How Our Family Survived Living on Food Stamps

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I never thought I would be using food stamps but, then again, I never thought I was going to be earning such a low income. The worst thing was that both me and my husband were in the same situation. The company he worked for closed down and he accepted a poorly paid job just to get an income. Thankfully, we learned how to use EBT cards for food stamps and coupon deals to cut back on our spending. And I’ll tell you how.

Planning our budget

When your income isn’t enough to make ends meet, every penny counts. After thinking it through, my husband and I decided to look for different ways to reduce our weekly expenses while we waited for better job opportunities.

We started by calculating how much we spent on the grocery store per week and we came to an average of $130, though some weeks were more frugal than others (we had our youngest son’s birthday the month we decided to plan our budget).

Choosing our strategy

We knew our credit card offered discounts on certain products on specific days of the week in our local grocery store but they didn’t make the cut to reduce our expenses. Thankfully, we talked with some friends who had recently been under a financial strain and they recommended us to check out the SNAP program and apply for food stamps.

And we did. Here’s our story.

Signing up for the SNAP program

On the very next day, we googled the closest SNAP office and checked if we were eligible for the food stamps program. A clerk explained to us that we had to provide certain information about our income and that we would be contacted for a yes or a no. So we had to apply for food stamps and wait. Fortunately, a week later we received our EBT card. EBT cards are electronic benefit transfer cards that work just like a debit card, so we started using ours.

At the grocery store

Firstly, I should clarify that we had to change grocery stores because ours didn’t have the food stamps program available. However, there was one that did just two blocks from our house, with a sign that read “Welcome SNAP program beneficiaries”. They had told us that there were some things we could buy with the food stamps program:

  • vegetables
  • bread
  • fruits
  • dairy products
  • meat

So we organized our weekly meals, bought only what was necessary and got a fair discount, yet our $642 monthly allotment of SNAP benefits wasn’t enough to help us get to the next paycheck, so we started looking for ways to get more discounts.

Quick step-by-step at the cashier

It’s pretty straightforward: you just swipe your EBT card on the card reader, digit your PIN and that’s it! The screen will show how much money you have left for on your SNAP account.

Going for the coupon deals

Grocery store coupons are quite popular and laziness had prevented us from checking them out. So we browsed different coupon sites, like Smart Source or Red Plum, and printed out coupons for many things, especially those that the food stamps card didn’t cover, like shampoo and toothpaste. Most coupon deals offered a $1 discount and though that doesn’t seem like quite a lot, when we started calculating, we realized we had just saved $10 with coupons. With this and the food stamps card, our finances seemed to be less constrained.

Other useful strategies

To get the most out of our food stamps card with the SNAP benefits, we also took whatever discount opportunity came our way. Some of the strategies we used were:

  • Getting a grocery store card: These usually rack up points for appliances or provide discounts on certain days of the week. Ours had a 10% discount for any product on Thursdays.
  • Buying food close to the expiration date: Most people shy away from foods close to the end of their shelf life. A nutritionist friend of mine told me that shelf life is quite flexible, companies generally put an average date in which the product “doesn’t taste as good” but is still good to eat. Plus, if you’re cooking with those ingredients that day, it’s no big deal!

Even though the food stamps program includes seeds for creating your own vegetable garden, we didn’t take advantage of this discount. We just bought some basil seeds because my husband loves it with pasta, but we don’t have the time or energy to take care of crops. However, if you have the time, that would definitely save you quite a lot of money on fruits and vegetables and it will be cheaper thanks to the magic of the SNAP benefits. Plus, it’s organic.

So, if you’re going through a rough financial patch, food stamps could help you overcome it, but generally you need to pair it up with other measures, like using coupons or grocery store cards. Of course, if you have another strategy, by all means, use it! Just don’t forget to apply for food stamps with SNAP because they may save you quite a lot of money.

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