Wednesday, November 30, 2011

X-Treme Food Stamp Challenge--the beginning of the month receipts

When discussing living on extremely limited funds for food, one of the things that frequently mentioned is buying bulk.  Well, here's the scary reality of buying bulk:  when you do, like when I bought 10 pounds of cheese the other day, that money is no longer available for anything else.  We don't get more food stamp money until December 21 and we are already down to $61.44 to last us until then.   The good news is that I think, for the most part, we are set on groceries for quite a while.

Here's what I spent that nearly $100 on and what we've gotten on WIC since I started keeping track for you on November 21:

The first receipt is for $25 in tokens at a farmers market.  I had one token worth $1 left from the previous month and used those $26 in tokens to get a quart of real, local maple syrup and a 2 pound jar of local honey.  Both of those should last quite a while.

The first batch of groceries was actually purchased by my husband based on a list I gave him, so I couldn't adjust in store for sales, etc.  Living out in the boonies like we do, that's just what has to happen sometimes.  On that trip, I had him pick up 2 bags of frozen onions (because I was going to be making meatballs for the freezer and couldn't realistically cut that many onions without having eye issues), ketchup, ice cream, tortilla chips, and I told him to get 1 case of Diet Coke for me, 2 if they were on sale, which they were.  Some would judge very harshly that I was buying pop on food stamps, but A) I gotta drink something and as much as I need to accomplish each day to keep us fed and do everything else that needs doing, something caffeinated helps and B) here in Michigan, we have a 10 cent deposit on pop (or soda as it is called some places) cans, so when I return those cans, we can buy luxury items that we otherwise couldn't toilet paper.

That same trip, I had him pick up some items on WIC.  Most stores require that WIC be a separate transaction from any other form of payment, so it is on a different receipt.  I had hom pick up some milk that I want to try to make sweetened condensed milk from to save on that, whole wheat tortillas, milk for drinking, bread (I knew I wasn't going to have a chance to make any with the holiday weekend coming up), fresh cranberries (to complement the leftovers I knew I'd have with the holiday weekend coming up), and 1/2 pound of cheddar cheese to last us until I could make it to the restaurant supply store to get a quantity of cheese that would last more than a day or two.

This week, I actually got to go shopping.  Yay!  The cashier was pretty appalled when I told her this was pretty much my groceries for the week and not just some holiday baking supplies!  I got some cheap salt (for crafts, actually), chili powder, white whole wheat flour, flaked coconut, sugar, and chocolate chips.  Yeah, I can see why someone would think that was for some fun holiday baking!  The flour is primarily for real food, like bread, crackers, and maybe some bagels.

On that same trip, on WIC, we got some eggs, some Honey Kix that the kids like to snack on, milk for the whole family to drink, and some white grape juice for the kids.

Finally, before we left civilization to head back to BFE, we stopped off at a restaurant supply store to pick up some cheese.  I had been planning to get a couple 2 pound blocks, but the price went back down on the 10 pound blocks so that it was a lot cheaper in the long haul to buy it that way.

When I was mixing up some no-knead bread dough later that night, I was shocked to discover we were darn near out of sea salt!  Fortunately, my husband had some business to attend to near stores that would actually carry sea salt, so he picked up some.

So, as you can see from the last receipt, we now only have $61.44 to last us until 12/21, barring our caseworker actually doing something.  This may not seem like much, but we already have the vast majority of groceries we need for the month, so only having $14 to spend next week to get us back where we should be when you figure we have $38 a week to budget, really isn't that huge of a deal.

