Budget Day 25: Food Stamps, Earth Fare, and Halloween

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Just guess how much money our family of four would have available to spend on food if we were getting food stamp benefits (which by the way has been renamed to SNAP)? $167/week. Yep, that is $42 more a week than what we are currently spending during this little 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget project. In all fairness we are also allowing ourselves to spend $20/week on eating out. But, even if we included that additional money (which we’ve barely used so far) it would still mean we fall $22 short of a family on food stamps. Must be nice…an extra 20 bucks or more a week would feel like a lot of money right now!

So back to what I’ve been buying on this super tight budget… As I mentioned the other day I got some items from Trader Joe’s, but I was not able to buy everything on my list. So I went to Earth Fare yesterday and tried to spend the least amount of money possible, which turned out to be $12.33. Not too bad, if I do say so myself. And here is what I got…

  • 0.79 lbs dried garbanzo beans $1.73
  • Heavy cream $2.99
  • Bananas $0.70
  • Fruit cup honeydew melon $1.58
  • Head of garlic $0.50
  • Mango $1.25
  • Potatoes $3.09
  • Shallot $0.25
  • 3 lb Bag of apples – FREE!! Thanks to an Earth Fare coupon!

Here are the things I wanted to buy, but didn’t…

  • Soy sauce – We are just low…not out completely so I will wait another week.
  • Unsweetened coconut – We love having this in our granola recipe, but we can still eat it without the coconut so it had to be skipped.
  • Frozen berries – I’ve unfortunately gone from fresh berries in my granola to mediocre frozen berries to now eating whatever fruit we have on hand (apples, bananas) in the morning.
  • Tahini – Um, how could I have never noticed that this cost more than $7 a jar! Luckily, I could wait on this one too.

We just keep making sacrifices on this budget and some of them are of course a bigger deal than others. For example I can totally live without the coconut in my granola…but I still really miss my berries in the morning! One new thing I just noticed (since I now am documenting my shopping so nicely!) is that my husband asked me to buy coffee beans at Trader Joe’s earlier this week, and I had just bought him a ($9) bag when we first started this budget, which was only a few weeks ago. So I told him if we are going to limit everyone else’s milk consumption to save money he is definitely going to have to cut back on coffee. I don’t drink coffee myself (only a mocha with 1 small shot of espresso), and he didn’t used to drink coffee either up until a year or two ago. If he doesn’t start drinking less he might have to give it up all together…just like the old days!

There’s been a lot of discussion around here about the impending candy holiday that is coming up this weekend. I of course want my kids to participate in all of the Halloween fun, but I am trying not to let the junk overwhelm me along the way. Kids obviously get excited about trick-or-treating (which I wholeheartedly accept), but what about all of the other treats, school parties, and spider crafts made out of Oreos that lead up to the big event? I honestly don’t know what to do with all of the stuff they are bringing home, and that is if they even bring it home from school before they eat it. One of the few things I do feel like I have under my control is the night of trick-or-treating. We are absolutely going to let our girls trick-or-treat their little hearts out, it is just what we are going to do with all of the candy that will be different this year. After hearing this advice from several parents we’ve decided to let them keep 5 pieces of candy (of their choice!) and then we will “buy” the rest of the candy from them. Our kids are still little so we don’t expect them to get a ton. So we are thinking we will give them either one nickel or one dime per piece (oh, I need to go to the bank!), which they can then use to buy a toy with from the store. I have to say that my girls, who have both been given very limited candy over the last few months, are pretty darn excited about getting FIVE whole pieces of candy AND a new toy of their choice! I am not sure how many years this will work out for us so nicely, but at least for this Halloween we have a plan.

