Food Stamp Challenge 2008

October 16, 2008 at 4:59 pm 5 comments

In May 2007, I decided to step up to a challenge getting a lot of press as the Congress was readying to pass a new farm bill – it was to feed my family with a budget those recieving food stamps must stay within each week.

At that time, the average per day was just $3.00 per person each day, which translated to $21 per week per person, or $63 total for all three of us to eat for one week. I chronicled my shopping, meals and my thoughts afterward between May 25 and June 5, which are still available on my blog.

Making the news this week is a new challenge as we near the holiday season and more individuals and families find themselves in need of assistance. Yesterday kicked-off the Grand Rapids for the Michigan Food Stamp Challenge where those participating try to live on $5.87 per day per person (the new, higher maximum level provided to recipients).

From news reports, “300 state and local leaders who have pledged to live on the equivalent of food stamps for five days.”

Apparently the governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, is participating in the challenge. As reported by, “The governor says she took her son shopping Sunday at a Meijer grocery store. They could only spend $5.87 per day per person. She says she bought a lot of macaroni and cheese.”

Like last year, I’m not surprised by the belief perpetuated in the media that one must eat poor quality, high carbohydrate, cheap foods to survive on a limited budget. Last year I showed that was untrue as I fed my family a high-quality, nutrient dense diet for the week on just $3.00 a day per person. This year recipients receive even more money and I have to wonder, given the current economic situation, is the increase enough or not?

So this year, once again, I’m going to see what a food stamp budget, $5.87 per person per day, buys us since food prices have steadily increased in the last year.

Can we eat as well as we did last year?

Will I need to make compromises?

Will we eat better?

Last year a number of comments criticized that I shopped in three different stores, had access to the internet to review sales circulars and plan based on sales, and had time to plan our meals before I shopped. For this challenge, I will shop in the closest grocery store to our house, will pick-up the circular when I enter the store and do my best without pre-planning the week since it was pretty clear that time and ability to plan ahead are both issues for many.

Like last year, I invite readers to step up to the challenge too and share your experience in the comments as we move forward for the week, starting tomorrow.

Here’s our rules for the October 2008 Food Stamp Challenge:

1. Maximum per person is $5.87 per person per day. For us, a family of three, this means I have to feed us with just $123.27 in the coming week. Your total budget does not include any sales tax since recipient purchases are not subject to sales tax.

2. Salt and pepper are considered in your pantry, so you do not need to buy either. But any other spices, condiments or cooking fats/oils do need to be purchased or you need to deduct a portion of your cost when you did buy the item that is in your pantry since it’s difficult to have a stocked pantry when you’re on food stamps. For example, if you do have chopped garlic in your house, you don’t have to buy another jar for the week, but should – if you use some – deduct a part of the cost. If the jar cost $5.00 and you use one serving from a 10-serving jar, take 50-cents off your budget to account for the garlic you used.

3. It’s best to plan ahead, so if you have mailed or newspaper ad circulars, review what’s on sale and make a list before you shop. This time around, I’ll personally not plan ahead like I did last year and I’ll shop in only one grocery store. You don’t have to unless you want to also.

4. If you have a child in school and they receive or buy lunch, do not deduct this from your budget. Any foods you pack for lunch or snacks does have to be part of your budget however.

5. The budget does not include paper products, cleaning supplies, over-the-counter medicines, prescription medication, or non-food items not covered by food stamps. If you do need to buy these while you’re shopping, just make them a separate order, paid for separately, so you can accurately add up what you’re spending on food only.

6. We can shop for, prepare and cook whatever we want to eat, and can eat free food at business functions, meetings, work, or other places just like anyone else; in addition we can sample from tasting stations in grocery stores, and eat at parties we attend, hosted by friends or family. We cannot take home leftovers to stretch our budget though.

7. We can also eat out – but do need to include any meals we pay for and include the tax and tip since food stamp recipients cannot pay for meals out with their debit card, but also do have the expectation that the food stamps are assistance, not their sole source of buying food…we’ll include any meals out in our total budget.

Basically, the challenge includes preparing and eating what you are able to purchase throughout the coming week, and any meals eaten out, since it’s one thing to have to shop with a limited budget and another to live with it for a week.

Who will join me this week?

Again this year, those participating in the challenge are encouraged to email me photos of their groceries for the week, along with recipes and meal ideas and insights about your experiences during the week. I’ll highlight them here on my blog next week and open discussion about the various challenges we all faced, and the things we learned along the way! As always your comments are welcome as the challenge gets underway!


