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Archive for Monday, June 14, 2010

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Food-stamp shopping: Could your family eat on $68.88 a week? One parent gives it a try

Lawrence resident Jenn Hethcoat used these purchases to feed her family for a week.

Lawrence resident Jenn Hethcoat used these purchases to feed her family for a week.

June 14, 2010

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Lawrence resident Jenn Hethcoat used these purchases to feed her family for a week.

Lawrence resident Jenn Hethcoat used these purchases to feed her family for a week.

Eating cheap

What it looks like to eat on the cheap

An sample menu from Lawrence coupon expert Jenn Hethcoat at SuperJenn.com. Here’s what Hethcoat, who strives to spend $50 per week on groceries for her family of 5, had planned for dinner the week of March 21 to 27, 2010:

Sunday: Leftovers

Monday: Roast, red potatoes, carrots, homemade dinner rolls

Tuesday: Ravioli lasagna, homemade French bread.

Wednesday: French dip sandwiches, broccoli and cheese

Thursday: Chicken Tetrazzini, asparagus

Friday: Fish stick tacos, chips and guacamole

Saturday: Date night for the parents, leftovers for the kids.

Her shopping list:

• Asparagus

• Cole slaw mix

• Mushrooms

• Apples (for a later apple crisp)

• Tortillas

• Chips

• Guacamole

• Rice milk

• Ravioli

• Fish sticks

• Adobo peppers

• Orange juice

Notes: Monday’s roast was made from venison already on hand in the freezer, and the carrots and potatoes were already purchased. Wednesday’s sandwiches are made using left over venison roast, and the broccoli and cheese is on hand from a recent sale. Thursday’s chicken is on-hand and frozen.

How much do you spend on groceries each week? $100? $150? $200?

Ever spend just $68.88 for the entire week? How about that amount for a family of four? That’s $17.22 to cover 21 meals per person.

Seem like a tough task? That’s reality for more than 38 million Americans on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also know as food stamps.

That amount, $68.88, was the national average assistance for a family of four enrolled in the program at the end of 2009. In Kansas and Douglas County that number is almost doubled, says Michelle Ponce, director of communications for Kansas SRS. She says the numbers for April 2010 indicate that the average four-person household in the state receives $117.45 and families in the county see a smidge more at $118.73 per week.

Still, not very much to bring home the bacon.

Of course, food stamps are meant to supplement a shopper’s food budget, not be the sum of it. That said, local coupon expert Jenn Hethcoat says it’s possible to eat well on a food-stamp budget.

In fact, her family of five eats on less than half the Kansas average and almost $20 less than the national number.

“When I started couponing two years ago, my family spent $900 a month on groceries. And now we spend $300,” says Hethcoat, who blogs and writes about coupons as half of the Journal-World’s Shop Talk team. “It cut back pretty quickly, but I’d say it took me a full year to get down to be able to spend $50 in a week.”

Hethcoat says that with a little willpower and skill, it’s possible for anyone to eat well on the amount doled out by food assistance programs or even less. Here are some tips:

Plan, plan, plan. This is the cornerstone of Hethcoat’s money-saving method and is something she suggests anyone should implement, limited grocery budget or no. She plans dinner seven days a week and even breakfast, lunch and dinner on the weekends.

“Just sit down and make menus,” Hethcoat says. “Look around the house and see what you have, make menus for the next two weeks, and then you have a game plan to go off of.”

Try cooking from scratch, but cook what you know. It’s both healthier and more economical to buy ingredients rather than processed foods or whole meals. Bulk rice and fresh veggies are always going to be cheaper per meal than a frozen, processed rice bowl.

That said, one of the big mistakes new home chefs often make is gathering a lot of new recipes filled with ingredients they don’t have on hand, Hethcoat says. And that’s a recipe for a huge grocery bill.

“Go with what you know,” she says. “And if you see all these neat things you want to try, try one a week. And don’t make it anything extravagant.”

Avoid unnecessary calories. Linda Rippetoe is a registered dietitian with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department who works with mothers in the county’s WIC program. Many of the women receiving WIC benefits are also on food stamps and will often be on a strict grocery budget. Because of this, Rippetoe and WIC advisers often recommend cutting excessive items.

“If their child is drinking a lot of juice or a lot of milk, we tell them, ‘You really don’t need to be buying that much milk, you can cut down and save that for some other choices in the food budget,’” she says.

Let nothing go to waste. One of the benefits of planning is the chance to schedule meals that use similar ingredients so that nothing goes bad waiting to be used up, Hethcoat says.

“Plan your menus and look at what your ingredients are and plan your next week’s menus, so that they kind of correspond,” Hethcoat says. “So, if you’re (making) something that only uses half a can of something or half a carton of cheese or whatever, then you can utilize that right away instead of buying more for something else later.”

Another tip for avoiding waste? Buy frozen veggies rather than canned or fresh, Rippetoe says. That way, there’s no stress stemming from needing to finish up what wasn’t used.

Have leftovers? Hethcoat recommends planning for a stir-fry or casserole that utilizes what you have already prepared.

Take a calculator. Bring a calculator to the store, but don’t start adding up your purchases. Rather, start with your budget as a baseline and work your way down to zero. Hethcoat says that way you’ll be much more discriminatory with your purchases.