PS – For all those located in the Charlotte area…Earth Fare is offering a $5 off coupon (with $25 purchase) for all 100 Days readers! Here is the deal: 1. The offer is good at the Ballantyne and SouthPark locations, 2. Must pick up coupon before Nov. 10, 3. To get coupon you need to mention that you read this post: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/10/15/budget-day-12-a-real-happy-meal/ Yay! I can’t wait to get $5 off myself :)

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131 comments to Budget Day 25: Food Stamps, Earth Fare, and Halloween

  • Kim

    I’m glad that benefits are based on income. I was pretty surprised to hear that someone on food stamps could get more assistance than the budget we have to keep. Our family of 5 tries to make healthy choices and eat well on a budget of $150 a month and it is not easy. We have medical challenges that require organic, healthy foods and it is not easy. However we do not NEED to shop at multiple stores either. I sincerely hope that the majority of those on food stamps choose to make healthy choices with their food, but sadly that has not been my visual experience. I see way too many times the cashier asking if I have coupons for the food I am buying which are typically non existent….healthy food rarely gets coupons and fresh food cannot be “stocked up” when there is a sale….while the person ahead of me is paying with food stamps to get white bread, little debbies, chips, etc. I hope that this experiment allows people to NOT have an excuse of making healthier choices because it “costs more”. It DOES cost more to eat healthy BUT that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it on a budget. Kudos to your budget experiment!

    • mel

      We were recently approved for just $55 a month in SNAP benefits for my family of three. Any Advice for making the most of it? I care a lot about what goes into my four year old’s body. Financially, with my husbands recent job-loss and my part time job as a waitress I am having trouble envisioning my kid eating what he should.

  • Clare van den Bos

    I”m reading through this, so I haven’t read to the end. But I hope you’ve printed a retraction or correction of your error about SNAP.

    I can’t help thinking (given how much cheaper food is in the US than here in the UK) that this really isn’t a particularly tight budget. I’m currently feeding 6 of us on £40 a week, and sticking to real food. We just don’t EVER have meat or fish.

    Count your blessings.

  • heather

    i believe the 167 she is talking about is the amount the snap programs claims it costs to feed a family of four a week. the amount given can vary based on income and other factors but that would be the max allowed for that family size (167*4=668 a month). most don’t receive that amount most i have seen (working in grocery and talking to people) is between 150-400 a month for a family of 4-5 people. it is a designed as a supplement but for many unfortunately is the only food budget they have.

  • Jessie

    I’m very disappointed in this post. The jab at people on food stamps is totally unnecessary. If you’ve got such a problem with it, maybe you should itemize out your monthly income for the world to see so we can determine if you have the right to judge people on food stamps. A lot of families on food stamps are about to get their benefits cut even MORE, and most of those on food stamps don’t have the luxury of being a stay at home parent and running something like a blog. I literally JUST joined this website and now I’m reconsidering having anything to do with it with that kind of attitude (I don’t NEED anything from this website, since I already eat healthy and whole foods as it is – as does my family, but I thought it would be nice to see others ideas).

  • nanci

    I saw the amount of food stamps you would get…..I obviously need to move. We receive 214.00 A MONTH!!! That is for four of us. Obama is cutting that this next month….yay. Most of our veggies are canned, some are frozen. I kept a garden this year so the bounty from that was amazing! Still have a few butternut squash left. Next spring we will try to build a chicken coop and we can buy laying hens for cheap, locally. I will also be expanding the garden. I save all seeds from ALL organic produce I buy, which isn’t that much. We are very poor. My husband is on disability at just under 1300 a month and I was disabled in a car accident but cannot receive disability as I did not “work” enough. I have been a stay at home mom forEVER! Life is tough but I appreciate the ideas here and a lot of the meal plans are doable with some modifications. I am not a know it all…..FOR SURE!! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks for your blog :) We shall be OVERCOMERS of our circumstances and do the best we can for these kiddos!!

  • Mother once on assistance

    I agree with Jessie. I was looking to do the challenge but am now reconsidering, as well as will stop recommending this site. Lisa, leave your self righteous judgement off your posts. Great you are working on a budget, but I don’t know too many families that don’t have to as well. And until you have taken assistance yourself, cut the comments of “must be nice” to receive food assistance. There is nothing nice about it, it doesn’t make you feel good or wholesome, and from my experience you want off it before you even have to take it.

