Posted by Jim | November 6, 2011 | 3 Comments
I’ve been reading a lot this week about various forms of the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge. In case you missed it, the goal is to buy a week’s worth of food for less than $31.50, the average weekly benefit for a food stamp participant. While the intent is to raise overall awareness of the effects of hunger and poverty, it also got me thinking more about rising food costs in general. It’s not only those relying on subsidies that have had trouble keeping up with prices at the grocery store. Even relatively cheap staples such as peanut butter are now becoming too expensive for many families. In times like these, it may be best to rely on a few “friends” to help save your budget:
Planning is your friend
Perhaps your best friend is planning out as many home-cooked meals as possible for the week. Leftover dinners that can be reinvented as lunches come in especially handy. It takes some time and effort, but comparing your personal preferences and schedule to the weekly store sales pages can really help maximize your grocery dollar. Additionally, clipping (or printing online) coupons and taking advantage of store doubling policies can boost your buying power. Using fruits and vegetables that are in season is another (and delicious) way to eat healthier, for less. Finally, it’s not always easy, but avoid shopping on an empty stomach to cut down on costly impulse and junk food purchases.
The freezer is your friend
Take advantage of a lazy Sunday afternoon to make a double batch of a simple recipe that can be stored for later use. Yummy foods like lasagnas, casseroles and soups (or chili) are easy to make ahead of time and freeze well. If you still have room in your freezer, consider buying certain foods, such as larger cuts of meat or whole chickens, in bulk when they’re on sale. If you don’t mind doing a little extra work, you can save quite a bit of money
The dollar store is your friend
Various discount/dollar stores have become very popular with shoppers throughout the economic downturn. They generally have a surprisingly large stock of name brand foods, often at steep discounts. I’ve found that they can be especially good sources of pantry-type foods, like rice, pasta and canned goods. Cooking basics, such as salt, pepper and spices, are also available at a fraction of the cost of typical retailers. Some discount stores, such as Aldi, even carry meat and produce, though you may have to pay extra for conveniences like carts. If you don’t have a dollar store in your neighborhood, you can still save money by buying generic/store brands whenever possible. These often have nearly identical tastes as name brands, with significant savings due to cheaper packaging and advertising costs.
But good health is also your friend
I haven’t yet tried to complete the Food Stamp Challenge, but I’m considering it. I can’t help but wonder, though, if the spirit of the Challenge – and food stamp programs in general – tend to lose sight of the benefits of healthy eating and a balanced diet. It seems that relying on highly-processed, high-sodium foods might save your budget – but would result in other serious long-term costs, namely poor health and higher medical bills. The biggest challenge of all is to make healthy, nutritious foods as prevalent as costly, convenient foods, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods.
What tips can you offer to survive the Food Stamp Challenge?
Photo by: Yuya Tamai
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.