Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Food for thought...

I'd love to be able to tell you that I know what we spend on food every month, but I don't, because we don't separate the food portion of receipts out from the total which includes everything from shampoo to dog food to tires for the car. This is about to change, however, because for the entire month of June, we're counting every penny spent on groceries. 

One of my favorite bloggers (and fellow Compactor), Katy Wolk-Stanley at the Non-Consumer Advocate (^), recently announced that she was planning to have a Food Stamp Challenge (^) during the month of June. Participants will try to stay within the budget and guidelines set for the federal food stamp program to feed their families for one month.

Always willing to challenge ourselves, we've decided to give it a try. We started on the 1st and will do our darnedest to make it till the 30th on what we'd be allotted by our state (Colorado) if we used food stamps. Not only are we going to try to stay within the budget, we're going to try to eat as close to "normal" as possible.  

According to what I've read, the amount a family gets in food stamps (officially called SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (^) in government-speak) varies depending on several factors, including the number of people in the family, the amount of money they make outside the home, and possibly other factors. Women who are pregnant or nursing, infants, and children under the age of five would further qualify for WIC (Women Infants Children). WIC covers dietary basics (^) like milk, juice, cereal, dairy items (eggs & cheese), fruits, veggies, beans and peanut butter. From what I've read, WIC would add another $44.00 to our monthly total since we have a child under the age of five.

Now its time for a little math...

The average monthly food stamp benefit per person is $101.00, which would be $303.00 for the month of June, plus $44.00 from WIC, which would bring our total to $347.00. The maximum amount allowed in our state for three people is $526.00. Adding in $44.00 brings that total to $570.00. Our middle daughter will be here in a few weeks (she's back east at the moment), and I'm not sure how to count her, so for the moment, I'm not going to.

So, somewhere between $347.00 - $570.00 is what a 3-person family would expect to spend on food using food stamps and WIC in the United States. We're going to do everything within our power to keep our spending on the lower end of that range.

As noted above, there are things that food stamps don't cover. They don't cover pet food, toiletries (shampoo, razors), vitamins or medicine. They don't cover hot food. So, you can't go out to eat with them, you can't order in Chinese or pizza, and you can't buy a cooked chicken at the grocery. Alcoholic drinks are not covered.

You can shop at most warehouse clubs (Sam's, Costco), and you can shop at farmer's markets. You can purchase plants which grow food with food stamps, which is nice. Sweets (cookies, ice cream, soda) do seem to be covered.

Food is expensive in our area of the country, and since we try very hard to eat healthily, ours may cost a little more from the get-go. We try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, lots of sugar, and trans-fats. We eat organics wherever possible, especially when it comes to the Dirty Dozen (^). We eat as few canned foods as possible, because cans are often contaminated with Bisphenol-A (^), a potentially dangerous additive. If we purchase sandwich meat, its nitrate and nitrite-free. With children in the house, we always have fresh milk, fruits and veggies. Finally, I eat a gluten-free diet, which can be ridiculously expensive without a lot of advanced planning.

To counteract all of that,  we try to make as many dishes as possible from scratch (for example, Sunday night, we made bagels). We have a membership to Costco, and buy in bulk whenever we can. My husband hunts, which gives us an annual supply of organic meat. Hunting isn't free, once you factor in the cost of the license and processing, but it ends up being much less than we'd pay in the grocery store. I make my own laundry and dish washing detergent, and apply the savings to the rest of our household budget.

Our family is very fortunate. My husband has a great career with an excellent company. We don't live beyond our means, and we have everything we need, including our health and each other. We have thoughtful, kind and intelligent children. We consider ourselves blessed beyond words.

With that in mind, I want to note that this is a choice our family is making to see what we can accomplish in a month - to see if it is possible to feed our family on the money allowed by food stamps, and to do so in a healthy way.

For too many parents, food stamps aren't a choice, but are the main way of feeding their families right now, which is something to think about.



1 comment:

Confessions of a Closet Hoarder but you can call me Judy said...

I look forward to seeing how you do on this. :)