Another use for the calculator is sitting down with your grocery bill and list after a shopping trip. Add up every item that wasn’t on your original grocery list, and it’ll be easier to stick to your list the next time after seeing what straying will cost you, Hethcoat says.

And don’t fret about the about money you’re not spending — just because your grocery bill isn’t huge doesn’t mean it’s any less nutritionally sound, assures Hethcoat.

“We eat better than we did before,” she says.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Comments

denak 4 years, 7 months ago

Except it wasn't. First of all, lets look at all the things Jenn did not buy that she already had on hand: Venison, chicken, broccoli, cheese and potatos. If she had to buy these things, how much would her bill have been then?

Secondly, if you are going out on date night, you have to add the amount you spend on dinner to your food/entertainment budget. Even if you split it in half, you are still spending at least $20.00 You have to add that to your overall food budget.

Third, she only gives examples of seven meals. What about the other 14 plus snack????

Also only one gallon of milk or orange juice for a family of 5 for a week? I don't think so. Even if the kids are drinking water in between meals, a gallon of milk isn't going to last a week. Add in, at least, another gallon of each.

Jenn has some good tips ie plan your meals but why didn't someone go out, go to Checkers or Dillons or HyVee and actually try to purchase 21 meals for 68.88?.

That would have given the readers a more realistic idea of just how hard it is to feed a family of 4 on $68.88.

Dena

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

You may be missing the point where Jenn is coming from. As she mentioned, planning is a big part of saving money but it also involves stockpiling groceries to take advantage of the weekly sales combined with the coupons. If you just run out and buy groceries at you favorite store with a current grocery list, you are right, you aren't going to get many meals for that price. The age of the children does make a difference but it is quite possible to feed a family of four that include teenagers, in that price range.

thinkagain 4 years, 7 months ago

If you're getting food stamps you may not have storage space in your apartment/house to "stockpile" food.

mom_of_three 4 years, 7 months ago

Another item the article didn't mention was the age of the family members in the family of 4 or even a family of 5. Parents and 3 kids under 10 will not each as much as parents and 3 teenagers. That makes a lot of difference of what you are buying.
And make a casserole - in the summer - in my kitchen? My house is small and using the oven during a hot, steamy day heats up the entire house, making the AC work harder.
And I would agree about the gallons of orange juice and milk. I have three teenagers, and they don't drink as much milk as three younger kids, but I still have to buy at least two gallons a week.
I admit planning would help, but fresh fruit and veggies alone for my family puts a big dent in the budget.
There was an article in the KC Star last year about a reporter who fed her family on the foodstamp budget, and it was extremely difficult for her. It's possible, but extremely difficult.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

I realize not everyone has a variety of smaller cooking appliances available but summertime is a great for using outdoor grills and smokers. Indoors the crock pot or other small cooking appliances can help hold down the heat in the house as well. It doesn't take much savings on the AC bill to pay for some smaller cooking units.

thinkagain 4 years, 7 months ago

Use of outdoor grills are prohibited at some apartment complexes.

Evan Ridenour 4 years, 7 months ago

They are illegal to use on balconies/patios/decks in any multi-family dwelling in the city. I think the fine is $100 for first offense.

It isn't "some" it is all apartment complexes.

canyon_wren 4 years, 7 months ago

denak and mom of three--you are right. I didn't bother to read her menu. It makes the article extremely unrealistic. I guess I was only responding to a couple of comments within the article itself--mainly those suggesting planning and using what you have (having things on hand which CAN be used more than once is key). I do disagree with her suggestion that using frozen produce is wiser than fresh, as so often once a bag of frozen vegetables is opened, it gets freezer-burn, especially in a self-defrost freezer. I have always been interested in wise grocery shopping and meal planning and am beginning to teach a money management course for a local pregnancy center. If either of you have some good shopping tips you would care to share with me, I would appreciate receiving them--just send them to me specifically, rather than putting them in a post. Thanks!

TheEleventhStephanie 4 years, 7 months ago

The mere thought of fish stick tacos just made me feel a little bit ill.

SuperJenn 4 years, 7 months ago

LOL. I'm going to be honest. That was a bad experiment. NOT a good recipe and it won't be used in our house again!!

Blessed4x 4 years, 7 months ago

The key is to actually cook, a skill that many have lost in this day and age of microwave burritos and frozen pizzas. I am lucky enough to be married to a wonderful woman who can cook up a storm! We are a family of 6, myself, my wife and 4 kids ages 13, 9, 8 and 3 and we spend $100/week, not too far past the $69 mentioned in the article for a family of 4 and that includes non-edible items such as laundry soap and toilet paper. We probably spend another $15-20 per week on milk and items that we forgot or ran out of.

What the article fails to mention is any monetary contribution by the shopper. Is the food stamp program really intended to remove ANY expenditure by the consumer or is it rather a supplement to the available funds that the person has? I am certainly not against helping people out where they need it, but don't expect the government to meet your every need. God bless the people that are in need of these services and may they soon find themselves beyond such need.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

I wish they had not blended Food Stamps with Couponing in this article. It doesn't give you a clear picture of either.

Blessed4x 4 years, 7 months ago

Agreed. After a reread, I noticed that they did mention the shoppers contribution to the food stamps offered, but the article was a little disjointed in where it was going.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

There are coupons out there for fresh produce as well. If you are getting freezer burnt vegetables, I suspect the problem is not keeping track of what is opened and getting it used before it freezer burns.

