If you eat food, the news isn’t good. Beef prices are at an all time high. Last month’s increase in food prices was led by a 30% leap in the costs of hogs and 12.4% increase in poultry.
During Lent, my wife and I attempted to eat on a food stamp budget. The Department of Family Services, who administers the program, tells me that for the two of us, benefits would be $347 per month following recent federal budget cuts.
I use the word “attempted” because we didn’t quite make it. We ended the month spending just under $400 on food. There are a couple of reasons we didn’t succeed. One is that we didn’t really have to! Unlike millions who rely on food stamps to feed their families, we don’t. That difference led to the second reason.
When we take care of our grandchildren, and that occurs as often as their parents permit, we buy the extras they want. Doing so, we quickly realized how much of a dent those purchases put in our budget. More important, we realized how difficult it is for those who actually rely on food stamps to say “no” to children and grandchildren.
We became more price-aware than ever and painfully aware of what the economists are reporting. All of us are experiencing those huge increases in the cost of food. Before this exercise, I used to ask rhetorically, “How do poor people make it?”
Today I have a limited glimpse into what that actually means. The answer is, “with great difficulty.” I have even greater respect for the local food banks at Needs, Inc. and St. Joseph’s and for the churches and others donating food to them. (NOTE: Day of Giving is Friday May 9, the community’s chance to donate food and more.)
It would help if certain members of Congress, including the three from Wyoming, would declare a ceasefire in their war on the poor.
There’s another strategy as well. Couponing. During the month, I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who has trained perhaps a thousand Cheyenne families on the art…and it is indeed an art. Wendy Troutman is a jewel in “the Gem City,” i.e. Cheyenne.
Wendy got my attention when she told me plainly that when we toss the Wednesday grocery store ads in the trash, it’s like throwing away hundred dollar bills. After an hour with her, I agreed.
Looking at her three-ring binder, in which she catalogues coupons and listening to her describe a whole new approach to grocery shopping, I wondered aloud whether it’s worth it all. “Just how much would one expect to save if they did all this,” I asked her. The answer was attention getting.
Wendy assured me that if a person is only “moderately couponing,” he or she could expect to save no less than 50% on groceries. More intense strategies save her as much as 90%.
Teaching others how to achieve that kind of result is Wendy Troutman’s mission. She teaches classes at the library, WAFB, and community churches. She’s taught Climb Wyoming and Wyoming Family Home Ownership classes.
By the time we finished a cup of coffee, she had me convinced this is the one realistic alternative to eating less. Her major teaching is that couponing demands a new philosophy about grocery shopping. A couponer gradually becomes more price aware. They are sensitive to store and manufacturer polices such as which store doubles coupons, where to find coupons on-line and the best newspapers in which to search.
As I leafed through her binder full of coupons, Wendy said, “I’d give you my wallet before Id’ give you this binder.”
Face it. It is unlikely food prices are going to drop significantly enough to make much of a difference on anyone’s budget. Congress is not likely to do any more about this problem than any of the others that confront low-income families.
But Wendy Troutman has a real-life alternative. Look for her classes at the library.