Miss Moneybags

Food Stamps: Eating Well On $202 In June

Last week my friend Katy, who writes the excellent blog The Non-Consumer Advocate, challenged her family and a group of bloggers, including me, to feed themselves on the average food stamp allotment for the month of June as a fundraiser for food banks. Currently one in five Californians are receiving some sort of food assistance, due to the recession, and food bank resources are being stretched even further than normal. The idea is to subtract the food stamp allotment from your household’s normal food budget, and donate the difference at the end of the month.

It’s the first day of the challenge and already I’ve hit a snag: the maximum food stamp allotment for a household of two is $367 a month. I’m actually kind of shocked at the amount of food money available to people. And food stamps are supposed to supplement the grocery budget, not cover the entire food bill. Even if I count eating out, $367 is more money than I spend every month on food normally.

There were several years where I lived below the poverty line, but never thought to apply for food assistance. And now I feel dumb. Very, very, very dumb because food stamps would have added 10% or 20% to my income in those lean times. Since $367 is high, and I really don’t want to do the complicated, hypothetical math involved in finding out what my allotment would be if I actually qualified for food stamps, I’m going to follow Katy’s lead and use the average allotment for food stamps which is $101 per person in the household. And even $101 per person seems like a lot of money, especially since my food budget for most of my 20’s was $40 per month.

So why am I doing this challenge? To shame my boyfriend. Of course.

My boyfriend loves to shop. I cannot send him into any store unsupervised, regardless of how esoteric the inventory, without him finding something to buy. In addition to curating a wardrobe that is three times the size of mine, and owning more candles than any man or human should own, Mr. Foxypants apparently lives in mortal dread of a dry sandwich, as our tiny refrigerator is a veritable curio cabinet of half-eaten condiments. In addition to a variety of pickles, olives and other brined vegetables, our refrigerator currently houses nine varieties of hot sauce, five different types of mustard and ten different jams. My not very secret scheme is to keep a running tally of how much we spend on food this month, so he can see where our money goes vs. what actually gets eaten over the course of four weeks.

Already we’re off to a rocky start. On Saturday, while I was out helping a fellow beekeeper harvest her honey in exchange for a dozen free range eggs from her backyard chickens, my boyfriend went to the grocery store and bought the following items:

$1.99 salted yellow tortilla chips
$3.99 ultimate vanilla wafer cookies
$3.99 mayonaise
$4.79 sliced pepper turkey
$2.49 sliced ham
$2.99 cinnamon swirl raisin bread
$3.69 rye bread
$2.49 wheat bread
$2.99 par baked panini rolls
$2.29 bag of granny smith apples (2 pounds)
$2.29 bombay simmer sauce
$1.99 buttermilk pancake mix
$2.99 sun dried tomato pesto
$1.99 soy chorizo
$2.69 milk (gallon)
$3.49 cottage cheese
$2.99 organic lemonade (64 oz.)
$2.27 molcajete red sauce
$2.38 molcajete green sauce
$0.79 chipotle sauce
$2.99 tortilla chips
$2.17 red onion
$3.88 nectarines (2 pounds)
$3.12 cherries (2 pounds)
+ $3.52 apricots (1.75 pounds)

TOTAL: $71.25

Yes, he bought 4 different kinds of bread. Yes, he accidentally bought two varieties of tortilla chip. Yes, he bought a $2.99 bottle of lemonade even though we’ve got a lemon tree in our backyard. Yes, I sound like a total shrew.

On Saturday I dropped off five pounds of homegrown loquats to the Hillside Produce Co-op in return for this delicious haul:

Over the weekend here’s what I spent out of our food budget in preparation for the challenge:

$0.00 dozen (pictured above in the thumbnail photo) organic eggs (traded labor)
$0.00 16 ounces of raw honey (traded labor)
$0.00 2 french baguettes (party leftovers)
$0.00 8 hamburger buns (party leftovers)
$0.00 blueberry poppyseed bundt cake (party leftovers)
$0.00 2 slices of angel food cake (party leftovers)
$0.00 I cup of guacamole (party leftovers)
$0.00 16 meyer lemons (from produce co-op)
$0.00 2 oranges (from produce co-op)
$0.00 grapefruit (from produce co-op)
$0.00 loquats (backyard tree)
$0.00 2 organic apples (from produce co-op)
$0.00 basil, rosemary, oregano (from produce co-op)
$0.00 mixed greens (from produce co-op)
+ $0.00 3 cookies (from produce co-op)

TOTAL: $0.00

Okay, I may be too dumb to apply for food assistance, but I am really good at making sure my pantry stays full year around. In addition to gardening and trading produce, I have no problem exchanging labor for food. Also, I’m a pantry hyena. I save a huge amount of money on food every year because I not only eat my own leftovers, but I eat other people’s leftovers too. This may sound gross, but over the weekend we went to three BBQs and were sent home with doggy bags containing untouched bread, hamburger buns, cake and guacamole that the party hosts were going to toss for lack of storage space. The free food I collected this weekend will go a long way in stretching our June food budget, which is already 30% gone.


  1. Posted June 15, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    My boyfriend is very similar. I finally had to do some grocery shopping, had my budget all prepared for this challenge. Knew exactly what I needed to get and exactly how much it cost. While I was pick out sausage he had loaded the cart up with another box of cherrios (he had two boxes at home) and 2 things of artificially flavored strawberry yogurt. But once it’s in the cart, I can’t get it back out.

  2. Posted June 15, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    This cracked me up. The boyfriend list compared to your list. Exactly how it would be at our house. Recently we had a “mayonnaise meltdown.” I’d been making homemade mayonnaise, which takes all of five minutes and is so much healthier. My husband had to work up his nerve to tell me that he couldn’t stand it and could we PLEASE buy “real” mayonnaise at the store again. He also prefers a storebought or at least made from a cakemix cake to a made from scratch one. And last night he had a craving for “Hershey’s strawberry syrup,” a product I’d never heard of. He went to Vons around midnight for it. The color of the container hurt my eyes. We have strawberries in the freezer, frozen about a week ago from our CSA.

  3. Posted June 17, 2010 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Wow, you stock your pantry like I do! I didn’t know anyone else who did that!

    Last week, I traded gone-to seed swiss chard and parsnips from my garden for a dozen eggs (I gave the food to her for her chickens to eat).

    I spoke in town, and they gave me all of the leftover desserts, including ice cream, and a half-gallon of lemonade.

    I got bread from a group that gets about to expire bread for free.

    I had a neighbor give us cookies.

    And we harvested lots from our garden.

    This week, I received apricots from someone, in addition to those from my own tree. We also harvested figs, lettuce, tomatoes, swiss chard, oregano, basil,chives, and carrots from our garden.

    I love that you can trade at your co-op. Not too many people have gardens here in Las Vegas, but there are a few who have something. Mostly I grow my own.

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