Every family has their own schedule, tastes, income, etc. What works for Jenn, myself or others may not work for you and your family. Even if you are dead set on fresh produce year round you can still cut the cost of your grocery bill if you coupon. Reducing the cost of paper goods, personal hygiene products, household cleaners and products, and other non fresh food items is a very good way to save a chunk of money that you could just chalk up as savings or put on buying fresh produce.

You may not see the $68 a week grocery bill but you can still save a bundle of money every month if you choose to do so.

Adrienne Sanders 4 years, 7 months ago

Where are coupons for fresh produce? I don't believe I've ever seen any.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

Coupons for fresh produce is a little more elusive but they are out there. You have to keep your eyes peeled. Several of the produce coupons are in the form of store coupons. Dillons, HyVee, and Target locally have them in their weekly flyers or online from time to time. Dillons recently sent out coupons for $4 off $20 purchase of fresh produce. Dole, Del Monte, and Green Giant have put out coupons both in the Sunday paper inserts and printables for Pineapples, potatoes, bagged salads, etc. There are several Organic companies that have offered produce and dairy coupons. On one of Jenn's last Blogs there was a link for a coupon for baby spinach.

SuperJenn 4 years, 7 months ago

There is a link to a coupon for fresh baby spinach on Shop Talk this past Sunday.

I also would like to correct the commenters: the article states that Linda Rippetoe from the Lawrence Douglas County Health Department said that freezer vegetables are more economical than fresh, not me. BUT...correctly storing your freezer vegetables will make their life much longer.

iridebikesalot 4 years, 7 months ago

Seriously !! Was thinking about that the other day when I noticed over the years candy bars have gone down in price....but it costs me over $1 to buy one apple >:-o

canyon_wren 4 years, 7 months ago

you are right, headdoctor--we all can save plenty by planning and not being wasteful. I finally realized that I was wasting a lot of money by buying stuff on sale and stowing it away but not planning menus around what IS on sale, each week. I have records of expenditures over the past 40+ years and have found that the way I shopped with a family is not practical now that I am alone--I can no longer buy in big quantities and not waste stuff.

I am lucky in that our stores have regular sales on paper goods, etc. and don't have a limit. I don't know if Lawrence stores still have the practice they had many years ago when we lived there--of limiting the shopper to ONE of the sale items with a (then) $10 purchase, but it surely made wise shopping difficult.

I do put bags of frozen vegetables in an additional Ziploc freezer bag but still have trouble with freezer burn--and prefer fresh produce anyway. I seldom use coupons because most of the ones I get in the mail and in Sunday supplements are for prepared foods and I very seldom buy those. I think one of the most impractical purchases is microwave meals--even the best are scarcely fit to eat and so costly, compared to what a person can make from scratch--and there are plenty of simple menus that can be made from scratch.

Lots of good posts here full of useful ideas!

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

Yup. Gearing down to buying and cooking for just one person is tough. One of my biggest weaknesses is fruit. I tend to buy to much and then what I can't freeze I have to give away or throw which obviously doesn't save money. It seems that everyone has to work through downsizing on their own to find out what works for them. Many times you can still stockpile, just not nearly as much as you use to. I found that I like to prep or cook off items such as complete meals, meats, or things like biscuits, then separate them into smaller portions and refrigerate them or freeze them for use as needed. The down side is you have to keep track of what you have cooked and get it used otherwise your back to the same problem as the freezer burnt vegetable issue.

I don't know what your advertisement region is but there is usually a lot of coupons that are not for prepared or highly processed food. You obviously have a computer and hopefully a printer. You can go to SmartSource.com, Coupons.com, or RedPlum.com and various other company sites and print off the coupons you need or want. There are also store coupons, CellFire and if you have a Dillons store you can load coupons from their site right onto your Dillons account that many times are stackable with manufacturer coupons. Target is also a place to find store coupons that are stackable. Some of the sites like Dillons and CellFire require that you sign up which is free. My only suggestion is if you are going to print off coupons make sure your printer is set to not print color otherwise your ink bill will go up. Better if you have just a black laser printer as far as printing cost goes.

Thinking_Out_Loud 4 years, 7 months ago

I don't think cooking for one is as difficult as it's made out to be. When my wife and kids go out-of-town to see her parents or brother's family, I do OK for myself. In fact, I just went to the very-popular-online-bookseller-with-a-distribution-center-in-Coffeyville and typed in "cooking for one" in the search engine and got four pages of cookbooks that are about cooking for one or two people.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

Those type of cook books that have recipes that are down sized are great for those that don't want to fool with converting their own recipes. Cooking for one isn't so much the issue as much as adjusting down the thought process of just how much you need to be buying for yourself in the first place. You might not think so but buying supplies and cooking for one, day after day is a bit different than fending for yourself a few days while the wife and kids are out of town. While your refrigerator is probably stocked for family use, it might be interesting to see how much food, especially perishables you or your wife will have to throw out while they are gone or upon returning that you didn't get used up while they were gone. Quite a difference than when you have the little locusts around that will eat anything in sight.

Where I get into trouble is buying a 10lb sack of potatoes when a 5lb bag is probably more than I need most of the time or buying a gallon of milk when a half gallon would have been the better choice. One finds their self fighting between more volume that is cheaper like potatoes instead of the smaller quantity at a higher price.