Turkeyherder's pie with a side of cranberries
Yesterday was another super cheap eating day.  The morning rains urged the kids and I to sleep in, so by the time we woke up, brunch seemed more appropriate than breakfast (my husband wasn't home, but he grabbed a couple cookies to snack on while visiting his mom and didn't get to have a meal, our leftovers from brunch, until much, much later).  We enjoyed whole wheat pancakes with maple syrup and venison sausage for our meal and the kids snacked on more pancakes in the afternoon as well.  My husband brought home some tangerines (or mini-oranges or some sort of mysterious round orange citrus fruit) his mother sent back with him and the kids gobbled them up for snacks in the afternoon as well.  They also had a little cheese while waiting for dinner to be ready.  Dinner was turkeyherder's pie, to use the last of the mashed potatoes from Friday's Thanksgiving dinner, the last of the turkey that hadn't been frozen, and the last of the gravy we brought back from Friday's dinner.   I also polished off the last of the cranberries I'd cooked up to go with the leftovers (since I was the only one that really liked them) as a side with my dinner.  The veggies in the pie were all from my garden or my mom's so they were free as well.  The only part of dinner that actually cost any food stamp dollars were the approximately 1 or 2 ounces of cheese I put on top of it!  I also had a late night snack of tortilla chips with homemade apple-tomato salsa.  I'm not sure exactly when or which kids did it, but I have also discovered evidence (lid and can opener on table, jar in the sink) that certain children also helped themselves to, and devoured, a 1/2 pint jar of homemade applesauce.

As far as beverages go, my husband only drank water, either from the tap or bottled water his mom had given him, I had 3 cans of Diet Coke, 2 of the kids had juice with dinner, the other kid and I had milk with dinner, and 2 of the kids had a little milk at bedtime.  Anyone that was thirsty the rest of the day had tap water (and I don't know who or when, because I was only guarding the refrigerator to see what came out of it, not the sinks).


  1. Wow, thanks for your honesty and frankness putting this all out there for us. This is a really interesting project.

    One comment: you realize that the deposits you get back for soda cans are actually money you already spent, right? You can see the "deposit" charge right there on your receipt.

  2. Yup, but when I get it back, it becomes cash, which I can use for anything we need. Food stamps can only be used for food, not toilet paper, hygiene products, cleaning supplies (except for stuff like baking soda, vinegar, or lemon juice that is edible), or anything else that us po' folk still need but don't have money for.

  3. I applaud your courage in being brutally honest with FS & what you're doing to keep your family fed & taken cared of. You're awesome!

  4. No shame in buying diet coke on FS. Whatever it takes to get through the day. If I had to make the choice for myself between buying something to eat and Coke zero the soda is gonna win just about every time. :0)

  5. Ah, the ubiquitous "freezer scraping soup" days. :) I remember a time when I had no money (I've had a few of them, food banks and all) and it was Christmas time... someone put my name in for a Fireman's Basket (and boy they send the nice lookin' ones to deliver to you! whew! lol). In it was a turkey, a teeny ham, a box of stuffing, and a few other things. There was also a single can of smoked oysters, something my (then very young) daughter and I both loved. I clapped my hands with glee - smoked oysters and milk can be made into an incredibly delicious soup! I pulled out my Little House books and found Ma's recipe, and the two of us set to making it. We felt rich indeed. :)

  6. That is some very frugal's amazing what you can get by on when buying whole foods rather than pre-packaged. And I would also be appalled if you came up to the till with chocolate chips, coconut and sugar and told me that it was the entirety of your weekly shop! She probably though that it was all you were going to eat! lol

  7. I didn't realize FS covered bottle deposits. I thought that had to be paid separately. I'm glad you found a work around to help you.

    When Meijer ran back to school sales where if someone bought $10 worth of certain brand products (sometimes Sunshine, Keebler, or General Mills) they'd get $10 off the purchase of three bags of Hanes or Fruit of the Loom socks or underwear. I took advantage of that and paid 47c to 97c for three packs of undies or socks for several weeks stocking up for my family. I realized it would be a HUGE benefit to folks on food stamps who didn't have the cash for such things, and I was grateful to Meijer for helping all the people out there on very tight budgets.

  8. In case you missed it, I sent you a donation via the button at the top of your blog. Hope it helps a little. Hugs. Suzanne

  9. BV, I was surprised by the bottle deposit thing too, but was happy to turn it to my advantage when I learned about it!

    Suzanne, it doesn't look like it's come through yet, but thanks! Every bit does help at this point!

