A week ago my family started the SNAP Challenge and attempted to live on a budget of $4 per person per day for food. $4 is the approximate amount of money that people with SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) benefits are provided with in order to eat.
That meant our family of 4 was allowed $80 for all food consumed Monday-Friday. The SNAP challenge did allow for an optional supplement of $8 per person for purchases not normally covered by SNAP (toiletries, prepared food, etc.).
I didn’t hesitate to accept the extra $8 and it was our saving grace this week to cover our diet soda addiction and a few juice/snacks we needed for Peter’s low blood sugar. Clearly giving up the diet soda would have been the healthier, more budget friendly choice but I was not prepared to do that. Sorry I suck.
We also had a few challenge modifications.
I bought the bulk of our food last week but we also ate some of our existing food as well. I tend to stock up on deals and couldn’t justify buying more perishables and letting the previous purchases go to waste. I did account for that food in our budget as well.
We also had to pause the challenge on Friday afternoon and finished up our last meal on Saturday night. Peter and I had an overnight trip planned to Phoenix (first time in YEARS without the kids) and I couldn’t ask the grandparents to do the SNAP challenge. Plus Peter and I had dinner reservations as a part of our trip.
And lastly, Quinn attended a birthday party on Wednesday. So he had pizza and a cupcake for dinner. And I might have snuck a piece of pizza too.
Our SNAP Challenge Outcome
We managed to stay within the $80 budget (+$32 supplemental) but just barely.
The biggest reason for our success was sticking to the nightly meal plan. We actually ended up eating BBQ chicken 3 times, so we only had one egg dinner. Then we made stir fry on Saturday for our final SNAP challenge meal.
For me the biggest challenge was keeping track of what we ate from our existing food by adding it to the excel spreadsheet. If I had thinned out the pantry/fridge more before the challenge, I think it would have been easier.
What I learned
#1 We snack way too often. All of us. I would have guessed that but was surprised by how often I wanted to munch on something during the day. Having to account for the food in the spreadsheet stopped me most of the week.
#2 Making a meal plan last week is what made our small success possible. A meal plan would help us stay on track budget wise, help limit our food waste, and help us consciously work more veggies into our diet. Seriously it’s a no brainer.
#3 I may be a deal ADDICT. I love a good grocery deal. However, I know I get a little overzealous and sometimes forget what is already in the fridge at home. This leads to waste.
My Thoughts on the SNAP budget
It is rather ridiculous that some people have to survive on a food budget of $4 a day. Yes it’s supposed to be supplemental but the reality is many families depend on SNAP for all their food.
We benefited from having 2 little boys that don’t eat a lot.
I can’t image how families with teenagers survive everyday on the SNAP benefits. Or families with dietary restrictions. Or how about single people who don’t have the benefit of sharing meals and food purchases?
And because I have the resources I mentioned last week, I feel guilty. I feel guilty because not everyone has the advantages that I have in finding good grocery deals. They might lack transportation, proximity, time or heck even energy (given the diet they are forced to eat) to seek out better grocery deals. And let’s be honest the families who depend on SNAP benefits could really use grocery deals.
I know I pay less for food than someone who can only shop once a week. Or only go to one store rather than picking up the loss leaders from several stores. Or who doesn’t have easy access to coupons or even a decent size fridge to store their food.
Do you think you could live on a $4 per day food budget?
And not just for a week but EVERY SINGLE DAY? I can tell you that we don’t always do well with leftovers and were lucky to really like the BBQ chicken last week. And yet if you only have $4 a day for food, making something else food dinner isn’t really an option.
I feel awful for the parents that can’t feed their kids much less themselves or have to choose between diapers and dinner? It makes me very sad. This is why I try to support the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona and my local food bank, Interfaith Community Services.
Please take a minute and read some of the blog posts written by other SNAP Challenge participants. They shared a variety of things from their meal plans and grocery lists to how their overall health had suffered over the course of the week. I found them to be very insightful.
And if you have actually read this entire huge, almost book-length post, thank you. I really wanted to share our experience and truly appreciate that you have stuck with me on this post to “hear” my thoughts.