Adrienne Sanders 4 years, 7 months ago

I think it's really not the cooking for one that confuses people, it's the management of leftovers to make sure that stuff doesn't go to waste. I'm a single person and I love to cook and cook from scratch several times a week. But I also take into account that if I make a casserole, I'm going to eat it three times this week, and put the rest in the freezer, and then I have to remember to take it out of the freezer and eat it within a few weeks before it starts to lose flavor. I don't find it hard. And if you can't manage the freezer, it's easy to make things that only make two portions. But it seems to me there are a lot of people who seem to refuse to eat leftovers at all, which boggles my mind.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

I don't get not eating left overs either. Some foods taste even better with a little aging. Gives the spices and such more time to develop.

Adrienne Sanders 4 years, 7 months ago

Funny how many people think you have to drink milk and orange juice. No, you don't have to, and what's more, if you don't have the money you simply don't have the option of having those things.

I think the advice about frozen vegetables is good- i don't know what's up with all of your freezers, but i never have a problem with freezer burn unless something's in there for months on end.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

I like fresh fruits and vegetables as much as anyone but I don't see what is so bad with frozen either. Frozen is just that. Not even the additional sodium, etc, from home or commercial canning. Frozen is a great way to have very economical vegetables in the winter time without paying the higher prices of fresh.

Adrienne Sanders 4 years, 7 months ago

Fresh veggies taste... fresh! That's really all it is. I have nothing against frozen veg, though I think a little bit of nutritional value is lost in the freezing, they're still good for you.

overthemoon 4 years, 7 months ago

I buy frozen for those items just want a little of in a dish and don't want to deal with half a can of unused corn or a whole bag full of fresh spinach. Corn, chopped Brocolli, Edamame, lima beans, peas. I cut a small opening, roll the bag down tightly to keep air out (the cause of freezer burn) and put several opened bags in a ziplock freezer bag. Keep just fine. Much fewer science projects in the vege drawer!

George_Braziller 4 years, 7 months ago

Stir-fry is a great inexpensive and easy way to whip up a meal in about 20 minutes. Best part is there isn't any set list of ingredients so you can use just about anything you have on hand.

Chengdu808 4 years, 7 months ago

If you have been convinced that you need milk to build strong bones, consider this: Horses have some of the strongest and biggest bones. What do they eat? Milk? I think not.

Dairy -free is a healthy choice.

slowplay 4 years, 7 months ago

You are correct in that there are non-dairy alternatives for calcium. Collard greens, kale, broccoli and almonds to name a few, but you cannot correlate that to the bone strength/structure of horses. Check with your local vet to get a more detailed explanation. Dairy-free is a choice but it's not necessarily a healthy choice. Especially if are you are not educated as to the best alternatives.

overthemoon 4 years, 7 months ago

Cow's milk is for baby cows. The hype about growing healthy bones and the presence of dairy products on the official food pyramid are the result of very strong dairy producer lobbying of government.

canyon_wren 4 years, 7 months ago

headdoctor--thanks for the good tips about coupons.--and about not wasting the color cartridge. I just recently got a color printer so might have not thought of that. I do make lots of things and divide them for freezing--like pancakes, etc.

thinking_out_loud--cooking for one is not a problem, but gearing down to shop wisely for one IS a problem for me when I had been used to buying economical quantities. What probably galls me most is buying a small can of Crisco, but I don't make the number of pies I used to in the past!

George--you are right about stir-fry. It is really a good way to go--cheaper and better for us.

I guess "freezer burn" might not be the correct term for my veggies in previously opened packages, but just exposure to the air upon opening makes them looks much less appetizing when the package is opened again. I am probably too picky!

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

You might try snagging a Coupon for the Ziplock vacuum system and catch one on sale if you don't have a vacuum sealer. Sealing up your partially used veggies might help improve the appearance and shelf life. I finally broke down and purchased one since I was to cheap to buy a good electric one. It works great for me and sometimes I can reseal the bag. It may not be the cheapest for the bags even on sale and with coupon but throwing out wasted food isn't cheap either.

imastinker 4 years, 7 months ago

Who are these people? My family of five has been living on $300/month for almost two years now. We run out on some paychecks, but have a full freezer and pantry to get us by for a while. Generally running out means that we don't have eggs and milk.

formerlyanonymous 4 years, 7 months ago

Actually, we do spend about that amount of money to feed our family of 5 (with no help from the government, btw).

If she really has that little to spend, why is she buying canned beans, fish sticks, guacamole and other expensive items? Homemade pizza + salad, stir fry over rice, homemade burritos with beans cooked from scratch in the crockpot, etc. are more realistic for making 21 meals + 7 snacks for the family for $70.

