Lesson 658 – UB SNAP Challenge – Here is my grocery list

For the next week I will be taking the UB SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge You might be hearing about this in the news because Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey challenged someone on Twitter and others to live on just $35 dollars a week. Here are the guidelines for the challenge.

As I routinely spend $200/week for 8 people (that comes down to $25/per) I thought that $35 was a gift. “I’ll do it,” I loudly volunteer.

Then I found out you couldn’t use anything that you already have except for spices and condiments. Although I’ve checked several sources, Olive oil is not considered a condiment. But, because I plan on cooking a lot of food myself, I’ll need an oil source.

The cheapest source that I could find was butter – however, I couldn’t find a place that would sell me only one stick of butter so for the week, I had to buy a whole pound.

Ouch.

Then I was contacted by a TV producer who will be following my progress. “Wait, a minute,” she said. “People in New Hampshire only get $30/week and not $35. Would you be willing to do this on the New Hampshire amount?”

“Sure,” I said. Apparently us Granite Staters rock in the frugality department.

But still, ouch.

The “rules” of this challenge say that while shopping I am allowed to use coupons. I can also take advantage of a local food bank (as long as I make a donation afterward to compensate the bank.)

So this is what I did. I sat down and created a week’s menu of healthy meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 2 snacks. From that menu, I created a shopping list. I then took my 2 daughters with me and we priced everything I wanted to get at a local grocery store.

When we got home, I was shocked to find out that had I bought everything on my list, it would have come out to more than $40.

Back to the menu drawing board. I moved this item over there, figured out that if I bought slices of meat at the deli instead of buying it in bulk, and changed some my beloved Steel Cut oats to regular oats, I might be able to do this. Once I had solidified my menu, I took the list and went to Walmart.

If the item was cheaper at Walmart, I got it there. If it wasn’t I got it at Market Basket. Although I did get some “storage” produce at Walmart – apples, oranges, potatoes, onions. I got my fresher produce at the grocery store where it tends to be a bit fresher. Lastly, I found a box of pasta at yet a 3rd store for .88 cents.

What you see below are my groceries for the week.

SNAP food for the week.

SNAP food for the week.

A few notes:

I’m not going to reveal the final amount that I spent until the very end. I may run out of items and might need to buy something during the week. So even though I’m confident I can do this, after seven days I may just end up eating a healthy portion of humble pie – compliments of SNAP.

I have all of my receipts. I’m a writer and journalist – I’m hoping you trust me, but if you need to see the actual receipts, contact me and I’ll send you a scan.

I ended up not using coupons because as you see, I bought the type of food that coupons are not typically intended for.

I thought I was going to get ridiculed at the deli counter for buying things like “4 slices of Salami, 6 slices of bacon..” not so. When I asked the woman if she minded that I would be placing such small orders, she looked at me like I was a bit crazy. “Who cares?, she said. “You’re the one who is paying for it. You can get anything you want.” I like that lady.

A lemon that was on my list didn’t get into my cart so I had to go out later and buy it. The cost is included in my total for the week but you won’t see it in the photo.

Impulse buys? We all have them. When I went to the grocery store, right there in front of me was a loaf of white bread for .50 cents, such a deal. I hadn’t planned on white bread but that could fill me up in a pinch. Also, there were some green beans in the markdown section that were a bargain and even though I hadn’t included them in my weekly menu, I now would.

I do have 2 cheats.

  • We raise chickens for eggs. I’m not going to buy store eggs when we have our own. I deducted the cost for the cheapest dozen eggs I could find from my total allowance and I’m using our hen’s eggs.
  • Second, I am a Library Trustee for our town and on one of the nights of this challenge I have to attend a dinner. It’s a town elected position, I have to go. I know that you don’t have to include food that you don’t pay for (and I’m not paying for this dinner) but I still didn’t think it was fair. I’ve ordered the Eggplant Parmesian (the most vegetable-based entree.) It comes with pasta which I will not eat and instead take home for the kids. I won’t have anything to drink other than water. I’ll still make the meal that I would have made for that evening (so that my food amount truly reflects the total week) but instead of eating it, I’ll give it to my son (who, when he heard what it was going to be was thrilled.)

Also, I’m a coffee drinker and not a tea drinker. If I had had more time I would have tried to wean myself off of my 3 cup/morning habit. To avoid that dreaded caffeine headache, I’ll accept any and all free coffees I can find. (I mainline my coffee black with no sugar.) At home, I’ll drink black tea, but if I start getting that headache (and you coffee drinkers know what I’m talking about) I’ve arranged to “buy” a cup of coffee from my husband’s morning pot in exchange for one tea bag.

3 stores to go shopping in? Well aren’t I lucky? Settle down. I pass these 3 stores on my daily routes every single day. I did have a coupon for $3 off of produce from a store in the next town and I considered using that but felt that it would be defeating the purpose. People on food assistance typically can’t waste a few gallons of gas in order to save a few dollars. I stayed in my town and only went to the stores I normally go to.

