There are many reasons why being able to stretch food stamps to last as long as possible can be beneficial. Here are some excellent tips to help you maximize the full potential of your benefits.
You may recall the most recent government shutdown (2018) and how it affected many Americans across the country. This included the Coast Guard, people with Government jobs and those that were receiving government assistance.
This literally happened days after my husband’s Army contract ended. We were struggling to get on unemployment while he started job searching.
Unfortunately, the Army messed up our final pay stub. By the time it was fixed in late January, the shutdown was in full effect. So, we were without any benefits and struggling to make ends meet on our own. Our story is just one of the millions that were created as a result.
Those who already received food stamps were given February’s allotment early and forced to stretch it out as far as they could. They didn’t even know if the program would be reinstated or not.
Living on food stamps is one thing. Not knowing how long to make food last or if you’d have money for future meals is a nightmare.
Other reasons your food stamps benefits may need to be stretched further may include:
You have birthdays, holidays or another food-filled event and need to save money to apply towards these foreseen expenses.
While you aren’t supposed to use your food stamps on anyone outside of your household, you are allowed to use food stamps to purchase cakes from the grocery store bakery. Those can get kind of pricey, and a $30-$40 cake is about the same as a week’s worth of groceries in some cases!
Your income increased, and now, your benefits are being cut or removed.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot, and just because the pay increases doesn’t mean the food budget can. I see a lot of people complain about benefits being removed. Leaving them with less money than ever for food thanks to new bills that come with the job.
You want to save food benefits “for a rainy day.”
It’s written in the SNAP contract that once money for food has been uploaded to the card, it is yours to keep and won’t be removed. This is unless you leave it untouched for a year, then it gets taken back and redistributed into the program.
Saving money by eating cheaply can help you to have more “fun” money for enjoyable foods later.
Trying new recipes is always fun, but if your Pinterest board has over 1,000 different recipes all labeled “food I want to make” you can expect that it’s going to make your grocery budget increase unless you make some cuts to include them.
Government budget cuts or shutdowns
These happen and new bills arrive all of the time proposing cuts to things helping low-income families. Political views aside these things happen. All I can do is urge you to be prepared, educated, and have plans in place.
Like an emergency fire route or that CPR class, you took for certification. You know what to do and hope you never have to do it. The same thought can be applied here.
So now that we’ve thought of some good reasons to stretch our SNAP benefits let’s look at some things we can do to make food stamps last all month.
Make a grocery budget
This is actually pretty easy considering that your EBT card is loaded every month with the same amount of money. This is a set budget you can use, or you can choose to use more/less as your situation may require.
Don’t shop for the entire month at once
While a lot of budget advice often says to avoid the store as much as possible to help with preventing temptation and frivolous spending, I’m preaching a different tune.
Divide the budgeted amount by the week and aim only to spend that amount. Shopping weekly helps you to keep fresh produce in the house, have the chance to get the best sale prices every week, and look for markdowns.
Create a meal plan
If you’re wondering how to use food stamps wisely, creating a budget-friendly meal plan is an answer. This can actually be done in many different ways, but the best way to stretch your food stamps balance is to really put effort into your family’s meal plan.
By choosing cheaper menu ideas or adding a few poverty meals to the meal plan rotation, you can help to stretch your food money.
Creating a meal plan using food items already in your home is just one of the things you can do to make meal planning more manageable and less stressful for you.
Other things to help with your meal planning:
A lot of people have issues with eating leftover foods, often resulting in food waste and wasted money. By eating leftovers, you can not only cut down on the food waste but also save a lot of money and stretch your food stamps.
You don’t even have to eat the leftovers the same way they were intended, there are so many creative ways to repurpose leftover dishes that it can be like you’re eating something new every night!
Freezer meals make a lot of sense for a tight grocery budget but can also sound like a lot of work to the average working parent. A lot of bloggers will post X amount of meals in Y amount of hours for Z amount of money, and sure it sounds great, but where can you pull those hours from?
An easy work-around for this is to create double batch meals.
Making twice as much food as you actually need and you can eat the portion that you usually would while freezing the rest in a freezer-safe container and saving it for later.
