Sunday, April 19, 2015

The $29/ week SNAP Budget Challenge: Could You Do It Too? (Link-Up)

The news on the street 

... is that Gwyneth Paltrow failed the SNAP (formerly, Food Stamp) challenge of living on $29/week. The challenge was made by Chef Mario Batali, who is drawing attention to the fact that 1.7 million New Yorkers reply on SNAP and to donate money to food banks.

Paltrow lasted four days. In her defense, she's probably never had to be creative in saving money - this is definitely an art. She also used the word "brouhaha" in her post title (excellent word).

So, this was all she bought:



Seven limes and one onion?! Kale? Also, too much green and not enough colors... if I learned anything about nutrition. And no dairy? I'm starving looking at this assortment of groceries. She's eating tacos all week, it seems.

Now, the challenge is a little unfair because you're not allowed to use food you already have; part of good budgeting is stockpiling (i.e. I don't have to buy a box of oatmeal every week!) ... we'll let that one slide for now.

Here it is:
What is the #FoodBankNYCChallenge? 
Attempt to live on a food stamp budget for one week. That's only $1.38 per meal. 
Why now? 
Congress cut food stamps twice since 2013 , and soup kitchens and food pantries saw an immediate increase in visitors.  New Yorkers can’t afford any cuts to SNAP - learn more about the cuts here. The #FoodBankNYCChallenge raises hunger awareness and deepens your understanding about the struggle to afford food on a food stamp budget. 
How do I take the challenge? 
Use $29 per person for all your food for 7 days. Share your experience, challenge a friend, and challenge Congress to strengthen food stamps.  For more info, check out our Challenge Toolkit. 
Do: Make a budget and shopping list, use coupons
Don’t: Rely on food from others, use food you’ve already bought, give up
I think it is a good challenge. 70 million pounds of food is wasted per year in this country alone - that alone is pretty shameful, and we should be looking for ways to donate and be more innovative in shipping fresh foods, as well as healthy eating/ nutrition education. That is not always common sense, especially when a box of macaroni and cheese is easy.

$29 per person - we have three people plus a baby, who makes me extra hungry.
Three person budget: $87
Four person budget: $116

This is - more or less per week - our actual budget for survival.

Challenge accepted.

We shop at Wegmans, the greatest grocery store on earth (east coast chain), where the prices are very reasonable (if you're not overindulgent).

This is not my list every week, but it certainly is a typical look at our grocery shopping.

Quaker Oatmeal, Old Fashioned; 42 oz.: $3.99
12 c. eggs*: $1.99
French vanilla coffee*: $7.29
Bananas (0.49/lb): $1.47


Sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)*; 2 cups: $2.49
Stonyfield organic baby yogurt; 6 cup pack: $3.49
fruit greek yogurt* (0.89/each): $5.34
2% milk*, gallon: $3.32
Whole milk*, gallon: $3.49
Colby Jack cheese sticks*: $3.79


chicken drumsticks, family pack* (0.99/lb): $4
spaghetti, family pack: $3.49
Tyson chicken nuggets: $5.69
multi-grain bread*: $2.99
JIF peanut butter: $2.49
Smuckers strawberry jam: $2.59
Macintosh apples (1.79/lb): $5.37
Applesauce*: $2.49
baby-cut carrots* (16 oz): $0.99
seeded cucumber (0.99/each): 1.98
hummus*: $1.99
whole wheat Fig Newtons: $3.99


boneless chicken thighs, family pack (1.99/lb): $8.74
spinach salad, family pack: $3.99
[brown or white] rice*, 16 oz: $0.99
organic chicken broth*: $2.99
Idaho potatoes, 5 lb: $2.99
frozen peas & carrots*, 16 oz.: $0.99


Total: 95.41

*Wegmans brand

Initial thoughts

This list felt restrictive - I do not include any beans, fish, quinoa or nuts because the challenge is to meal plan for one week. I picked our most basic diet and worked off that. I'm also used to buying family packs and freezing part of the meat for the next week, and that's how we keep our variety going. I'll change up the fruits and vegetables I buy based on sales and seasons.

