Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The X-Treme Food Stamp Challenge--Introduction

I've seen a fair number of "food stamp challenges" out there.  Some are by well-meaning bloggers and usually supposed to last a month, but some quit part way through because it is "too hard" and so their health suffers (a notable exception is Michael Nolan's challenge, in which he stuck with it even despite personal circumstances that would make a lesser person quit).  Some are by politicians for a day, weekend, or week, either as a publicity stunt or in an effort to bring awareness to how underfunded the food stamp program, or as it is more technically called SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) is.  I thought it would be fun interesting to share my family's real life challenge of living on food stamps.

Every challenge I've seen is based on the "average" amount food stamp recipients supposedly receive, or about $100 per person per month.  This is why I call my challenge the X-Treme (purposely misspelled, thinking about how extreme sports sometimes spell it like that to seem more awesome) Food Stamp Challenge.  Mine is based on real numbers, the numbers my family actually receives in assistance.  We get $161 a month right now to feed our family of 5, which is actually 6 people when my oldest son is here 1/3 of the year.  We also get WIC, a supplemental program for pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under 5, for two of our children.  Our WIC benefits for the two children each month currently equals:
6 gallons of 2%, 1%, 1/2% or skim milk
2 pounds cheese ($8.00 max per lb)
2 dozen eggs
72 oz cereal
2 jar 18oz peanut butter, lb of dry beans, or 4 15-16oz can beans
2 quarts 2%, 1%, 1/2%, skim or buttermilk
4 lbs whole grains (options include bread, quick cooking oats, ww tortillas, or brown rice)
$12 fruits and vegetables
4 64oz bottles of juice
The specific items, varieties, and brands allowed can be found on the brochure here.  That's it.  That's all we have to feed the family, especially now with my husband being out of work.  There is no fabled $500 or so that we would get according to the "averages" I see all over the internet.  There is $161 plus WIC.  I'm hoping that number will go up as the Department of Human Services notices the paperwork we turned in about the change in income, but until they do.....

That's just part of the reality of living on food stamps though.  The number could go up or down at any time.  When we first received them, around the time for the birth of my fourth kid, we got about $350 a month and I was ecstatic!  That was such an improvement over the $25 for two weeks that we could usually scrounge up for groceries at the time (yes, I did require the help of visits to the food bank, especially since my garden was limited to two 4x4 garden boxes at the time)!  Even though it was far, far below what the average family spends on groceries, about $150 a week, it was a lot to me.   Eventually, my husband's income went up and our food stamps dropped to $79 a month.  That's right, $79 a month to feed 5-6 people.  And, even though our income looked larger on paper, we still rarely could come up with any money to use to eat above and beyond that number.  During that time, I started container gardening in addition to my 4x4 boxes and eventually we were able to move out of my mother-in-law's double wide and into our own place, which I would eventually start referring to as the Trailer Park Homestead.  After we'd lived here for several months, DHS finally acknowledged our much higher expenses and raised our benefits to $171 a month.  Then, a couple months ago, without reason or warning, that number was reduced to $161 a month.

This blogger's food stamp is different in other key ways from being real and not just made up.  For one thing, I'm not going to calculate how much each individual thing I eat costs.  It doesn't matter.  There is now way I could "cheat" on this challenge, since we have no money, so what we eat is what we eat.   Also, I figure I can include all food in the house.  It was all either bought with food stamps at some point, or I acquired it some other way, either growing, gleaning, hunting, or foraging.  With three little kids (6 and under), a part time tween, and a husband that doesn't always play by my rules when it comes to food in the house, I also can't always be so precise about where the food went to.  I know what I eat each day and will share that, along with my (mostly) educated guess about what everyone else ate, but this will be far from an exact science.

Another huge difference is the time frame.  Since this is reality, there is no tidy beginning and ending time.  We get our food stamps on the 21st of each month and WIC on the 15th.  Since this month's cycle started last month, but we spent most of last week eating on our family's dime via Thanksgiving dinners, I decided about now would be as good as time as any to start sharing this slab of reality with you.

So there you have it, the ground rules of my challenge aka reality.  I will start sharing my grocery receipts tomorrow, along with what I ate today (yesterday, we ate at my mother-in-law's when we were visiting and then polished off more leftovers for dinner.  I also had a couple glasses of milk with dinner and a couple cans of Diet Coke throughout the day and the kids each had a small glass of juice with dinner).  I will endeavor to be as thorough and honest as possible, sharing the good, the bad, and the downright embarrassing (yes, I am embarrassed about some of my groceries), but, since this is reality, sh*^ happens, so we'll see how it plays out.