  • Emerald

    Hm… I didn’t see the writer’s info on food stamps as self righteous or demeaning to anyone. I personally think some of the commenters are taking offense because of their own personal embarrassment for needing assistance. There was nothing offensive at all. My family has received food stamp assistance and I found nothing offensive on this blog nor do I feel any embarrassment. I will continue to refer this page.

  • Cat

    Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion based on what they see or feel. I too have been in the store check out line watching people with food stamps buying heavily processed, unhealthy foods and then with their cash buying alcohol and cigarettes, rather disappointing to watch. I’ve known people who have gotten a large sum in food stamps every month and sell half of them to someone else for cash. It is sad that some people have given food stamps/assistance a bad name. I think that when the Welfare system was founded it had good intentions, sadly it has been taken advantage of. If you’ve ever seen the movie Cinderella Man, this is a wonderful example of what the welfare system was meant to do. He is forced to accept assistance during the depression, BUT, when he is able to change things around and make money, one of the first things he does is pay back the money that he “borrowed” from the government. How incredible would it be if that were to happen today. My husband is a police officer and has, in the past, participated in Shop with a Cop. He was amazed at what the kids not only asked for, but what they already had! Such as high dollar video games,(because they already had the systems) etc. It certainly makes one question giving to certain organizations for fear the money will not be appreciated or put to good use. We frequently give to missions overseas, because these people want to work and provide for their families, but a lot of times have no means to do so what so ever. This is not to say that there are not truly “poor” Americans, however, I believe that this would be a better country if we worked as hard in these times to provide for our families as they did when this country was founded. Even though I despise McDonald’s (for their food) if that was the only place I could get a job to provide for my family then that is what I would do. Having to be on assistance is not the issue, the issue (to my thinking) is, if you are able to find work and get off of assistance, is that what you are doing? Or do you continue to use the government as a meal ticket, because you’re holding our for a management position?

  • Hill

    We have a weekly food budget of only $75 a week. I just recently started trying to look for natural and organic meats, it is hard!! This is the budget we have though, as a family of four with two small kids, (4 and 1) we don’t get any benefits, but we don’t have a lot left over after school loans and housing/car cost!! We didn’t have that big of a problem staying in the budget until we tried to go organic!! Not to mention the little amount available, as the closest stores (Without traveling 50 miles), are Walmart and Meijer! We’re making the most of it though, as we teach our kids about real food.

    • Lanae

      Hi Hill,
      We also shop at Meijer. I usually buy organic items off the “dirty dozen list” and conventional or frozen for other produce. They do have decently priced organic store brands that also go on sale. One big money saver for us with little ones is to buy organic whole milk and apple juice and cut it with water. I saw the idea on Anderson Cooper and it works great. It tastes like low fat milk and the apple juice has less sugar that way. Hope that helps. :)

  • Kitten

    wow…where do you live? It is $242 a month here for 1 adult and 2 kids with no income at all. If you get an income…they start taking away the stamps.

  • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

    Hello. We are in Charlotte North Carolina. :) ~Amy

  • Kristi W

    I looked up North Carolina here: http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/18SNAPavg$PP.htm

    I don’t see your weekly number. I see this as a MONTHLY number:


    Assuming for weeks in a month and divided by 4 people that’s obviously 121.85 a month, not the $167/week you cite.

    Do you have the links and can you show the math as to how you calculated your number?


    • Kristi – The number can be found through the SNAP link I share above in the post. It clearly states (under the section entitled “Benefits” How Much Could I Receive?) that a family of 4 can get a maximum allotment of $668/month and when divided by 4 (weeks in a month) that equals $167/week as stated.

    • Kristi, the amount you shared is per person. So, even your number would be approximately $121 per week for a household with 4 people. Also, the number you mention is the “average” amount and the number Lisa used is the “maximum” amount.

