The Food Stamp Challenge

Posted on February 1, 2012 by

Elspeth and I are trying something new this month. We’ve decided to attempt to shop and cook for under $5.14/person/day. This puts us at the amount of money we would live off of if we stuck to the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, which is used to calculate food stamps. We’ll each document our shopping and cooking during February and write up a post about it.

For the sake of simplicity, if I do not know how much meat costs I will count chicken at $1/lb (I mostly buy whole chickens on sale for $0.99/lb), pork at $3/lb, and beef and lamb at $6/lb.  These are slightly elevated prices, but they save me from having to bother calculating each cut individually, since I bought them in bulk.

I’m going to be using my local Food Lion’s lowest prices to calculate the cost of the items, even if I’ve already purchased the item elsewhere, as most food stamp users shop at low-price grocery stores and dollar stores sell mostly inedible trash. I will not actually be calculating the price of every meal, as that’s a laborious process. Rather, I will be tracking the items purchased. If I use an item from my current stores, I will simply add them to the list of things purchased. This will inflate my costs, as much of the purchases will be left over at the end of the month, but I just don’t have the time to do it the other way.

I will not be including alcohol in the calculations unless I use it for cooking, as it is not considered food under the Thrifty Plan. Things like paper towels, laundry detergent, and trash bags are also not included because you cannot purchase them with food stamps.

My total monthly allotment for February is $596.24 for my family of four. I’m going to have to deduct the following off the top, since I’d consider them staples and my kitchen is already stocked with them:

Product Amount Price
Toasted Os cereal 14 oz 2.79
Salt 26 oz 0.69
Sugar 10 lb 6.89
Flour or self-rising flour 5 lb 2.69
Extra virgin olive oil 500 ml 6.49
Baking powder 8 oz 1.99
Vegetable shortening 3 lb 5.69
Coffee beans (whole) 11 oz 6.99
Vegetable oil 1 gallon 7.19
Cinnamon 2 oz 1.89
Vanilla extract 1 oz 3.59
Half-n-half 1 quart 2.89
Black pepper, ground 2 oz 1.79
Oats, rolled old-fashioned 42 oz 4.69
Butter, unsalted 1 lb 2.99
Corn starch 1 lb 1.49
Milk, whole 1 gallon 3.58
Tea 100 bags 2.69
Eggs, large 18 3.2
Rice 10 lb 7.29
Ketchup 40 oz 2.19
TOTAL 79.69

Which means I have $516.55 starting off. Please note that I live in one of the country’s most expensive areas, so it’ll be especially difficult for me to keep to the budget.

Typical food costs on a typical day in my home are the similar to the following:

Breakfast — $3.28

  • Children each eat 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 bowl of Cheerios with milk, and drink 1 cup of milk
  • I have an egg and small bowl of oatmeal or muesli with milk
  • My husband and I each have a cup of coffee with half-n-half or steamed milk (he doesn’t eat breakfast)

Morning Snack — $3.05

  • Bacon
  • Liter of black tea

Lunch — $2.50

  • Vegetable-bean soup with leftover bacon and shredded cheddar on top, bread and butter

Afternoon Snack — $1.66

  • Popcorn and bananas for everyone
  • Boiled egg for my daughter (I always cook some extra for snacks)
  • Stuffed green olives for my son and I
  • Leftover coffee with half-n-half, for me

Dinner — $9.44

  • Roasted whole chicken, half (4 lbs)
  • Mashed potatoes with butter and milk (1 lb)
  • Green salad (1 head)
  • Vanilla pudding with fresh strawberries

Evening — $0.80

  • Liter of herbal tea
  • Handful of nuts each, for me and my husband

Total for the day = $20.68

Daily allotment = $20.56

As you can see, it’s going to be tough for us to stay within budget. We really like to eat here, and the children are like bottomless pits. My daughter ate an entire t-bone steak for dinner last night, and then she ate most of mine, as well. So I was left nibbling on the bones and scavenging off my husband’s plate. The same thing happens to me when we eat roasted chicken, so my son has started naming me Leftover Girl.

Even though we all eat most meals at home, and I plan everything out carefully and aim for satiation and stable blood sugar, it’ll be really tough to keep the costs below the daily limit without resorting to more starches. I don’t know how other people do it, as not everyone can live in their kitchen, like I do. I suspect our normal food costs are closer to the Low Cost Plan, once you add in alcohol and the occasional purchased meal.

Posted in: Homemaking