We buy tons of fresh & frozen produce--Checkers usually has awesome sales. Last Thursday I not only got the .19/lb bananas sale that they always run, but also cucumbers & green peppers at 3/$1. Fresh fruit and veggies make awesome snacks that are way cheaper than non-foods like fruit snacks or cheese crackers.

overthemoon 4 years, 7 months ago

cheaper, and less fattening, too. I agree on all points. It takes very little 'cooking' to put together a terrific dinner from scratch.

canyon_wren 4 years, 7 months ago

headdoctor--good suggestion about the vacuum sealer. I have heard they work well. As far as frozen produce vs. fresh is concerned, SUPPOSEDLY the frozen is processed at its peak and should be better than fresh, but fresh seems best to me, anyway.

formerlyanonymous--sounds like you have the system down pretty good! There certain are cheaper things than fish sticks, especially. You guys are lucky--a good sale here in SE Utah on Bell peppers, cukes, etc. is 10 for $10, and "cheap" bananas are 59 cents a lb.. Fortunately, organic stuff is getting cheaper all the time, so sale prices on those things are almost matching the non-organic.

somedude20 4 years, 7 months ago

You should see how much The Spacehog spends on his greens a week. The sweat leaf goes for $50-60 just for an eighth

Free the Hog !!!!

impska 4 years, 7 months ago

I was disappointed in this article. I don't know whether the blame lies with Jenn or the article writer. Clearly, if Jenn is using leftovers and stockpiles, then the challenge isn't really genuine. Anyone can live on food stamps for one week, because just about everyone has a stockpile in the pantry and twenty bucks in their pocket for a date night. That is, until they've been on food stamps for a month.

It's not clear, but I'm not sure there was even a challenge issued to Jenn, or if the journalist just said "Hey, look at her weekly budget, people should quit whining about food stamps."

I question whether it's realistic to assume that people on food stamps can afford a chest freezer in which to stockpile things, or even afford to stockpile in the first place. I also think it's unrealistic to assume they are supplementing their meals with hunting or gardening (though clearly that would be ideal).

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

I think it is unrealistic to assume that people on food stamps did not have anything prior to going on food stamps. Many still have items from their pre-food stamp days and food stamp usage is temporary for the majority of folks on them.

While it is a valid point that some may not have storage space for stockpiling (although you'd be amazed at how creative one can be when one needs storage space) or perhaps room for a garden, not all food stamp recipients are inner city apartment dwellers. Many foster families receive food stamps to help assist with the cost of fostering children. The same goes for some families that adopt special needs children or grandparents that end up with custody of the grandchildren. All of which may already own their own home or their Section 8 covers the part or all of the cost of renting a home (depending on the area). You also have food stamp recipients in rural areas.

People give away freezers pretty frequently on Freecycle, Craiglist & a slew of other websites.

I don't understand the need to lump people who have financial problems into this big group of the Poor and base all these assumptions about their lifestyles or lack of lifestyles on it. One size does not fit all here. I don't understand why people believe it should.

The thing is to take the ideas that will work for your and your family's circumstances and use those & discard the ideas that won't. For example, it doesn't do a breastfeeding mother much good to heed advice on how using coupons can save her money on formula. Likewise, why would a vegan collect coupons on meat products & search for meat sales? You use coupons for the things you and your family use or want to use. It does not make sense just to buy something because it is a great deal if you are not going to use it or have some other purpose in mind for it (such as donating it).

impska 4 years, 7 months ago

Like I said, I think most people could live on food stamps fairly easily for a week or even a month, because of the pre-food stamp stockpile. I feel, though, that making out like living on food stamps is "easy" is misleading.

For the sake of argument, you sort of have to look at it from the perspective of the poorest food stamp user. Obviously, food stamp users who are extremely short term participants, or who use food stamps as intended (to supplement their budget, rather than as their entire budget), or who have a freezer, or extra money for stockpiling, or have a truck to haul a freezer home, or have an established garden will have a much easier time of it. The challenge is disingenuous if it's "Food stamp challenge - pretend you're the best off food stamp user."

I think of all people, Jenn could have demonstrated how coupon-use and planning could make life easier for the worst off food-stamp user. That clearly didn't happen here.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

You are going to have to clarify what you mean by the "poorest food stamp user". Do you mean those that don't receive very much in food stamps each month or do you mean those with the lowest overall income level?

If you use the ones that receive very little in food stamps as your guideline then you are taking the people who are at the high end of the income guidelines to qualify for food stamps - meaning they don't receive much in food stamps because their income is pretty close to not qualifying at all.

If you use the ones that have the lowest overall income as your guidelines, then they are most likely already at the maximum amount of food stamps one can receive and that amount is above the national average for a family of 4 of $68.88/week. And you have to factor in other assistance that they may be receiving due to their income level (SSDI, SSI, Section 8, AFDC, commodities programs, etc) that helps reduce or eliminate some of the expenses that your typical food stamp recipient may have.

The challenge was "pretend that you're the typical food stamp user" which is why they set the amount at the national average and I think overall Jenn met the standard of meeting that challenge in that she probably spent less than the pretend food stamp allotment. There certainly could have been improvements in the article or a better explanation of the food stamp program and how coupons can stretch those monies. I have no idea why even a "date night" was mentioned or why that would have anything to do with food stamps or coupons other than this was listed when she first posted her weekly menu from 3/21/10-3/27/10 and they simply just reused that information.

At minimum, the article should have emphasized that you actually can use coupons with food stamps since so many people were not aware of that. It was posters on this forum that pointed that out. That is useful information and information that people should be given when approved for food stamps.

But I am a bit confused as to how you believe that Jenn cold have demonstrated how coupon use & planning could make life easier for the worst-off food stamp user when most of her planning involves stockpiling and you question whether or not it is realistic to assume that people on food stamps can afford a chest freezer in which to stockpile things or even afford to stockpile. Do you see why you are being a bit unfair in your criticism of Jenn here?

canyon_wren 4 years, 7 months ago

Made_in_China--you bring up some good points. However, I imagine MOST of the people on food stamps DO have some way to cook stuff. I agree that lots probably don't have a freezer, but there are certainly ways to manage better. And this exchange here is useful for all of us who want to "try to improve our own lives," as your post recommends. The more we accomplish in that direction, the more we will be able to help others. I don't think there is a single poster here who is assuming everyone is as well off as we are--but we have to start somewhere, and these suggestions may help a lot of people--poor or not.