  • Jennifer

    We are growers at our local farmers market. It is fortunate for us and for SNAP consumers that our market is one of the farmers markets that accepts SNAP. I did not take the authors comments about SNAP as trying to insult the consumers who utilize SNAP. I took it as she was trying to inspire parents who’s budget is so limited that they are having to utlilize the SNAP program, that this quality of diet is achievable. About 90% of our weekly customers that pay with SNAP are seriously consciencious about shopping our table for best value and looking around the market at all the vendors tables to get the best price on the produce varieties that are abundant that week.
    I see “those” consumers at the grocery store once in a while. The ones swiping the SNAP card for a cart full of soda pop, chips, chicken nuggets and frozen pizza with nary a piece of fruit or an item of food in it’s original form to be seen. I think they are a much lower percentage of the whole than the average person perceives though.
    Being at the table all day seeing the crowd as a whole, families using SNAP have baskets with a lot less “splurge” items in them than the families using cash. It has really changed my attitude about how our tax dollars are being utilized by our friends who need the help. What really breaks my heart is a young mother or father is painfully embarrassed to pull out SNAP tokens to pay for their purchase after we have watched them calculate the value of what is available and had them ask questions about how to prepare an especially inexpensive item they are unfamiliar with so that they can stretch their dollars as far as they will go.
    No one should be embarrassed to use an aid program in the spirit it was intended. That money is there to make sure the children and the elderly do not do without proper sustenance.
    Saying the words food stamps does not make you a bad person, and it should not be a subject that is off limits for discussion. Perhaps if it wasn’t perceived as an insult to say it out loud, then the families using them wouldn’t feel the need to display shame while they are making wise decisions, and the families who aren’t making such wise decisions might be exposed to options they were unaware of.
    Even in the small percentage of families using the SNAP to purchase carts full of junk food, I’m sure most of them have just not been exposed to the experience of how much difference real food makes in a Childs life a well-being, and that it doesn’t have to be time consuming and expensive. Not many are just shoving it in everyones face even though they know better.
    Obviously being a single parent, or having two low paying jobs if your household is a two parent household goes hand in hand with needing the assistance. When your family is in one of these two categories, you’ve got a lot on your plate and your day is usually full without adding luxuries like rethinking the way you were fed as a kid. (Most of us who are currently parents were raised in the 80′s and early 90′s when processed easy food was what was socially accepted as the best choice so a family could get Mom in and out of the kitchen quickly after a long days work and into the living room or backyard for good “quality” time with the children she hadn’t seen all day. Our Moms were making the best choice for us with the information available at the time, just as we with more knowledge on the value of foods are changing our choices to do the best for our children with the information we have.)
    So don’t jump all over Miss Lisa who is putting the work into this because she referenced Food Stamps. It shouldn’t be a dirty word that can’t be said out loud, and programs like what she is putting together are the kind of things that BUSY, HARDWORKING, DAY FULL OF EVERYTHING BUT THEMSELVES people need to be able to make changes. I am fortunate enough to be in a position not to need food stamps, but I do work full time in addition to working at the farm in the mornings and evenings and marketing on the weekends. We are raising two children in the midst of all this, and on a tight budget. It makes for a full day, everyday.
    I’m glad that a woman who does have the luxury of staying at home to raise her children takes her job seriously and does it right, and that she is willing to put in the extra time and effort to share the experience with us. Mothers like her who allow mothers like me to cut out half the hurdles by learning from her hurdles make things like this do-able.

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hello Jennifer. I really appreciate the thought that went into your comments above! I never understand the inclination to criticize and attack someone’s circumstances nor someone else’s honest efforts to create something that might be helpful to others. Thank you for recognizing both. ~Amy

  • Wow…you’re so much nicer than us about the candy. We don’t do trick-or-treat here, but our kids do get bags of candy from parades and sometimes fall festivals, etc. We allow them 5 pieces right then and then we get rid of it. Like you, our kids almost never get candy, so 5 pieces is like a major treat for them. But, that’s what they’ve always been used to, so not very traumatic. That’s a cool idea to “buy back” the candy from them.

