Challenge- Can I live on Food Stamp prices for a month?

Inspired and annoyed by CNN’s reporting on the food crisis and middle class crunch, I’ve decided to spend the next month attempting to eat on a Food Stamp Budget.

According to this CNN article a single mother gets between $135 and $160 per month. It turns out this is a timely issue according to this article the food price increases are here for another two years. When mentioning this project on another forum I got a lot of initial scoffing that it’s pretty easy for me since I can just go back to eating whatever I want the next month.

Here’s my current situation, the short version,  I work for a temp agency and have no paid vacation, no sick leave and no medical insurance. COBRA is over $700 a month and I was recently in a car accident. I have consumer debt in the form of a car loan and a student loan that I want to repay asap. I do not have credit card debt. I was recently in an accident (hit by an 18-wheeler) and my out of pocket costs will exceed $1,000. This is, in addition to being an academic exercise, a part of larger cutbacks in my budget. I also live in California which is an expensive state and depend on myself for income, no family charity or government assistance.

Ground Rules:

#1 I will pretend the food stamps arrive June 1st

Pretty self explanatory; according to the website the first issuance of food stamps can take as little as three days. That’s a significant amount of time if you have no food but rather quick considering the government bureaucracy.

#2 I will assume the cupboards are bare

One of the biggest arguments I hear when people claim it’s impossible to live on food stamps is that the folks who don’t need them often have large stockpiles in their pantry. For a family that has lost their house or has been living paycheck to paycheck it’s hard to amass extras. I will attempt, during this month, to plan for overages when it’s feasible and begin building the pantry.

#3 I will assume there is no such thing as a free lunch

I have a few outings this month, nothing elaborate so far just a baby shower and hosting a dinner for my WIR. To simplify this process I will either “charge” my food stamp budget when I am given a meal or forgo it completely. At work I usually start the day with a cup of coffee and my pricey but yummy creamer. So I’ll price up the creamer cost per serving and charge that to my budget every day.

#4 I will only shop at venues that accept food stamps

This will likely be the hardest rule to follow since I frequent a farmer’s co-op which provides stellar fruits, vegetables, rice, spices and beans at lower prices than the grocery store. To make up for losing this resource I’ll shop the grocery and outlet stores for off brands and larger packages.

#5 I will only purchase items that can be obtained with food stamps

This one will be right along the rules of food stamping. No household items like toilet paper or soap, no food that can be consumed in store (think deli sandwiches and the Chinese takeout counter).

#6 I will only eat from my food stamp budget food

Okay, maybe this one will be the hardest to follow. It’s simple enough for most people to draw up a menu that can be afforded on a budget, it’s another thing entirely to follow it. It really won’t give me much credit to spend all my budgeted money on the good food and eat out at every opportunity. Besides, I’m looking to lose a little weight too.

#7 If possible I will not skip meals to make budget

I have extensive experience with fasting and adapt rather quickly to a low calorie diet but it would be unfair to switch to that mode for the sake of this experiment. Also, assuming that a person on food stamps is working 20 hours a week and maybe even providing for a family, getting good nutrition to fuel your body is pretty important, hence the following goal to avoid empty calories.

The Goals:


#1 Healthy, well balanced meals

I won’t be tracking the calories, fat, carbs, vitamins, water, minerals and servings of wheat, protein and vegetables I consume on this project. The easy reason is I don’t do this in the first place. The real reason is it’s going to be tough enough to shop and eat on this budget and ignore the food in my pantry. Generally I’ll shoot for a serving of vegetable, grains, protein and fruit or dairy one meal a day.

#2 No more than 4 shopping trips during the month

I count a shopping trip as a single day where I can go to more than one store. True, I have a vehicle and several stores at my disposal but I’m not willing to take public transit or walk for the sake of this experiment. Maybe one day I’ll be able to ditch the car but one step at a time.

#3 Stay within the food stamp budget

I want to find out if it can be done. I may come out of this month hungry and advocating for a raise in the food stamp allowance. I also want to know if you can start a perpetual pantry and make healthy choices on this budget.

#4 Use public resources for recipes and ideas

Because this is a plan I would love to make adoptable I want to utilize the internet and public library for frugal recipes and finding good deals. Other resources I utilize (like the Sunday newspaper) I will list and tally the costs.

#5 KISS- Keep it Simple Stupid

It’s tempting to rail on and on that those in low income situations don’t have a large enough freezer, the car to get to the store, plastic food containers, nice pots and pans, etc. Those are certainly issues to be addressed but a little overwhelming for this project to consider all at once. Maybe as a continuation I’ll post ideas for supplying a kitchen.

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2 thoughts on “Challenge- Can I live on Food Stamp prices for a month?

  1. Wow, this is a great experiment! I’ll be very curious to see how this works out for you as the days pass and what your opinion of the food stamp system is at the end of it.

    Kudos.

    -Phoenix (Firebird)

  2. I just came across this project through the empty kitchen and would like to share the link to my blog with you: povertygourmet.blogspot.com

    I am actually living on foodstamps while I do a year of service with Americorps. My blog is updated daily with recipes, opinion articles, and what I buy with my foodstamps (including the totals).

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