Entry filed under: Food Stamp Challenge 2008. Tags: , .

Investigate the Alternate Hypothesis And So We Begin the Food Stamp Challenge

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leanne  |  October 16, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    When considering the challenges families who do receive food assistance face, please keep in mind that the amount of food assistance awarded is based on family size and income. A single mom of 1 child making minimum wage for full-time hours (and not receiving child support) will NOT receive the maximum assistance – it will be reduced considerably. I am a social worker – some of my clients only receive $10 per MONTH. Many families must get by on much less than $5.87 per person per day for food. Although it is expected that the families with income will contribute part of their earnings toward their food purchases, the grim reality is that often, there simply isn’t anything left over after the rent and utilities are paid.

  • 2. The weekly sharefest « Food Kills  |  October 17, 2008 at 12:36 am

    […] competition How long can you live on a food stamp budget?  Check out how people got by with Food Stamp Challenge 2008 from The Weight of the […]

  • 3. Regina Wilshire  |  October 17, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Last year when I did this, I managed with just $3.00 a day – this year the higher amount, which various states and organizations are using for those participating in the Food Stamp Challenge, is $5.87 per person per day. From my understanding, and as you noted, that is the max and not all receive the max – those that do not receive the max are expected to be using their earned income toward their groceries.

    Quite frankly, the $5.87 per day is very generous in my opinion – not only did I already buy what I think we’ll need for the entire week and I didn’t spend the full amount, I included a number of things I’d consider ‘luxury’ items that could have been left out if it turned out that buying them would take me over budget. I kept those items toward the back and only when I could see the total was still within the budget did I have the cashier include them, one by one…..and even then, when the last “maybe” item was scanned, I still didn’t spend the whole budget……and as you’ll see in tomorrow’s post, we’ll be eating quite nicely this week.

  • 4. Jenn  |  November 21, 2008 at 7:06 am

    Are you driving to the supermarket? If you are really trying to replicate the experience of food stamp recipients, try shopping for a whole week while getting around on public transport… if it’s available.

    Also, food stamp recipients frequently live in neighborhoods where there are no supermarkets. If they are urban rather than rural, there are mini-marts and convenience stores. Prices are always substantially higher and there is little fresh vegetables, fruits or meats.

    I don’t really get what you are trying to prove with a “challenge” like this. There is no challenge for you at all if you are only doing this on a temporary basis, with access to a car and gasoline and a real supermarket You have the advantage of better prices based upon the superior volume-based negotiating power of a supermarket chain vs convenience stores and the ability to shop for everything you need for the entire week, rather than shopping every couple of days because that is all you can carry on the bus.

  • 5. Sara  |  March 18, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I find this quite interesting, but you base this on the highest amount that can be given. My parents are both older and disabled. My mom worked as long as I can remember, my dad was disabled before I was born in an accident at work. My mother lost her job due to the company moving everything to either China or the one or two factories that they kept, in the bigger cities. My parent have a total of maybe $1000 to pay all of their bills. They don’t even get $20 a month of food stamps. After thier rent and bills, car insurance and bills, it doesn’t leave much. Past bills people have to buy other things throughout the month, such as laundry detergent, dish soap, toiletries, and for other people they have to buy diapers and other things children need, co-pays on Dr. visits and Rx. Granted my parents don’t need diapers and things like that, but the amount they have going out doesn’t leave much at all for them to add to the grocery bill. They usually have to go to the food pantry during the month so they can eat. People who have never been in the situation can not fully understand the hardships. Try living on the “food stamp buget” for a month to a time, try living on an income that is less than your bills are in a month. People work their asses off, full time, 40 hours or more a week and still don’t have enough to cover what they need. People who aren’t in the situation talk down about the people who get assistance, but people do what they have to do. I myself recieve food stamps, I only applied out of sheer desperation after months of wondering from day to day what I was gonna feed my children, and I was working at least 6 days a week. We struggle everyday wondering what we are gonna do to get everything paid. My husband is limited to what he can do cause he has problems with one of his shoulders due to the joint not forming properly. It’s hard, but we do what we need to do. And I may not be proud of the fact that I need the help, but at least my children are getting food in their bellies. By the way we have an average of $3.45 per person per day. That is the same if not less than a gallon of milk, less than a pound of lunch meat, about 50 cents more than a pound af hamburger. People don’t have a “food stamp buget” theey do what they need to do.

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