Make a shopping list
Make a shopping list using the meal plan you compiled. With any luck, you already have a lot of the foods needed in your home and can just run to the store and grab a couple of items. By shopping for about a week at a time, you are allowing yourself to get creative with the ingredients you already have. This is actually pretty similar to a pantry challenge but on a much smaller scale.
Things to consider with your food stamps shopping list:
Avoid everything at eye level
One of the best-known secrets for saving money in the grocery store is avoiding the shelves that are close to your eye level. These are often pricier products. Meanwhile, the cheaper items can be located at the top or bottom shelves, just out of sight.
Buy less meat
I love to save money on meat, but buying less of it can help the budget just as much as stretching it into multiple meals. Instead, there are a ton of other cheap proteins that can be added into your diet including (but not limited to) lentils, beans, peanut butter, and eggs.
Only make smart impulse purchases
I know a lot of people say to avoid impulse buys, and while they aren’t wrong- there is a smart way to shop impulsively. It has to check off each of the following points:
- If the item is deeply discounted
- It will save you money in the long run
- You can afford it now without breaking your budget
- It will get used and won’t go to waste
If it can do all of those things, then it’s not a frivolous purchase and can be a great way to help your food budget, especially when using food stamps.
Avoid individually packaged items
If you’re looking for food stamp tricks, this is probably the best one to use. If you look at the little price stickers on a retail store shelf, you’ll notice a small price per unit. This is the easiest cheat sheet way to make price comparison without the math.
Look at the same product, I’m going to use Ritz crackers in this example just because I was looking at them earlier today as I was shopping and it’s still fresh on my mind.
The individually wrapped/ single-serving packages were priced 2 for $5. The normal-sized box was 3 for $10, and the family pack was $4.79 each.
When you look at the box sizes and how much you get, your first thought is that the 3 for $10 deal looks best.
But upon closer inspection, you’d see that the price per ounce in the family size boxes was actually .10 cheaper per ounce.
2 boxes of family size came out to less than the price of 3 regular sized ones. 3 boxes with 4 rolls each = 12 rolls and 2 boxes of family size with 6 rolls = 12 rolls.
Both deals have the same amount, but one was marketed to appear to be the nicer option while the other was actually cheaper.
Marketing things like this happen all of the time. This is why shopping in bulk or being smart with the price per unit is important in your grocery budget.
Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money. The bigger your purchase, the lower the price per unit is typical. We have a local grocery store that makes 10lb meat sales once a month- we love those! Getting 10lbs or more of meat for a discounted price because it’s all packaged together. All we have to do is divide it up when we get home. The savings speak for themselves.
Shopping sales is essential, but it’s even more so actually to know what you’re looking for. You want to make sure that you’re buying things when they’re at their lowest price points. You should also compare grocery ads between your local retailers. These are so that you are shopping at the best-priced store that week.
Use coupons and rebates
Some people aren’t aware that you can use coupons and rebates on items that you purchased with SNAP benefits. Using rebate apps like Ibotta can really help to get money back on your EBT purchases and stretch your budget.
Coupons can be found online, in-store, on a grocery store website, or in the Sunday newspaper inserts.
Until recently, EBT was not a valid form of payment for grocery pickup orders. While grocery ordering online was becoming more popular, EBT wasn’t a payment option. It seemed like no one took into account the millions of Americans using SNAP benefits to cover their food costs.
Until now. As of July 2019, Walmart grocery pickup is now accepting EBT as a valid form of payment.
What can you buy with EBT at Walmart?
You can buy a lot of groceries at Walmart without any issue. In fact, the USDA states that you can pretty much buy any “normal” grocery item. The ordinary things are excluded, including alcohol, and items listed with “supplement” as those are considered nonfood items.
Choosing to do grocery pickup at Walmart can help you to avoid overspending by only purchasing the food items that you truly need. Without the temptations of unnecessary items, you can stay on budget and on track to following through with your meal plans.
No matter your reasoning for saving money and trying to make your food stamps last longer, you can be successful with proper planning.
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