Saturday, June 05, 2010

So far, so good...

Monday morning will be the end of Week One for the June Food Stamp Challenge (^), but I'm going to go ahead and total up my receipts because I don't plan to spend anything between now (Saturday night) and then. If I do, I'll recalculate.

At Costco, I purchased:
2 boxes of Fiber One Bars, 30 bars per box
1 very large bag of corn tortilla strips, Kirkland (Costco's house brand
1 34 ounce box Kirkland Spiced Pecan cereal
2 large loaves light wheat bread (45 calories per slice)
4 jars Kirkland brand organic peanut butter. No sugar added, just peanuts and a bit of salt. Two 28 ounce jars for $7.69
1 64 ounce (4 pound) jar Kirkland animal crackers (no HFCS & organic)
2 large jars Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread)

We still have all of the tortilla strips and the crackers. We have most of the bread, cereal, peanut butter, bars, and Nutella. Our youngest starts playing ball this week, and we'll be packing the crackers as a snack twice a week. Peanut butter goes into sandwiches, sauces, and baking. Tortilla strips go into salads, soups, and chili, and are the base for nachos. Nutella is our little one's favorite. She eats it with peanut butter on sandwiches, and dips apples in it.

The food total at Costco came to $66.51.

At King Soopers (Kroger nearly everywhere else), I purchased:
3.15 pounds of organic cherries
1 gallon of organic milk
2.57 pounds of bananas
4 pounds of organic gala apples
6.78 pounds of chicken (@ .78 cents a pound)
2 pounds of low-carb pasta (for my husband)
2 packages of gluten-free Ivory Teff wraps
2 packages of Haribo Gummi Bears on sale (for our daughter)

The chicken will be tomorrow night's dinner &; will be part of other meals after that. We have several apples left, along with most of the pasta, bananas, apples and wraps. We still have over half of the milk, but the Gummis are gone gone gone :)

The total at King Soopers Kroger was $44.10.

The total for the first week is $110.61, which is 31.87% of the lowest food stamp + WIC benefit estimate of $347.00. That doesn't tell the whole story, though.

First, as noted, we still have most of the food purchased above. For much of the week, we ate food we purchased previously, including corn,  tortillas, fruit, veggies, cheese, milk, bread, cereal,tomatoes, and so on.

Next week we'll be eating foods purchased this week in addition to some things in the pantry/fridge/freezer. Along with tomorrow night's chicken, we're planning chicken and rice, Musubis (Hawaiian sushi), grilled pronghorn kabobs (thanks to my husband the hunter), sandwiches, bagels, oatmeal, etc. Monday will be "left over" day, when we put together meals made up from whatever is in the fridge. I'll be baking gluten-free bread and probably some cookies next week, in addition to packing meals for our youngest to eat between ball practices. 

Speaking of bread: While I was at Costco, I noted that the 2 loaves of bread purchased for my husband &; daughter came to $4.29. On the baking aisle, I noted that 25 pounds of wheat flour came to around $5.50. Add in yeast (less than $4.00 for 2 pounds), oil, and so on, and it becomes clear that its much less expensive to bake bread than to buy it. Even factoring in a second-hand bread machine, it wouldn't take long for the savings to outstrip the initial cost.

If I thought I would need to rely on food stamps for any length of time, I would make a point of purchasing flour and yeast in bulk (and/or starting a sour dough culture), as well as locating a bread machine. I own/moderate a recycling list in my city, and see bread machines given away on a regular basis. I see them at the thrift store for under $10.00 every time I'm there. An investment of under $20.00 (machine, yeast, flour) would yield huge savings. 

Previously, I baked nearly all of the bread eaten in our house, but that fell by the wayside when I stopped eating wheat. At this point, I bake my own bread (gluten-free bread is ridiculously expensive - often more than $5.00 a loaf), but purchase wheat bread for everyone else.

 The Little Red Hen and her bread

It clearly makes solid financial sense to go back to baking all/nearly all of our bread, so in the weeks ahead, we'll be doing just that.


Friday, June 04, 2010

It Turns Out That Ignorance May Not Be As Blissful As We've Been Previously Led To Believe

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. Robert A. Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long
After I posted about our family's decision to take part in the June Food Stamp Challenge (^) a couple of days ago, several friends made more or less the same comment, which was "The government should offer classes to food stamp recipients in cooking and shopping". I know what they're saying, and they aren't being snide or uncharitable - they are stating what most of us come to know at some point or another: learning how to be frugal and wise with resources are valuable skills; skills  which can be taught and learned. 

I agree, insofar as I think everyone should take home economics in school.   Everyone.

So... why isn't it mandatory anymore? As far as I know, HomeEc, as it was known back then, is no longer required in most school districts across the United States.At least not in any of the ones I've lived in since then.

When I was in junior high, HomeEc was required in 7th and 8th grade in the school district we lived in in South Carolina. We moved to North Carolina the summer between 8th and 9th grades, and ended up taking it again the next year, too; three entire years of Baked Alaska, Blanc Mange, and hemming skirts.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that I can whip up one heck of a white sauce (^), and have mad apron-making skills.
Back and front view of a woman wearing an apron intended for cooking and a house cap of the "Dutch bonnet" style. Figure 3 and 4 from "House Aprons and Caps" by Mary Brooks Picken, published by the Women's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences of Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1922. In the public domain (^)

I'm not sure when, but at some point, it seemed to become much less important to know how to do all the things that allow us to be independent adults. Where once saying you couldn't cook or repair something would have been an admission of fault, it became something of a badge of honor. 

I have more important things to do than cook. 

I can afford to pay someone to fix my car. 

But the truth is, most of us, almost all of us, don't have more important things to do. We won't always have enough money to pay someone to take care of us and being incapable of performing basic tasks quickly becomes paralyzing. 

No one should be ashamed of being a competent, complete individual who want only the best for themselves and their family. It is not demeaning to know how to cook or clean or drive a hammer or change a tire. It should be demeaning to be willfully ignorant.

Thankfully, the pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way. In the last few years, anyone who has been paying attention can't help but have noticed the renaissance in the "home arts" in the blogosphere and elsewhere. It seems as though everyone is busy knitting, sewing, cooking, canning, and growing stuff. And then writing about it at length. 

This is good, because it turns out that ignorance is a bad thing, not something to aspire to. Being self-reliant allows us to be strong and independent. Relying on others for everything weakens us. And it turns out that being unable to perform basic skills hurts the poor and disadvantaged much more than it hurts the wealthy. 

Wealthy people can often afford to pay others to mitigate their personal ignorance. The rest of us? Not so much. The less we can afford to pay others, the more important it becomes to learn to do it ourselves.

Which brings us back to classes for food stamp recipients. Yes, I think that people on food stamps should take classes in how to shop and cook.  Everyone should take these classes. Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to be independent as they possibly can be.

Everyone should be able to say that they can care for themselves and their families. We should demand that these skills are taught, or take it upon ourselves to teach them, learning along the way  if need-be. We should refuse to raise another generation who thinks that ignorance of basic skills is somehow preferable to mastery. 

I'll leave you with this, a HomeEc film called Buying Food, from around 1950, which teaches the fine art of grocery shopping. It's a bit condescending, but full of helpful information nonetheless. Enjoy.


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.