    I found your blog because our family just recently decided to go completely real-foods only and I was looking for resources. So glad I found all the great info here!

    We are fortunate in that we have always limited sugary treats. My older son didn’t have any sweets (except for fruit-sweetened ones that my pastor’s wife bought especially for him instead of giving him candy like the other kids) until he got birthday cake on his 2nd birthday. He has always LOVED fruit like some kids love candy. I have to limit the fruit because my boys (4 and 6) would literally eat an entire pound container of strawberries, a pint of blueberries, etc. in one sitting! They also love yogurt, as those things have been their “treats” for so long. Of course, it was sweetened yogurt they were eating at the time.

    However, it seemed that over the past year or so we’d gotten more relaxed in our rules and I could definitely tell it by the amount of times they asked for a piece of candy or treat, etc. We knew we wanted to get back on track with healthier eating, and finally cut ties with some of our processed staples. We haven’t had a ton of them–no boxed mixes or anything like that, but still used chocolate chips, sugar, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, and a few other random things. Those processed ingredients are everywhere! So, for Lent, we are giving up processed foods and refined sugars completely. And then see what we want/are able to work back in, in moderation, after that. I suspect we’ll probably do something similar to you and allow treats at social events and maybe once a week at home otherwise.

    We homeschool, so fortunately don’t have to deal with those things.

  • Keeley Hibdon

    Um… it is absolute not nice. It is horrible. My husband is a soldier, an Iraq veteran. We have both worked since we were teenagers and we were not raises on assistance. Must be nice to be able to keep your income and your job. Must be nice to get paid reasonably for what you do and to be able to keep your retirement benefits. Must be nice not to have your retirement cut by a full 1 percent after giving everything to this country and leaving your baby and pregnant wife for a year to drive a convoy in Iraq. Must be nice.

  • Brandi

    We are a family of 8 with only one income. My husband works and I am a stay at home mom. We are a real food family on a tight budget as well. With 6 girls (4 of them in school) I am packing lots of snacks and lunches plus dinner to keep up with their growing appetites, our grocery bill can easily get out of hand. We receive 396.00 a month in food assistance. On top of that amount I budget in 400.00 a month. So that makes our weekly food budget about 190.00 a week with very little wiggle room ( this includes household needs as well as our food, I do not include any eating out we might do, which is only one a month if at all, a resturant or fast food bill with 6 kids would make you pass out! ). Now if I go to the store without my calculator ( a very rare luxury ) I easily spend 230.00 to 250.00. Very little goes to waste in our house. I sit down every Thursday night and plan out our week of food, dinners, favorite snakes, lunches and we have our regulars like yogurt, milk, fruits, veggies that are pretty much the same every week. I shop Miejer for the majority (and with their M-perks program I am able to get some awesome coupons and savings through out the month) and I have also stared to shop our local whole foods store. It’s a coop that runs a farm and works with as many locals as possible to provide a great selection of real foods at prices that are not crazy. I can’t afford to buy everything I would like to there, due to the size of our family and budget. Also in the summer we hit up our local farmers market and have a garden that gets bigger every year to provide as much fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs as we can ( it’s a lot of fun for me and my girls in the summer months! ). And we are planning to add chickens to our family this summer for eggs, I am hoping that experience goes well! So I think feeding a larger, growing family really food on a very tight budget is possible with carful planning. Be open-minded and never stop learning! I am always reading, talking, and exposing myself and my girls to new information and resources. We try to sock up as much knowledge as we can! We really appreciate your website and FB post! Lots of great dinners and so many ideas have sprouted from your experience and knowledge 😃. Thanks!

    • Brandi

      I should also add that my kids are 11, 9, 8, 6, 4, and 3. When they were younger and I was wrapped up in having babies, sleepless nights, diaper bags and all of that I did not have as much time or energy to put into our food choices!

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