Lastly, once again, my point for doing this challenge is not to prove that I am better than anyone and it is not to prove that food assistance should be removed or decreased. I have learned how to cook and budget like this after many, many years of experience. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to plan and budget like this first time out of the gate.

My point for doing this challenge is to show that with education, training, and with a different mindset you can eat a very healthy diet using SNAP benefits.

And if you eat good food, you feel better, and if you feel better you have more energy and when you have more energy,..

YOU GET THINGS DONE.

***

Grocery List:

  • 1 pound butter
  • 1 package of 4 chicken thighs
  • 6 slices deli bacon
  • 3 slices deli ham
  • 4 slices deli salami
  • 2 slices deli cheddar cheese
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 2lb bag of carrots
  • 1 bunch escarole
  • 1 package frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 bananas
  • 2 apples
  • 4 tangerines
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 package (6 boxes) of raisins
  • 1 box pasta
  • 1 canister oatmeal
  • 1 bag tortilla chips
  • 1 package tea bags
  • 1 can spinach
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 small container red sauce
  • 1 package corn muffin mix
  • 1 loaf white bread
  • 1 pack 6 English Muffins

16 Comments

Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, SNAP

16 responses to “Lesson 658 – UB SNAP Challenge – Here is my grocery list

  1. Not to be a spoiled sport but:

    The proof is in the pudding when you can make 3 square, balanced meals a day (plus a snack, as you said you did) for the week for your snap money. Four CAFO Purdue chicken thighs for a week? C’mon. Please also show us your meal plans with the food you purchased and the real portion sizes

    I would like to see the menu plans, the actual eating of the food – nothing else (especially kids – of course with school lunch), and a weigh in before the week, and after (of the adults)!

    Also, organic is out, obviously, as is any consideration for the source of the food. Poor people are relegated to shop at Walmart, regardless of personal philosophy and values about food production.

    In my humble opinion, the idea behind this little “exercise” is an absolute judgment and an affront to people who actually live this stressful lifestyle, work perhaps 2 part-time jobs, have kids, etc… day in and day out. It’s a mockery. But I understand the intent, I guess. Please don’t take these comments personal.

    • Wendy Thomas

      I’m not taking your comments personally as I understand that this is very difficult for someone who does not have the training, experience, or resources (you need a stove, refrigerator, and cooking utensils at the very least) to do this. I have had years of training, first at cleaning up our diets when one of my kids got very sick and secondly cutting way back when money became very tight.

      Every meal I make and eat will be documented with photos. My kids are not joining in as I want to show them that this can be done by a single person (it’s much easier to combine and cook for many.)

      As I’ve said (and no doubt, I’ll say again and again) My family of 8 lives very well on $200/week. But that’s because I cook and we include lots of produce in our meals.

      My intent is not to insult anyone. My intent is to teach people that it is possible to eat a healthy diet on a restricted budget My son who will be graduating college this year is paying particular attention to this challenge as he prepares to find a job and live on his own. With school loans and probably a car loan, why spend anymore on food than you need to?

      Anyway, I appreciate your comments and as you say, the proof will be in the pudding. We’ll see what kind of a song I sing at the end of the week.

      Wendy

      • You are sweet and kind to respond in this way and I completely agree that a single person with education and experience will be able to accomplish what you are showing here. I appreciate your measured and sensitive response. Good luck and I do look forward to seeing your results!

    • Wendy Thomas

      Also, way ahead of you. I am planning on weighing myself BUT remember that we are coming off of a huge food holiday and so it may not be a true indication of weight lost (or gained.)

      Wendy

  2. M doats

    Just found your site – should be an interesting challenge. Can you explain more about why you are doing this on $30? While this is the average benefit here in nh, this amount is going to working people who have jobs and therefore some money to spend on food. At the lowest income level, at which point we assume food stamps would be your it source of food money you would be getting $200/ month or roughly 50/ week. That is obviously a big difference. How can a challenge be valid if it is actually restricting you more than an actual snap recipient?

    • Wendy Thomas

      You raise an interesting point. SNAP is supplemental and the government expects me to contribute *some* to my food bill. If I really didn’t have any extra or very little I would get the highest benefit which as you point out is about 50/week (which means my family of 8 would get $400/week to spend!)

      At the $30 dollar range, I would be expected to kick in a little. SNAP was never intended to be a comprehensive food plan. For this week’s experiment though, I am not adding to the benefit.

      The problem is that a lot of people don’t see SNAP as supplemental, they see it as a food allocation. Look, I get it, times are tough for everyone. Even us, this past summer we had to juggle bills in order to get it all paid. (and that didn’t even include the great ax incident.) Although we are not poor, we have huge expenses with kids in college and medical bills, so we do what we have to do with what we have.