Danielle Brunin 4 years, 7 months ago

Oh Jenn, boxed guacamole, really? So much for avoiding processed food. That stuff costs more than grabbing a couple of avocados and a lime and guacamole is so simple. I'm busy too, but geez louise.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

So, what is wrong with a box of Wholly Guacamole? HyVee sells it in the Organic section. No additives or preservatives. What is the difference if I peel and mash the avocados or if someone else does it? Right off the top of my head the difference I see is some places charge almost a $1 apiece or more for one good sized avocado. One sale with coupon Wholly Guacamole many times is free.

Danielle Brunin 4 years, 7 months ago

The texture is just not right. Yeeh... There's just something about guacamole being squeezed into a plastic bag. To each their own, I suppose. Another issue is that I seriously doubt someone who is trying to stretch out their foodstamp budget is going to be shopping in the organic section to even see Wholly Guacamole in the first place. There are definitely worse things a person could eat, I'm just not sure it is a realistic part of foodstamp budget shopping.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

It would be a realistic part if the price is free or darn near close to it. Why would it not be? You can get many organic products at a reasonable price using coupons. Why is there an assumption that if one is on food stamps that one may not want to purchase those products? Many people on food stamps are people who have had their circumstances change drastically. They may very well be people who regularly purchased organic products & would like to continue to do so if possible.

I am not a guacamole eater but I imagine individual tastes vary when it comes to texture on that stuff so what may not be to your tastes very likely could be right up someone's alley.

The idea that one should sacrifice taste, nutrition and other factors related to food when one is on food stamps is just plain bunk. Are people supposed to engage in self-flagellation in penance for the sin of being poor? A lot of posts seem to suggest just that very concept.

gatekeeper 4 years, 7 months ago

I think one main thing not mentioned at all is that a lot of people on food stamps don't just work one job and come home and have time to cook. How about the single mom working two jobs just to pay the bills? Think she has time to spend online looking for coupons (can't afford fancy computers and online services). Does she have time to spend cooking most days? Does she have time to scan all the ads to catch all the sales. She barely has time to take care of her family, let alone scan everything for the best deals each week.

If you want to do a realistic article, limit yourself to the food stamp budget for a month. Do it w/out using coupons. Follow your own rules and don't buy processed foods. Don't spend hours analyzing all the ads. Let's see how well you do.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

Why limit the coupons or looking for better deals? It makes their money stretch farther. I am beginning to think after the last couple of posts mixed with the usual anti-coupon jive from other blogs that some posters couldn't recognize processed food if they tripped over it. Since according to many, coupons are only good for processed food. What ever, glad so many want everyone to wallow with them in more debt because they are to lazy or ignorant to use or understand coupons.

Adrienne Sanders 4 years, 7 months ago

What the heck is your definition of processed food? I looked at one of the coupon sites posted earlier... the only coupon I saw that i could use was for vinegar. Everything else was indeed processed.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

I suspect that my definition of processed may be pretty close to yours. Just because there is a coupon for processed food doesn't mean people should use it unless that is their choice. Those links were more for sources to start collecting coupons of which one needs to do so over time and from more sources than just the ones I put up links to. The three big sites change their offerings every month. You can pick and chose what ones you want. Saving money using coupons isn't just about food. This month it seemed like it was good for diapers, household cleaners and toilet paper.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

Skimmed over the article and I don't believe this has been mentioned, could be wrong. Anyway, many people that receive food stamps do not realize that they can use coupons with the food stamps thus stretching them farther. If you go through a lot of milk, many times I buy the marked down milk at Dillons, some of the other stores may do this also. So it expires in two days, it will be gone in one. Another suggestion I read years ago was to keep a container or bag in the freezer to throw in the small amounts of vegetables, meat, beans, rice or even pasta that don't get eaten but are too small to save in the fridge. When you get enough you can make a nice pot of soup.

SuperJenn 4 years, 7 months ago

Oh that's a great idea! Throwing them in the freezer for a soup later. Thanks!

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

You are absolutely correct about using coupons to make food stamps stretch further. You can also use coupons with WIC vouchers.

Additionally, many Farmers' Market now accept food stamps. I don't know if the Lawrence Farmers' Market does but that would be something worth looking into for those on food stamps.

Regarding milk... you can freeze that too. About 1 cup needs poured out of the container because it will expand but give that cup of milk to a child, drink it yourself or use it in a recipe. This allows you to stockpile something that most people consider a need. Just be sure to mark on the container the date you purchased it & make note of the sell by date on the container. The difference between the 2 dates is how long you have to use the milk once it is thawed out.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

They say a full freezer uses less electricity, so if you freeze milk to take up extra room it will help lower you electric bill.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

I do remember that the Lawrence Farmers market not only takes food stamps, but I believe you can also use them to buy vegetable and fruit plants to grow your own. Many vegetables can be grown in containers such as an old bucket.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

That is good to know. Thanks for posting that info. I'm sure people will find it useful.