  10. I think you did fairly well, you got what you needed anyway. My needs or other people's needs would be different but that is to be expected. As for the soda, I had a women in front of me at the store one day with a whole bunch of 2 liter sodas, at least 10, then cookies, candy, snack cakes--all that she paid for with her food stamp card--plus she didn't add up the stuff when she got it so half a cart had to go back.
    So... in my opinion, you have done quite well. I will be interested to see how the rest of it goes.

  11. I just double checked, and it was sent on the 19th of November. If you don't find it soon you can email me at smlbc (at) hotmail (dot) com and we can try and figure out what happened. I know what it's like to really have watch pennies, and how the smallest things can be life altering. Hope it arrives soon. Suzanne

  12. Everybody has their vice, I wouldn't stress over the diet coke. Personally if I were you I'd need to add some alcohol to that coke to get through your day! You are amazing, don't know how you do it.

  13. When my four kids were little I was on food stamps for awhile and let me tell you, no one better judge you harshly for buying some cans of Coke! Moms need whatever they need to get through the day and take care of their family...and esp you for all you do above & beyond re: food. You deserve a can of Coke! It has been prob 24 years since i was on food stamps and i still feel the sting of unkind comments in the grocery line, no matter what it was over --- me being able to buy so much of something (prob mac & cheese or hamburger). If those people only knew what it was like....and YEAH that you found deposit money to help buy Toilet paper. I always thought food stamps should include that and Kotex!!!!

  14. I don't use disposable girly stuff and wouldn't even have a problem with "family cloth" instead of T.P. (just throw them in with the baby's diapers when I wash those!), but my husband isn't there yet. ;-)

  15. It's a relief to know that I'm not the only mom who pushes for "real" food and homemade goodness, yet still drinks diet colas (my weakness is caffeine free diet doctor pepper). I feel better now, thanks!

    Your budget reminded me a lot of our own - the only differences is that we don't have food stamps OR WIC, so all our food money has to come out of my husband's paycheck. That said, we still buy a lot in bulk (like flour, sugar, cheeses, eggs, etc) and it really saves over time. We also buy canned veggies in the industrial sized cans, though I am hoping that I can switch to fresh veggies and home-canned goods by this time next year (now, if only I can figure out what I am doing wrong with my gardening).

    Another difference I noticed is that you shopped around - here, we don't do that as much. Sure, we have a lot of stores to chose from in the area, but most of the prices this close to Chicago are inflated. We tend to stick with Woodman's, and the local mexican mart (which is walking distance, so no car needed). The mexican mart always has the greatest deals on fresh produce.

  16. The shopping around is kind of an illusion. In general, I pretty much only shop at Meijer and the farmers market. I just wander over to GFS when we need to buy something in bulk, which isn't often now, but I'm hoping now that I'm not blowing so much of my budget at the farmers market, buying fresh stuff to put up for the winter and instead we're actually EATING that stuff, that I'll be able to buy more of my stuff in bulk. We'll see though, since storage could be an issue with some stuff. We don't have any mice or bugs or anything, but I'd like to keep it that way, so I keep all my goodies in airtight containers so they don't know it is there and come in looking for my food! Most weeks, we just go to Meijer though...all the convenience of a big box store, but it is a Michigan company and the employees are union. :-) And they have a good line of store brand natural and organic products to boot!

  17. Soda is one of the few vices we'd stick to even with all the money in the world to buy non-processed foods. The husband is a Dr. Pepper or Mr. Pibb addict and I like flavored sodas. I won't pay more than $2.50 a 12 pack though. And we are lucky enough to not have a bottle deposit.

    Would you drink Coke Zero? I have some freebie coupons a friend shared I could stick in the mail for you.

  18. Pop almost never (maybe even never!) goes on sale that cheap around here! $11 for 2 24 packs, which is what I got in the pictured receipts is about as good as the sales get. I've never had Coke Zero and don't think I'd like it, so I'll decline on the coupons, but thanks for offering!