telling my daughter we couldn’t make a couple things killed me … and I was only faking it for a week. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who can still run a happy home under these circumstances.
- You get used to saying no: Living like this long term would mean many things would rarely if ever fit into the budget. I can’t imagine taking a family out to eat within the bounds of this allowance. While I understand that’s a want and not a necessity, I also think that plans occasionally fall through and it’s nice to have a backup plan or to be able to celebrate once in a while.
While it was a rather boring experiment overall, it’s something we might try again next year. Let me know if you have any questions!
Bio: Kelli Brown is a happily married mother to three. She enjoys all sorts of craftiness, baking things from scratch and finding interesting uses for everyday items, as her Pinterest boards show (http://pinterest.com/