I like challenges, provided they don’t involve any physical exertion or dressing up in a costumes. I’ve done a few challenges over the past couple of years – Blogging from A to Z 2015 (win), NaNoWriMo 2015 (humongous fail) and Around the World in 80 Books (still in progress, but I’m winning so far). The thing I like about these challenges is that, given they involve reading and writing, I can literally do them lying down while snacking on sugary treats.
So, when I read about the Eating on $4 a Day SNAP Challenge, I figured it was right up my alley. After all, it involves eating, which ranks right up there as one of my favorite pastimes.
Those of you who aren’t American might be wondering what SNAP is. To be fair, there may be a number of Americans who aren’t familiar with the term either. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is a federal aid program designed to help low-income and no-income people in the States. You may know it better as Food Stamps. Millions of people rely on SNAP to help feed their families and, for many of those millions, the SNAP benefits are the only access to food that they have.
Feeding a family on $4 a day per person isn’t easy. To be fair, it’s actually around $4.40 a day at the current level of benefits, but that’s still a huge challenge. I know, because I tried it during February. Spoiler alert – I failed. More about that below.
The SNAP Challenge
The SNAP challenge got attention in 2008 when four members of Congress tried to live for a week on an average SNAP benefit. Since then, many other people have tried the challenge including celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow (she only lasted four days), business executives, politicians, reporters and ordinary folks like me.
Obviously, taking on the SNAP challenge for a week, or even a month, can’t come even remotely close to experiencing what it’s like live on such a tight food budget in the long-term. But, it does help to build an understanding of the struggles that low-income and no-income families face in the States, as well as to highlight the good works that food pantries and other organizations are doing to help address hunger. Plus, it's also a good exercise to undertake if you're trying to cut your own food budget and live a more frugal lifestyle.
Like any good challenge, there are rules:
1 – Each person should spend $4.40 a day on food and beverages during the challenge.
2 – Only eat food you purchase for the challenge. If you eat food you already have at home or which is given to you, account for it in your SNAP budget.
3 – If you eat out, include the cost in your SNAP budget.
4 – Keep track of your experience and share with others.
So, How Did I Do?
My monthly SNAP food budget for February was $127.60 ($4.40 a day x 29 days). If you’ve been following our cost updates closely (you can find them here), you’ll know that I’ve been averaging around $230 a month on food. And that excludes eating out (which averages around $50 a month). So, we’re talking about a significant reduction in my normal food budget – more than 50%!
I bought $77.07 of groceries during February at Walmart in Stuart and at the local grocery store in Indiantown. After my grocery shopping, I was $50.53 under budget. So far, so good.
Here's what I got for my $77.07:
- Fruit & Veg – 5 bananas, 10 apples, 2 cans of peaches, 20 oz of raisins, 3 lbs of onions, 5 potatoes, 2 heads of cabbage and 2 green bell peppers
- Dairy – 2 gallons of milk, 1 container of sour cream, 16 oz of cheddar cheese, 12 yogurts and 1 tub of cream cheese
- Protein – 2 lbs of black beans, 1 container of deli meat, 2 ham hocks and 1 dozen eggs
- Bread & Grains – 2 containers of oatmeal, 2 loaves of bread, 1 package of tortillas and 4 rolls
- Beverages – 1 bag of coffee
- Naughty Things – snicker doodle cookies (yum!)
SHOPPING FROM THE PANTRY & FRIDGE
In addition to stocking up at the store, I dug into our food stores, as well as used some stuff I already had in the fridge which needed to be eaten. I estimated the value of these items at $43.65, which left me with $6.83 to spend on food. Close, but doable. Or, so I thought.
Here's what I had in the pantry and fridge:
- Fruit & Veg – 6 apples, 1 can of sauerkraut, 2 cans of potatoes, 2 cans of tomatoes, 3 cans of corn, 1 can of green chilies and the remnants of a head of cabbage
- Protein – Kielbasa, 1 jar of peanut butter and a bag of walnuts
- Bread & Grains – 1 package of tortillas, 6 granola bars and a bag of pretzels
- Convenience Food – 6 cans of soup and 2 bags of ready-made rice and beans
- Naughty Things – 1 jar of strawberry jam, brown sugar and 3 packets of hot chocolate
This is where it all fell down. I think if I had just done the challenge for a week, it would have been easy to avoid the temptation to go out for drinks and a meal, but because I did this for an entire month, it was a lot harder. I spent $51.90 eating out during February with friends. A few fast food meals (no judging please), Taco Tuesday at the local pub (a relatively cheap evening out), dinner at another local restaurant and one of those all you can eat Chinese buffets on Valentine’s Day.
CONFESSION TIME - I CHEATED A LITTLE BIT
Do you remember Rule #2 – account for any food that was given to you. I didn’t do this. But, in the interest of full disclosure, here's the scoop - I was gifted some lemons, cantaloupe, wine and chocolate. Plus, some friends made me lunch one day. I thought it would be kind of weird and rather ungrateful if I asked them to cost up how much they spent on my lunch. So, I didn’t.
MORE CONFESSIONS - I DIDN'T TRACK EVERYTHING
Yes, it's true. I didn’t track the spices, oil, condiments etc. that I used. So there. Now, you know how untrustworthy I am.
BUT, IN MY DEFENSE
I still had food left over from grocery shopping, which I’ll finish up during March. Since I didn’t deduct the cost of what I didn’t eat from my overall spend, I guess it all comes out in the wash.
Tune in Wednesday to find out what I ate. What in the world I did with all of that cabbage and those ham hocks? I know, the suspense is killing you. Don't worry, all will be revealed in due course. And then on Friday, I'll let you know what lessons I learned, including the challenges involved in cooking on a boat when you don't have a stove, oven or freezer.
Have you ever done the SNAP Challenge or something similar? How did you find it? And, have you ever cooked ham hocks?
Thanks for stopping by our blog - we love it when people come visit! We're also on Facebook - pop by and say hi!