It is too bad that Kansas does not participate in the below program.

http://wholesomewave.org/what-we-do/double-value-coupon-program/

From what I understand, it is pretty successful in the areas that participate.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

It really doesn't take days for the milk to thaw. To correct the mixture, shake it up during the thawing process. This also helps speed up the thawing. The trick is, so you aren't stuck without milk while waiting for a new carton to thaw, is to pull one out when you are getting low on the one you are currently using.

There are many items one can stock up on that can be free or pretty darn close to it when using coupons, paying attention to sales & utilizing food stamps. One can stockpile cereal for example. I think the most expensive box I've purchased may have been $1.25 & that was Kashi brand. I've gotten a variety of cereals for $.75.box to free. Cereal can be stored for quite a while & it is easy to tuck those boxes into various nooks & crannies that one can use for storage space.

Canned goods are another item one can stockpile pretty inexpensively and there are quite a few brands out there (including store brands) that are reduced sodium if that is a concern. Canned goods also have a long shelf life.

Heck, you can stack cans in the corner of a room, under a sink or under a bed. I've even seen a picture of a person reusing those refrigerator packs for soda pop cans to store canned goods & stacking those on top of each other. She said she herself wasn't much of a soda pop drinker but her friends had no problems giving her their empty boxes.

People with limited incomes can be extremely creative when it comes down to it.

"Necessity, who is the mother of invention." -Plato

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

If you want or need lower sodium canned vegetables and the lower sodium ones are not available or on sale, you can reduce the amount of sodium from the regular canned vegetables. Just drain them rinse them off and let them soak a bit in fresh water. You can't remove the normal salt content of the vegetables but you can greatly reduce the surface salt from the canning process.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

Thawing the milk in a cold water bath (like you would thaw a turkey) also works.

Or you could purchase 1/2 gallons of milk when they are on sale since the smaller containers would thaw quicker (Hy-Vee just had a sale on their 1/2 gallons for $.97/ea.).

Or you could pour the milk into freezer bags in smaller portions so not only would it thaw quicker but you would waste less if you were not able to use that smaller portion quickly enough (assuming you are buying marked down milk).

Or you could freeze the milk in ice cube trays much like people freeze homemade baby food. It would thaw pretty darn quickly. You'd only have to figure out how many milk cubes would make 8oz. for a glass.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

Reminds me of another funny story for you Multi. About 25yrs ago when I did daycare I would use frozen orange juice which we all know is hard to mix fresh out of the freezer so I would thaw it out in the microwave a bit to mix easier. Had a little boy that was a know-it-all and didn't mind telling adults he thought they doing things wrong. He sees me putting it in the microwave and informs me "my mother doesn't cooking the orange juice first when she makes it". So I 'informed' him his mother was doing it wrong and everyone knows you cook it first. Wonder what his mother thought when he informed her she was making the orange juice wrong.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

You can always dry the remaining cilantro & use it in other recipes.

George_Braziller 4 years, 7 months ago

My grocery bill runs about $75 a month. I buy large inexpensive cuts of meat like uncured picnic hams (last winter they were less expensive than hamburger or chicken) and throw it into the oven on Sunday afternoon for three hours or so along with eight or ten potatoes wrapped in foil. At the same time I'd hardboil a bunch of eggs or make a big pan of herbed rice. With just those few items I have the basics for different meals for the entire week and still have enough ham left to put some in the freezer.

You can also make your own pasta for about 25 cents worth of ingredients. It's not difficult, only requires a rolling pin, takes about ten minutes to make, and is so much better than store bought.

Bobbi Reid 4 years, 7 months ago

The only place in town where you have to pay tax on coupons is Dillons. I receive foodstamps, and have seen my grocery bill cut in half when I use coupons. Last week my total before taxes was $197.00 after coupons it was $120.00 That will feed us for about 2 weeks.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

That is incorrect information. Sales taxes are charged on the before coupon (but after store sale) price and sales taxes are charged by all stores.

GardenMomma 4 years, 7 months ago

I believe that tax paid is paid on the value of the coupon and only if you are paying with food stamps.

If you have a $1.00 coupon and pay for your entire bill in food stamps you are required to pay the tax on that one dollar coupon (about 8 cents).

That's what the post above was stating.

Every store charges sales tax, but food stamps are tax-exempt.

Bobbi Reid 4 years, 7 months ago

Gardenmomma is right. I only have to pay sales tax at dillons when I use coupons. They cannot charge you tax on purchases made when using foodstamps, but they can charge you tax on the value of the coupon. The only place I ever pay this amount is Dillons.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

Your post was not clear about that. You specifically stated that Dillons is the only place that charges taxes on coupons. You can use coupons for nonfood items and how the sales tax is calculated is based on what the pre-coupon price of the product is.

Your statement was confusing because it was presented as a general statement about coupons and taxes and not as coupon usage for food items paid for by food stamps.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

Hence, my explanation as to my confusion about her post.

not_that_crazy 4 years, 7 months ago

Great concept. Silly idea to self promote the LJW coupon blog.
Buy the paper to get the coupons!

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

You can print the same coupons online and more, no need to buy the paper. Many times people will leave their unwanted coupons on the shelf by the product.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

I haven't seen as much but the volunteers from the Senior Center used to tape coupons from the Sunday inserts onto the products themselves for people to use.

