With the holidays coming up, there will be extra meals to prepare – which means more food to buy. With food stamp benefits being cut, this means you have to make them stretch even more than usual. If you want to make food stamps last longer, you're going to have to do some planning.
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Because of the income guidelines, we don't qualify for food stamps anymore, but we still have to make our food budget stretch for the entire month. Just as food stamps don't replenish before a designated date, we don't get extra paychecks to cover things when we have more food to prepare. I like to give food gifts for Christmas, so our grocery bill goes up by about $100 in November and December. I know you're not supposed to use food stamps on anyone outside of your household, but if I didn't have money to buy gifts – and I received food stamps – I'd do what I had to do to make Christmas amazing for everyone. Gifts in a jar are a great way to put a smile on someone's face without spending an arm and a leg.
1. Save the food! Purchase Bluapple Ethylene Gas Absorbers – You can't buy these with food stamps, but they're only about $10 and they help keep produce fresher for much longer. This saves us quite a bit, because we eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
2. Meal plan. Use Pinterest, FoodGawker, and other similar websites to come up with budget-friendly meal plan ideas. I take a piece of paper and write one column out for each day. Then I write in simple breakfast ideas like cereal, waffles, eggs, etc. For lunch, we do quesadillas, soups, etc. Dinner is where I struggle, so I have a list of about 20 “go to” meals that we all love, so I rotate them. Once that list is complete, I make a grocery list. I divide it by section based on how the grocery store is laid out, so I'm not wandering all over spending even more money. Anything we need for that week's meals, I put on the grocery list. I stick to the list unless I can get something for 75%+ off, or free with coupons.
3. Make freezer meals your BFF if you want make food stamps to last longer. Check out my Freezer Meals Pinterest Board for ideas.
4. Compare prices at farmer's markets, Wal-Mart, and other grocery stores like ALDI. Our local farmer's market has vendors that accept food stamps, so check ours to see if they do as well. Many times, the farmer's market will be cheaper for fresh produce items and meat.
5. Stop eating so much meat! Our diets don't require meat, and if you're worried about protein.. eat some beans, eggs, or broccoli – all have protein and cost way less than meat does. There's no reason at all to have meat in every single meal you cook – or even every dinner you cook. Serving meat in small portions a few times a week is more than sufficient. Try some vegetarian recipes… if they're good, you won't miss the meat!
1. Don't impulse buy. At the checkout, that $1.29 candy bar might seem like it's not that expensive, but those little purchases add up quickly.
2. Use coupons. Yes, coupons take a little time and there is a learning curve – but that doesn't mean you can't do it. Follow coupon blogs like Healthy Life Deals and they will give you the 411! Everything you need to know about couponing and saving big bucks can be found online. Note: Some food stamps users have reported being taxed on their coupons. This has never happened to me personally so I don't know if it's true but call your local store to check before trying.
3. Shop once a week or less. I don't recommend trying to shop for the entire month in one trip, because you're going to be buying some things at their highest prices instead of getting everything on sale. Also, when you have more food, you tend to eat more food… so buying food for the entire month might be counterproductive. One way to shop once a month and be successful would be to do once a month freezer cooking. You'll still need to buy a few things throughout the month, though, so be sure to budget for it.
4. On that same note, buy in bulk when you can. Buy a 10 pound bag of rice instead of a small one serving box. Buy the big carton of eggs instead of one dozen at a time. If you have a membership to Sam's or Costco, they take food stamps! Consider asking for a membership for Christmas, or save a few bucks a month to buy one for yourself.
5. Plan ahead for upcoming birthdays by stocking up on cake mix while it's on sale (or while you have a coupon for it). Don't spend $30 (or more) on a grocery store cake – that is a complete waste of funds. Make the cake, and spend that $30 on household groceries. Buy a gallon of ice cream, a box of cake mix and frosting, and call it a day.
6. Splurge on something awesome. One thing I absolutely love to use is a food saver. They can be a bit expensive, but will save you SO much money! So, if you can ask for one as a Christmas gift, it's perfect!