Why I’m Living on a Food Stamp Budget

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This is the third in a series of posts about Catholic Charities’ participation in a nationwide initiative known as the “Food Stamp Challenge.Those taking part in the challenge must live for a week on a food budget of $31.50 total — the average allotment for an individual on Food Stamps.

By Richard Bertin

I’m taking the Food Stamp Challenge. And I think you should too. That’s right — for the next week, I will be subsisting on the food budget of someone on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP), more commonly known as “Food Stamps.” We are so used to hearing about starving populations in underdeveloped countries that we can be fooled into thinking that this doesn’t happen in our own backyard. Well it does. Nearly 50 million American families are food-insecure.

I hope that by taking this “Food Stamp Challenge,” I’ll be able to gain an emotional and physical perspective on our nation’s hunger crisis. It’s easy to talk about stats and figures, but it’s another thing to actually experience what poverty means, and feels like.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it, but when I first moved out of my parents house I was used to relying on dollar menus and ramen noodles to get me through the week, so I feel that I’m prepared.

If you’ve been following the challenge, you know the rules. I have $31.50 to spend on food for the entire week – the average weekly allotment for an individual on food stamps. That means no more office coffee and donuts for me, no other free food – including those chocolates my boss gives out every now and then – and definitely no restaurants.

Participants can use coupons to shop, but can’t eat any items already in the fridge or pantry as part of the food supply for a total of 7 days.

My Shopping List

Since I’ve been asked so many times, I’m sharing my shopping list for the challenge. Just for fun, I also kept track of the expenses of my “last meal” that I had before I went shopping – ironically, I spent $31.25 on a meal for two of burgers and fries at a popular burger shop near my school, New York Burger Co.

Then, I went to my neighborhood Pathmark in the Coop City area of the Bronx and ended up with the following:

  • (5) cups of Yoplait Yogurt (5 for $4)
  • Bananas
  • Florida’s Natural Orange Juice (no pulp!)
  • Organic peanut butter by some brand I never heard of
  • Loaf of bread that was packaged in a design strangely similar to Wonder Bread.
  • (2) bowls of Annie Chun’s Ramen Noodles (Say what you about ramen noodles, but Annie Chun is in a totally different class!)
  • (2) Cans of soup (vegetable barley was .99 cents each)
  • Box of “Pathmark” branded granola bars
  • 5-pack of Chiquita apple slices & dip

The total of all this was $24.77, which leaves me with $6.73 for “emergency funds.” My strategy was to only spend close to $25 so that I can have at least some cash left over so I can treat myself to a quick NY hotdog or slice of pizza.

Throughout the next week, I’ll be answering your questions about the challenge here and on Facebook — just leave a note on the wall, or a comment below, and I’ll answer you as best as I can.

Please leave your words of advice or encouragement below – I’ll need it!

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8 Responses to “Why I’m Living on a Food Stamp Budget”

  1. Jim Wright says:

    I’ve had no income since May 2009. If it weren’t for Anthony who puts me up, I’d have no home or no car. But his supporting me is getting old for both of us. I feel like I’m his dog. I used to know people who have dogs that get more money than I do to function. I have bills and it gets really old having to beg and borrow when they come due. You can try, but living costs money, no matter how hard you try not to spend any. I gave up on getting any job. I’m too old, too educated, male, out of work too long, you name the stupid reason. Nobody’s hiring or buying wherever or whatever. I’m trying to get a new business off the ground without money, a business model I’ve seen opening in other cities and it seems to be working. I am running into resistance from prospective clients. I doubt that getting customers will be a problem in Athens, GA. I lost the house 2 /12 years ago and everything is in storage. I lost the car about 2 years ago. Any savings also ran out 2 years or so ago. I want my life back. I need my home back. I am about to lose all the things my grandmother and mother left me for the third time. About all I have is food stamps. Even Jesus said “man shall not live by bread alone”. It is getting harder to make it on $200 a month, as food prices are rising and I am vegetarian.

  2. Tyms says:

    superb text , thanks for writing it

  3. admin says:

    @Jim Wright: If you haven’t already, I encourage you to contact the Catholic Charities Help Line: http://www.catholiccharitiesny.org/get-help/contact-us/ You might be eligible for some of our services.

  4. mark yarnell says:

    Appreciate the post, keep on keeping on!

  5. LindaF says:

    This was an unbelievably wasteful way of buying! Some tips on how to do it:

    – Buy beans – dry ones. Soak, add broth & vegetables (frozen mixed vegetables are cheap), along with some “tired” veggies that are marked down. Voila! A satisfying soup, that will both fill you up, and keep you energized in protein.
    – Good cereals – even Total, Shredded Wheat, or a granola would be fine. With fresh fruit (bananas should be $.50 or less a pound), a good start to the day.
    – Buy your yogurt in bulk – both cheaper, and fewer containers
    – Buy bulk apples – use that peanut butter to make it a protein snack – skip the packaged stuff
    – Think GOOD stretchers – baked potatos, sweet potatos (just halve them and bake – brush the cut surfaces with butter), rice – get the good stuff – balsamic or jasmine, brown if you like it

    The trick is to NEVER eat a sweet without a protein/fat. It will leave you feeling like you need more food. By combining foods, you feel full and satisfied, without feeling stuffed.

    Also, don’t fall for the “organic” crap. Mostly, it’s a waste of money.

    And, BTW, that type of diet will keep you WELL under the limit for $

  6. Superb! Generally I never read whole articles but the way you wrote this information is simply amazing and this kept my interest in reading and I enjoyed it.

  7. admin says:

    Those are excellent suggestions, Linda!!

  8. cyndi says:

    I agree with linda.. 2 or 3 apples combined with that peanut butter is the same as the prepared A super large container of vanilla yogurt which is about 3 x the amount of individual yoplait.. minus the enormous amount of sugar.. is 2.50 eat oranges skip juice.. egg noodles are quick to cook even in a micro wave.. I throw in some frozen peas.. a bit of salad shrimp $5.00 a package but I easily get 5 or 6 meals out of it. I have been needing food stamps for the last several months due to health problems.. the first month I spent $50 of my monthly allottment on a meat order of $50 and 2 bags of shrimp.. some tuna.. I still have plenty of meat and probably won’t buy another order for a month. It’s important not only to think frugal but to think longer term over week to week.

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