June 30, 2010

The Day of Reckoning: Results of the June Food Stamp Challenge

It's the last day of the June Food Stamp Challenge, issued by Katy at the Non-Consumer Advocate, and it couldn't have come one day sooner! Boy, am I sick of thinking about food and prices and grocery shopping. I haven't been so focused on it since I was literally almost starving 20 years ago in Manhattan, when I earned $1200 and paid $650 for rent. And that was part of the point, to illustrate how difficult it is to eat well on a very tight budget. It's easy to make poor and/or inconsistent choices.

The challenge was to try to feed your family on the amount you would receive in food stamps if you were eligible. My husband and I have been doing fine with a monthly budget of $323, which I set for myself over a year ago when I read this post at The Crunchy Chicken. Her Sustainable Food Budget Challenge was to try to eat local and organic on the monthly household maximum allotment, and we haven't usually had much trouble doing it. The problem is, the rules vary by state, and depending on your income (or lack thereof), it's difficult to calculate the exact amount you would receive. Katy used what she determined to be an average of $101 per person, and so our challenge was to stick to a budget of $202 for the month.

I knew it would be difficult with our CSA delivery knocking $92 off the budget right off the bat ($46 per biweekly delivery). That left $110 for the entire rest of the month. I'm actually amazed we got anywhere close to that. Our total grocery bill for June was... drumroll, please...$235!! And let me be clear, that amount is for food, from the CSA, a grocery store, etc. It doesn't include toiletries, paper products, or alcohol. And it doesn't include eating out.

In normal times, I would be ecstatic with that amount. I didn't really even entertain the idea that we would be able to come in under $202. But amazingly, many people who took the challenge are on target to succeed. A lot of them have blogged more regularly, and more provocatively than I have this month. Click here to check out Julia's consistently relevant posts about the issue all through the month, at her blog The Modern Muse.

I could write about all the reasons we failed, namely because I was working away from home practically the entire month, so had much less time to plan and cook than I might have. What's interesting to me is that we could even come close, while receiving a CSA delivery and buying organic milk and yogurt, and even organic chicken a couple of times. What I noticed is that the first thing cut from the budget is snacks. I don't mind baking more, but I'll be glad to get back to our regular $323 budget next month. Now it sounds like a lot to me!

Incidentally, my husband didn't even know we were doing this challenge, because he's already a little impatient with my food waste/composting schemes, and so I was afraid he would be skeptical and feel deprived no matter what I bought or cooked. And truth be told, he did run out for his beloved Trader Joe's snacks a couple of times, so our $235 total is probably closer to about $265. Or maybe even higher. Big fat failure. Oh well. The biggest thing I've learned is that I'm glad I'm not still almost starving in New York, and really glad we're not on Food Stamps. The next time you see someone in line using food stamps, don't judge them. Give them a break and assume they're going through a hard time and even with the stamps are still hungry. Because they probably are. And be grateful if you don't need them.

Did you take the Food Stamp Challenge? How did you do? Tell us about it in the Comments section. And feel free to weigh in with your thoughts even if you didn't take the challenge.

I'll let you know how I did with my other challenge for June - take a walk every single day - later today.


Clandestine Road said...

I was really touched by this post and Modern Muse's. I love the "walk in her/his shoes" adage and I think it is amazing you all tried.

I am inspired by your intentional living.


Christine | Money Funk said...

What a concept to live by the amount you would receive in food stamps. I used to live on food stamps as a single mom with a child. No problem. I also was only working part-time or going to college.

One needs to consider the amount would differ if you are working more.

If I was still at home as much as back then, no problem. As I would have time to bake oatmeal-apple bars, make trial mix, meusli and the likes. Batch cook beans, make my casseroles to freeze, etc...

That would be tough now, as I work full-time and now have a family of 4 with two children. They would have a tough time doing w/out the luxuries of specialty drinks and snacks. Ya...definitely would have a grumpy family. LOL. But I, personally, could do it.

Melanie Webster said...

I think you did well to get as close as you did! We spend about NZ$500 a month on groceries for two people, mind you we often cook for our flatmate and that does count toiletries etc. Food is very expensive here though, not sure how it compares but we pay $4 on special for a pound of butter, $5 full price. And New Zealand is supposed to be a dairy country! Well done Angela, I am mighty impressed!

Shelayna said...

I do have to agree, that is very impressive!

Melonie said...

I think you did very well, considering your hubby wasn't specifically in on the challenge! I don't consider your results a "big fat failure" at all. :-)

I didn't sign up for the challenge itself as I planned a blog hiatus. But I did keep it in mind when I did my commissary shopping this month and spent about $275 for myself and two kids, including paper products like tp, diapers, and tissues. My husband is in the States right now so I just didn't include him in my total because I have no idea what or where he's eating. Presumably some at the chow hall, some out with his coworkers. Technically my limit was $303 (101 x me and the 2 kids) - the main reason I beat that is because I used a TON of coupons, including a handful of free item ones, so that helped things along.

I'm going to keep this challenge in mind for a long time though - thanks for bringing it to your readers' attention so we could learn and challenge ourselves!

Angela said...

Angela - Thanks. Writing-wise, Julia blew me out of the water with her post. I had just written mine and then went and read hers and was really struck by it. Especially the way she captures the incremental lines we all would, or even have, crossed. Free food at Happy Hour? Sure! Take some sugar from the table at the diner? No big deal. Etc.

Christine- Yes, feeding someone else definitely makes the difference. I lived on way less than that when I was poor in Manhattan, but I also did think about food too much, I was in some sense starving. I'm 5'5" and I weighed 105 pounds, so I was definitely too thin. Having time to bake and cook from scratch is the other issue. That depends on both whether the parent is working full time away from home, and whether they actually know how to cook that way.

Melanie- Thanks for your comment. Butter and milk and eggs are very expensive here as well, especially if you buy organic. But the more I bake and cook from scratch, the more that dairy is the main item I need to buy in addition to the CSA delivery, so it still isn't an overwhelming amount since there are only two of us. I think it would have been really hard to get to $202- I would have had to cancel the CSA for the month, and possibly not eat as much produce. I don't want to do that any time, but especially not in June. I've got to have my summer fruit!

Thanks Shelayna.

Melonie- I try to use coupons when I see them for things I buy, but I don't use them often because since I buy dairy and meat and snacks at Trader Joe's and get a CSA delivery, the only items I get at the supermarket are very specific: cooking oil, condiments, a certain kind of cereal, Quaker's Oats, etc. So sometimes it's not worth looking through coupons for the ten or so items I would buy, and only go to the market for once every two or three weeks. It sounds like you did great on the challenge, so glad you followed along.