  1. if your husband has lost his job, you should report income change and your benefits should be adjusted, though.
    (just trying to be helpful)

  2. thank you so much for doing this! I was on SNAP until July this year when the state decided we made $50 over the limit for a family of 4. We were getting $325 a month. Everyone wondered how I shopped for the 4 (sometimes 5 when my oldest was here) of us on that budget. I was thrilled to have that $88 a week!!

    I could not imagine only getting $161 a month to feed that many people knowing I did not have any extra to add to it. I applaud you and hope to learn much from reading these posts. love your blog!!!

  3. I think this is a great idea. It will show how hard it can be and how you can make the best of what you get too! I commend you for being honest enough to do this and for sharing with a whole lot of strangers!! :)

  4. I shared your link, and hope it will open some eyes. Of course most will still be shallow and judgmental but I think the info you share will ultimately help and encourage many...thank you for doing so!

  5. I really feel for you and your challenge. Tho in these times I have it easier I can say I raised 3 children. When I was married to their father I had food stamps and WIC. Thank the lord for that! My husband was not worth my effort and I left which gave my kids a chance to learn life. I remember having a woman yell at me for using coupons along with my food stamps. I remember buying an older deep freeze for freezing extra milk (one trip a month to the store) and saving the old carton and dividing one gallon into two adding water to fill up both gallons. I was ecstatic the day I discovered food stamps paid for seeds. We had land (lived on his mothers property in a house she gave him) I ended up with a garden big enough to feed my family and pay my electricity and buy just a little more but it was still tough. When I left him the garden went to nothing and was never done again. Years later he told my kids he didn't realize how much work I put into it. Those years challenged me...they molded my kids. These years will challenge you and you will rise like the survivor you are! In the meantime you and your family are in my prayers and if you ever need an idea give me a shout!

  6. Thanks for all the the great comments and support. We reported the change of my husband's lost of job to the caseworker, but he seems to take his own sweet time when it comes to stuff like that. It took more than 6 months for him to adjust for our moving out onto our own, so I'm not holding my breath. I keep hoping though....

  7. I am so glad you are going to do this! I remember not so fondly my days of WIC and food stamps, and I can tell already you are doing better than I did. I am looking forward to seeing how you make it work...

  8. I would call the caseworker every day, that is not right to wait that long. I have sometimes reverted to calling the 800# and gone thru a state worker in order to get the caseworker a bit of a shove in the right direction. When we were on WIC there were different "packages" you could get also, we weren't a milk drinking family, so we got a package with more cheese. Don't know if that's still a choice. The whole grains and fruits are a new thing too. Can't wait to see what you decide to buy.

  9. I agree about hassling your case worker or stepping over his head. Our family lives on about 25k a year and we just had a baby and are a family of 5 and our benefits went up to$600 a month! I don't even spend it all. I'm stock piling, b/c we will lose eligibility in a few months when my husband graduates and starts residency, but financially our situation won't really change. He'll make just enough so that we won't qualify for anything, but add in health care, food, moving, and student loan repayments on 300k!!!

  10. Yup, we've tried many times to contact him, yesterday my husband called his supervisor, and today he went down to the office to PERSONALLY turn in some papers to try to get things moving along.

  11. So honored to see you sharing this side of yourself. Having watched what my elderly parents got for SNAP benefits versus some of my younger friends with kids made me sick. The system is so flawed its not funny and there is no hard and fast rules despite there being an "exact science" to the benefits awarded...

  12. I'm in. I used a different calculator than the one "my earth garden" used. I used this one http://www.ndhealth.gov/dhs/foodstampcalculator.asp . Using our real information (we're about to make a major move) we would get $252 a month. I'm going to give it a shot! However, I too, like others will have to compensate because I also include my non food items in my grocery budget. I look forward to getting started as soon as we get moved (which is hopefully this weekend, if not sometime next week).

  13. In a similar boat here. Family of six and our EBT went from 300$ a month to 50$. Between that and WIC. Thankfully my pastor let me know that our church stocks it's own food pantry that includes toilet paper and soap. We won't starve but it it embarrassing.

    1. Are you living someplace you can have a garden? It isn't too late to get a lot of crops in still and that would help in a few weeks and months. Another idea in your situation would be to talk to vendors at a farmers market and see if they would let you help out on their farm for some of the produce. Pay attention to your surroundings too. Last year, I found a sign by the side of a road I drive by on a regular basis offering free pears. I ended up getting several BUSHELS of free pears from that house! Who knows what you can find if you keep your eyes open! Good luck!