Share Our Strength recently posed a challenge to its audience to live off $30 a week in food groceries, the average amount provided in the state of Maryland. Since I live in Seattle where the cost of living is higher I chose to take on the challenge utilizing the Washington state guideline ($200 per month / $50 per week / $7 per day).
The goal? To raise awareness in people who do not have to utilize Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Note the program went through a ‘rebranding’ effort in 2008. Key word is ‘supplemental’ – this is not a stand alone initiative. So you are not expected to live solely off this dollar amount yet so many people do.
I took the challenge. And continue to to this day. Though I could easily go on a tangent about the latest statistics and politics surrounding this program my goal here is to share my first hand experience with you.
Eye Opening Moments
Starting the Challenge From Scratch – I had a fridge full of food when I started the challenge. Luckily I had not taken out the recycling for the week so still had access to receipts from my food shopping trips to refer to. That and the fact that I am pretty anal about the amount of dollars I spend on food so the computing of costs for dishes came quite readily to me. Which I needed in order to cost out meals as I consumed them (see food cost breakdown example below). It’s just not feasible to start the challenge without using what you have on hand. Flour, milk and eggs included. That is the only way to calculate true dollars spent.
Changing Habits – Another area I’m already good with is packing snacks to take with me so I do not ‘impulse eat.’ However one day I did not prepare properly. The urge to stop and grab a sandwich at one of my favorite neighborhood joints to satisfy my hunger just wasn’t an option. Typically I could justify supporting a local business for a $10 or less lunch but during the challenge I couldn’t. So my tummy grumbled and I became very cranky until I was able to get home to some already prepared food in the fridge.
Eating for One – One word – leftovers. You have to be okay with eating the same dish throughout the week. I had a big pot of beef stew that lasted me all week. So the cost was manageable. Here is a cost breakdown of the stew:
Beef – $9
Bottle of Wine (yes, the wine went in the dish) – $8
Bag of Carrots – $1
Bag of Potatoes – $2.50
Bag of Frozen Peas – $2
Whole Onion – $1
Mushrooms – $2
Beef Stock – $3
Chocolate and Spices – $2
Total – $30.50
Divided by 9 meals = $3.60 per meal
Though I may never eat stew again this was a pretty balanced meal considering alternatives that many people eat while on the SNAP program.
Social Life – I had a few offers to go out to eat with friends/family throughout the week and had to politely refuse. By accepting food from others you are ‘living outside the means’ provided. But it did offer some creative solutions. Example – Instead of going out for happy hour with a friend I offered to host one at my apartment. Even though alcohol is not covered under the program, the potential to have snacks/food with the drinks was there. To minimize temptation we stayed in; ambience included.
Most people have a budget for their food expenditures utilizing coupons, buying in bulk, even visiting food pantries to supplement the program. I tend to purchase items on sale at the one of four grocery stores I visit balancing my purchases between them. I realize this is not the most organized approach and I plan to challenge myself in this area. The first step – read ‘Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals’ provided by the USDA.
Yes, I did go over my budget. Mostly because I got cocky with how well I was doing five days into the challenge. So decided to do a little shopping without a list. Lesson learned. With a little practice I know I can do it. And will continue to using more resources than I started with.
Time to head home for some lunch since my tummy is beginning to grumble.