I'll admit that I wasn't sure where spices fell; do they count towards the SNAP budget? There were a few in-between items - I decided to exclude brown sugar, for example, even we put it in our oatmeal and coffee since we're not straight-up eating it. If we had to go without it, too, we would.

Then, there are snacks. Everyone needs snacks, right?! I know I do. Almond nut-thins, popcorn, fruit bars, Kind bars, raisins; now and again, Will likes to enjoy a can of coke (especially since the hospital recently switched to Pepsi products) and I'm all about plain sparkling water.

I usually spend $100 or so on groceries; it varies every week, depending on what is stretching, what needs to be replenished, and how many boxes of diapers we need.


For this week, I would bake the chicken. Some to eat with potatoes; others to shred for chicken fried rice - fry up with eggs, rice and the frozen peas & carrots. Maybe breakfast for dinner on Friday, and mostly left overs. I would saute the spinach as well as eat it raw as salad. The combinations with simple ingredients and a little olive oil should not be underestimated.

The problem with Gwyneth Paltrow's food creations is that they did not stretch. That is key! Making food last longer. Even making a stock soup would have been a handy meal, and a good use of beans too.

Worth it?

I think that this challenge is good for the attention it draws to a real issue in our country of families being able to afford food, but we need to go deeper.

Not being able to budget for food stretches into other areas of life - not making wise financial decisions, underestimating the power of debt, unwillingness to cut wants, unable to provide for needs. Whether we care about the details or not, economics plays a strong hand in every life.

Take Away

Will and I were lucky to be taught the value of money and earning it, but it wasn't until we were married and on a very strict budget that we really learned how to budget, sacrifice and cook.

The book that really helped me in all three of those areas was Cheap. Fast. Good! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. I highly recommend it - in addition to recipes, they write about how to look at food, what kind of cuts of meat to buy, how and where to cut your budget, how to use coupons, fresh v. canned, and money-saving shortcuts.

For me, it helped me grow more confident in my home keeping abilities and decision-making for our family unit. Buying groceries became one of my favorite activities with GHB: as well as feeding and fueling us, our grocery budget affected whether we could "splurge" somewhere else (renting a movie, buying a treat). This is very real accountability - if we do not pay our bills on time, we hurt our credit. If we hurt our credit, we limit our financial options in life. This could affect our children! Also, if we do not practice self-control and show them the importance of making wise decisions, who will?

I do want to add that budgeting is common sense; it is common sense because there is no downside (as my husband would say). This does not mean people should automatically know how to do it - but it is easy to learn and understand. It is also prudent. The reason we budget it to be responsible citizens and adults. We do not deserve to eat out after a long week or work; we don't have to own that watch or only eat steak. Some days, we eat the same food again and again. We can jazz it up or spice it differently, but we're eating the same thing.

And that is okay!! I'm not the best budgeter, but I stay within our parameters. It's manageable, we still have squeeze room, and it keeps us accountable. If we have extra money or food in our budget, it can be moved over to our charity givings. We take care of our family first, always, and we are responsible with our money so we can help others as well through example and givings.

How do you budget readers? Does your family budget stay within the SNAP parameters? (Link-up closes on May 21, midnight)

Happy budgeting!

p.s. this article is good reminder not to make assumptions about people on food stamps/ SNAP


  1. I think this challenge is interesting... I'm not sure it would work for me. I don't see how I could get a week's worth of food at DC prices for only $29! I also do my big grocery trip once a month, and spend about $75-$100. Then I go about every 10-14 days to get a gallon of milk and bananas. So I think on a monthly scope, I spend about $29 a week. I also feel like it might be easier to do this for more than one person - for example, a few people would get $90 for the week, but they could share the pack of cheese - versus me alone, I still have to buy the same pack of cheese, but it eats up a larger percentage of my overall budget. Interested to see what your experiences with it are though!

    1. I definitely agree with that Liesl - and the worst part about the challenge is that you can only buy for the week. Well, that is really inefficient!!! I think Will's diet could definitely have him eating on $29/week or less, but mine needs more of a monthly balance. Good thoughts!

  2. Ooh, I want to try this. I'm looking forward to seeing other experiences as well!