Monday, March 24, 2014

$36.74 left for the month!

Not surprisingly, I’m finding it challenging to live on a food stamp grocery budget. My wife and I are doing so during Lent in order to experience what that’s like for millions of American families for whom life’s exigencies make it the only way to put food on their children’s tables.

We are donating the difference between what we usually spend on groceries to the Lenten Fund at Highlands Presbyterian Church to be used during the year to help the countless people who call us looking for help when they fall through the cracks in the community safety net.

Prior to recent congressional cuts in the food stamp program, the Department of Family Services tells me that the monthly allotment for the two of us would have been $367 per month. Now the allotment has been reduced to $347. Thank you Mike Enzi, John Barrasso, and Cynthia Lummis!

Our first “month” started on Ash Wednesday, March 5th, when the Lenten Season began. Nineteen days in and we’ve spent $310.26 of our $347. There are thirty-six dollars and 74 cents remaining to cover the next twelve days.

The good news is that a recent shopping trip stocked the refrigerator with fruit and vegetables. The bad news is they must be eaten rather quickly if they’re not to go bad. We’ll likely be without fresh fruit or vegetables for the last week or so of this first month.

The other practical problem we’ve encountered is planning meals with few carbohydrates. The meats and vegetables necessary to do that are a great deal more expensive than are foods filled with carbs. The goal is to eat 20 grams of carbs or fewer every day. But the can of pinto beans that cost only sixty-eight cents has that much per serving…and darn…those servings are smaller than I would have thought.

On the other hand, a pound of ground beef has no carbs but it cost me four dollars and eighteen cents.

I have received some helpful advice from readers. One gave me a primer on couponing. Have you ever tried to do that seriously? She referred me to another woman who will meet with me this week to give me some help in figuring out the routine. It’s clear that couponing can save a great deal on your food budget if you are willing to spend a great deal of time looking for coupons, cataloging them, and developing a strategy that takes you to a variety of stores where you can use them to your best advantage.

So far I have learned that there are grocery stores that will match manufacturer coupons up to a dollar or more and that when you can match those coupons with the store’s occasional sales prices, you get a heck of a deal.

I have also learned the necessity of becoming “price-aware.” It doesn’t help to look at the Wednesday morning grocery store ads unless you are keenly aware of the usual cost of the items you purchase. That takes homework but pays a huge dividend. I am not there yet but having less than thirty-five dollars left in this month’s grocery budget is quite a motivator.

Another suggestion was to experiment with menus. It’s surprising, she wrote, how good you can make some rather bland, unexciting but inexpensive, foods taste. For example, Brussels spouts can be very tasty if they are roasted instead of boiled or microwaved. Sprinkle a little olive oil on them. Add some of your favorite seasoning. Roast them at 400 degrees for thirty minutes, turning them often to avoid burning. I’ll be dong that more often. And a large bag of brussels sprouts that will be a part of 3-4 meals cost only $2.48. Roasted they have a net of 6 grams of carbs.

It’s good for the soul to experience what some of your friends and neighbors experience. Living on food stamps takes a great deal of work and effort and a complete revision of skills and expectations.

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