You can also pick up coupon inserts for free in many of the restaurants that have a Sunday paper in their lobby. Most will give them to you if you ask since it is no big deal to them & less trash for them to clean up. You can get inserts from friends, family & co-workers who subscribe to the paper & don't use them. Or you can use the services of coupon clippers and their websites to get only specific coupons that you want.

Jeremiah Jefferson 4 years, 7 months ago

You can buy a package of Ramen for like .25 cents so yeah its possible. Taste like crap, but you can live on it.

With that said, maybe if we didnt have to feed countries that are blowing up the very soldiers that are handing them food we could afford to give our own people more than $66 dollars a week to feed their family of 4.. Just sayin.

beatrice 4 years, 7 months ago

Ramen noodles have virtually no nutritional value and are extremely high in sodium. I'm not so sure you actually can live on it.

jbiegs 4 years, 7 months ago

anyone that has been to college and didn't have mommy and daddy's credit card knows that ramen and mac n cheese is a diet that one can live on. Not the healthiest choice of diet but is will sustain you.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

beatrice is right about the sodium but I wonder how much of it is in the seasoning packet. Don't use all of the packet or many times we don't use it at all. Use a little margarine or healthier butter type spread and your own seasonings.

Katara 4 years, 7 months ago

If you cook a whole chicken, you can boil the carcass to get stock. The stock can be frozen in freezer bags to be used as needed. You could use the stock to make a broth to cook the ramen in.

Darwin 4 years, 7 months ago

The first thing I thought of about Food Stamps was people using them for beer and cigarettes and driving a pretty nice vehicle. I remember seeing alot of that going on when I was growing up. I've never been on Food Stamps, but I do understand people being in a place in their life where this is needed. As a tax payer, I have no problem with resources going to where they are needed, but haven't any sympathy for those who squander it.

Kind of along the lines of catfishturheyhunter...I believe we should take care of our on people first. If we have any leftovers, then that can be divided to the other counties. U.S.A. first!

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

In the days before the plastic cards there were some people selling off their stamps/coupons for cash or were using their cash they did have for booze and cigarettes. Some of those people got away with it and some were fined and or jailed. Including liquor store and grocery store owners. A bit harder to do that these days. As with all programs there will be a few who will abuse the system not caring if it might harm the people who really do need assistance.

beatrice 4 years, 7 months ago

We need to bring Home Ec. back to school. Teach kids how to cook again, and not just heat. Remember, the microwave is evil -- anything that can make stuff that hot without involving fire must be from the Devil. (okay, I stole that one from Ellen.) Also, basic money management. I'm amazed at how many people who don't know how to set a simple budget or even balance a check book.

Interesting article, although too much packaged stuff. How much sodium was in the packaged quac? I'll bet it was through the roof. Which of these foods had high fructose corn syrup? These are the things that can contribute to obesity and high blood pressure.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

The Wholly Guacamole has 75mg to 90mg of sodium per serving depending on what type you have.

SuperJenn 4 years, 7 months ago

The only packaged food on the shopping list was frozen ravioli, guac and fish sticks(already I've admitted that was a lapse in judgement). The guac had no HFCS I'm unsure of the other two items. All of the bread was made from scratch as well as the sauce for the ravioli lasagna (canned tomatoes from my garden) and the sauce for the tetrazzini (fairly typical white sauce with fresh mushrooms). We use venison that is both hunted and processed by my husband.

I'm guessing with a closer look at the menu and shopping list you would find it's not as "packaged" as you originally thought.

Liberty275 4 years, 7 months ago

As an undergrad, I could and did live on $10 a week in food, sometimes less.

jbiegs 4 years, 7 months ago

great example of living within your means Liberty, too bad not everyone feels it is necessary

rocketmom67 4 years, 7 months ago

I used food stamps when I was in college and my son was little. You can use them to buy fruit and veggie plants and seeds as well as produce at our farmers market. Some families supplement their food budget by using local food banks, summer meal programs for kids and meal sites like LINK. Now, as a single mom with a diabetic teen we are on a tight food budget. I have a garden with greens that will produce all season, I frequently take advantage of .19 bananas at Checkers, I buy mark down produce at the Merc so it is high quality but cheaper. We avoid dairy and gluten for health reasons but that also saves on our grocery bill too. Our staples are dry black beans, brown rice and eggs. I buy one large local meat item per week like a chicken or roast. Then use it to make tacos, with homemade corn tortillas or a casserole or fried rice. We rarely eat out and snack on fruit and natural peanut butter. We also take advantage of seasonal produce from Rolling Prairie and local farms. Some weeks are tighter then others but I try to always keep beans and rice around.

LadyJ 4 years, 7 months ago

My daughter has numerous food allergies, fortunately peanuts is not one of them since she needs it for protein. Her diet consists of brown rice and fresh fruits and vegetables (no tomatoes) , thank heavens for rice cookers. Anyway many mornings she has brown rice with peanut butter mixed in. She swears it's good, your son might like it.

headdoctor 4 years, 7 months ago

Nothing wrong with people being concerned about what they are eating such as paying attention to sodium content, etc. What cracks me up is there seems to be this thought that cooking from scratch at home all of a sudden makes the food not only cheaper but low sodium, low calorie, and such. Which it can be if you tailor it to your desired health needs and I know some who really try to make healthy food. The kicker is when some of these people start cooking up old family favorites and home comfort food. Some of those creations may taste fabulous but have enough sodium, fat, or sugar in them to make some of the worst processed foods blush for shame.

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