The past few months have been financially tight, as both me and my spouse are going to school full-time and we are operating on only one steady income. I love food and eating, so grocery shopping is our most important and most constant expense. During the past few months, I have had to cut down our spending significantly in this area.
Back in the day, when I thought everything was easy breezy, with no future-sight in mind, I used to drop $150-$200 a week ($600-$800 a month) on groceries for two people. Many times, things went bad in my fridge before I got to them (shame, shame!). Since we've embarked on this whole new financially complex era of our lives, groceries are one of my primary targets of focus. So far, I've managed to keep our expenses hovering around $100 a week for the most part, while anxiously awaiting summer for fresh, abundant produce at lower costs.
We have recently acquired a small student loan so that we could account for living expenses during this time when one of us isn't working. We are using some of it to supplement our existing income to in paying bills during this time frame, but we figured it would also be wise to attempt to budget our food and gas expenses (two living essentials) for the entire summer. Seeing what we have available to us after bills and gas for those four months (May-August), we have determined that we can set aside approximately $1500 for food expenses.
This means we have $375 to spend per month.
In doing some research on food budgeting, I stumbled across the Massachusetts SNAP Benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps) Page. On that website, I found out that an eligible 2 person household would receive approximately $367 per month for food assistance. I found the similarity to my budgeted amount striking, which led to more research. I found an interesting initiative, started by FRAC (Food Research Action Center), called the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge, which challenges Americans to attempt to conform their food purchasing power to that of a SNAP benefits recipient for a period of time. Why, you ask?
"The SNAP Challenge gives participants a view of what life can be like for millions of low-income Americans. Most participants take the Challenge for one week, living on the average daily food stamp benefit (about $4 per person per day). Challenge participants find they have to make difficult food shopping choices, and often realize how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy" - FRAC SNAP Challenge Page
Without even knowing it, we were setting up a life that looks a lot like the challenge (some details are different), except that this isn't a "challenge" for us to see what it is like, it is life.
GAME ON, I say! I can plan the hell out of just about anything. Let me tackle this!
Here's how it's going to work:
Total Length of Summer Budget - 4 months or 18 Weeks (May-August)
Total Cash Input: $1500
What This Will Look Like:
$1000 in $50 gift cards to Hannaford (our least expensive grocery store in town)
= $1050 will result from this as they have a bulk gift card deal, earning $50 for every $1000 spent.
$495 - CSA Share - so we can pick our own items at the farmer's market and crediting the prepaid account.
=$550 will result from this as they give the "discount" one normally gets from a CSA.
In total, I will have $1600 to spend on food over the course of four months.
I will attempt to use one $50 gift card per week without going over, and use $30 at the farmer's market each week, totaling $80. Although the total amount we will have is $132 more than a 2 person family on SNAP benefits would get for four months (using the $367 a month stat), $80 a week for 18 weeks is almost exactly the amount allocated ($81 per week.)
I divided the grocery gift cards the way I did due to the denomination of the cards themselves. This will leave me with $150 surplus of gift cards. I haven't decided yet how that extra amount will work, but perhaps there will be a special event or there might be weeks when we absolutely need to go over the $50, so that extra amount will come in handy.
I don't know all of the details yet, and I haven't decided how to address other items that we sometimes buy at the grocery store (Cat/Dog stuff, bath/body stuff, paper goods), perhaps that is what the $150 extra can be for... but what I've got is a start!
I am open to any ideas and suggestions on how to make this work, comment below with ideas!
What is your food budget?
If you've had to live on a small income before, what did you do to make ends meet, how did you stretch a buck?
What are your favorite budget friendly meals?