      Part of that is creating a budget and sticking to it.

      I feed my family on $200/week and I’m willing to bet that my kids eat better than a lot of other kids in our town. I cook, we use lots of vegetables, we don’t have soda or junk food – we save money and eat better food.

      I’m doing this challenge not to show that SNAP is too high, or that it should be eliminated or cut back. I’m doing SNAP on the medium cost allowed in my state to show that *if* food is a priority, you can live comfortably and well on $30/week.

  3. Leslie Gumbert

    Absolutely love your blog and response to the SNAP challenge! Having done many stints with frugality, I find myself continuing those habits in times of plenty. Seems silly not to. I look forward to reading more from you!

  4. Rebecca

    I’m a college student living in a one bedroom apartment with my best friend Jenny. I support myself and have very little money to budget with. Jenny and I make our food selections a priority without government assistance. You are an inspiration in showing that people need to prioritize food, get creative with their budgets, and stop making excuses for not doing so.

  5. Jane

    I have read more than one of these “Challenges” and yes it IS a mockery!! There are so many other factors that need to be considered in order to get a clearer picture of what these families ACTUALLY deal with. It all comes down to resources and time restrictions. YES, restrictions! Because even at the highest allotment of the SNAP program, participants are most likely expected to attend “activities” aka: WORKFARE for a minimum of 30 hours a week, not including transportation time or cost, and some must walk to a grocery store and most must shop with children.
    I am curious to know how much gasoline was wasted driving between stores to save $0.12 on a box of pasta!!
    Point being, talk all you want about SNAP being able to provide a “comfortable” life with the right choices. THAT’S A CROCK!! There are too many contributing factors to poverty and the idea that you are encouraged to utilize a bread line or food bank to achieve your “challenge” is APPALLING! Although those resources are good for EMERGENCIES, people should not be expected or encouraged to stand in line for hours in order to receive food that has passed it’s sell by date!

    A week of only food poverty does not even scratch the surface of America’s poverty problems and people who mock these people in this way is disgusting. If you want to do something to help or learn about poverty, mentor a family. You have chickens…. teach them a skill. TALK to them, learn from them…. Most are not ignorant and lazy, that is just a stereotype that New Hampshire & the rest of the country has perpetuated! You would be surprised if you really could see “the inside” of this mysterious life you all call “The Welfare Recipient”!

    The world is not black and white….. and the poorer you are, the grayer it becomes!

    • Wendy Thomas

      Jane,

      First of all welcome to the flock.

      I don’t think that we disagree (although I do take objection to the fact that you are damning the entire state of New Hampshire based on a food piece I wrote.)

      I realize you are passionate about this subject, however, if you go back and read the entire week’s blog posts on this challenge you see that:

      I am not poor, however budgeting is necessary in our house due to medical and school costs. I am not pretending to be poor. I am not saying that SNAP provides a comfortable life. I’m not advocating that SNAP benefits be removed or reduced. I understand that there are many aspects of poverty that are not covered in my challenge (transportation, access to food, etc,)

      What I am saying is that in *my* position with what *I* have at hand, (and there are many families in my town who receive benefits so my circumstances are not unusual) – I could, if I have to, live on 30/week for food.

      Last week I went shopping for the entire week. All 8 family members are home. I got snacks, breads, meats, juice, and vegetables. We’ve had homemade meals every night, the teens have all had plenty of snacks and no one has gone hungry.

      I ended up spending $153.81 (that’s $19.22/person/week) I know how to do this because with my 6 children, I’ve had to *learn* how to do this. When a severe medical problem hit our house 7 years ago, I realized how much junk food was hurting our health. I cut out the junk food, and started cooking most of my food from scratch and realized that by doing this *and* planning our meals, we could save money (and I don’t buy that working parents don’t have the time to cook, I worked full time, had 6 kids, and I was still able to clean up their diets while saving money.)

      With regard to your comment about why don’t I teach people, good God, why do you think I spent so much of my time documenting my week on $30 if not to teach. My intent, which was stated over and over, was to teach others how to fish.

      Wendy

      • I came across your blog while looking for pictures for mine. I decided to take on the SNAP challenge too, I know I’m late… but better late than never! In my state the average is $25/person so with me and my husband I’m spending $50/wk or $200/month. This week I was over $50 but as long as I’m withing $200/mo its still me passing since SNAP cards are refilled once a month! http://thenewdaybringshope.blogspot.com/2015/01/snap-challenge-grocery-haul-1.html
        I like that your post is honest and non judgmental. I feel like some posts are overly crictical and others are overly sympathetic, perhaps because I lie somewhere in the middle. Anyway I’m linking your post in one of mine, like a mini feature, not that you need more traffic but it can’t hurt! =)

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