Food Stamp Challenge: Mid-Week Check-In

This Food Stamp Challenge, called 3SquaresVT here in Vermont, to live on $38/week of food was not at all easy. I blew it in so many ways.

Day 4 (Wednesday) was a relative good day. I ate half an apple for breakfast, with coffee, cream and sugar. I ate the beans, rice and veggies that I’d prepared in advance for lunch. I skipped snacks and sodas at work, and then had sesame tofu for dinner.

Unfortunately, I had a coffee pot malfunction in the morning and lost a lot of coffee. I looked at the bag of grounds and looked at what was left in the pot of coffee. I decided I couldn’t really waste the coffee, so I filtered the grounds out of the pot and drank what I could.

By dinner time, the caffeine withdrawal headache was back, as was the sugar drop from not drinking sodas and eating snacks mid-afternoon. I could barely muster the energy to re-heat the tofu and I didn’t have the energy to wash spinach, so I had only tofu for dinner.

Day 5 (Thursday), my slide off the bandwagon worsened. I went out for coffee and a scone for breakfast. I felt infinitely better, although I knew I was blowing my budget. I ate the beans, rice and veggies for lunch. After work, there was a Young Professionals of Montpelier mixer, at which I had a beer. After that, I had a meal out for about $10.

Day 6 (Friday) got worse! I had a coffee and a ham and cheese croissant at a coffee shop for breakfast. I was feeling so hungry around lunch time, that I could have eaten my phone when calling a colleague to see if she wanted to go to McD’s. I’d forgotten to pack my lunch and water bottles for work! In the evening, I finished half of the leftover McD’s, so at least I spread the meal and costs over some time.

Overall, I felt frustration, impatience, short on time and an inability to plan. I was grumpy without my usual comforts and that impacted my decision-making skills, meaning that I splurged when I shouldn’t have and ate less healthy when I could have done better.

So here’s my quick run-down of the week’s spending so far:

Groceries: $21.25

Eating out: $57.00

Free food from work or other functions: $15.00

My budget for the week was $38.00. I definitely stayed within budget in terms of groceries and what Food Stamp benefits will actually cover (nope, not McD’s), but the $72.00 of other food would have to come from another area of my budget or, more likely, a credit card.

I’m also blessed to be in a socioeconomic position that occasionally has events that provide free food. But to network, I went to two events after work, one of which cost money. The fact that I had time after work is also a luxury of my economic standing (and some choices I’ve made, of course).

The Hunger Free Vermont crew has told me that “Eligibility for 3SquaresVT is based on household monthly gross income, and the limit is set at 185% of the federal poverty level. For a household of one, that number is $1,723/mo, a family of two can earn up to $2,333, a family of 3 can earn up to $2,944, etc. Then, to determine how much people get ($38/week for one person is based on average benefits), the state looks at expenses like rent, whether or not you pay utilities, childcare, medical expense for those over 60 or with a disability, etc. Like most federal programs, there are as many exceptions as there are rules, so this is a simplistic explanation. To find out more information about eligibility, 3SquaresVT, and to try a calculator to see how much different income scenarios can earn, check out”

I want to crunch the numbers to see how my current budget would work (or not) on $1,723/month gross. I’ll also examine how my behavior and habits have changed this past week in the next post.


Photo credit: Kelly Taylor

5 Comments for “Food Stamp Challenge: Mid-Week Check-In”



When living on so little food, it becomes imperative that your meals and snacks become a priority in your life, which, of course, means that you have less time to think of other things. Making such a drastic lifestyle change in one week can serve to underscore how slowly us humans adapt to different circumstances than we are used to.

When I was living on roughly half what you did per week, a staple in my fridge was eggs. I had scrambled eggs for breakfast (with toast), hard boiled eggs as snacks, and fried eggs for dinner. Protein and carbs fill you up and leave you feeling fuller for longer. Lunch was often pb and j. I never bought organic food–i would buy large containers of store brand coffee. I would often buy powdered milk so that i could make it as i needed it, or if i could afford the fresh stuff, i’d use the powdered stuff for baking. I literally would walk around and redeem bottles and cans for money.

Michelle Barber


Hi Stacie. Thanks for sharing your experience. Since this Challenge began and ends on Saturdays, I was beginning to think of next week and what my strategies might be if I continued this.

I’ve heard other Challenge-takers talking about peanut butter a lot. I was also eyeing my bottles as a potential source of cash. I’m realizing that being vegetarian or vegan, which I list toward when at home, would be difficult, would require even more planning.

Following my thoughts has been interesting too. I’ve been grumpy, angry, tired; I’ve felt selfish and sometimes acted on it. I’ve had strange thoughts on how I might cope long-term, only to have to pull myself back into reality.

Gratefulness. That’s what I feel right now, when I’m beyond the sugar crash or the worry.

Keri Brown


I find it so amazing that you willingly chose to do this! And so very glad that you chose to blog about it! Julianna came home from school the other day talking about a class discussion in which a couple “rich” (her words not mine) girls were discussing derisively people who choose to be on welfare rather than working. Julianna felt very uncomfortable about the conversation and felt instinctively that they were wrong, but didn’t challenge them because she didn’t feel she had enough knowledge to do so. I was able to give her a little information based on what I could remember of being on welfare when she was young and I was still in school, and a little more from what I had read in your first blog, but it really wasn’t enough. We then discussed that there should be more awareness and education about what it really means to receive these benefits, and decided we should suggest to the school that the students participate in the Challenge next year. You really sparked a lot of awareness at least in our family, and I image with others too.

But don’t be too hard on yourself. Although I don’t want to diminish the difficulty of feeding yourself and/or your family healthy foods on such a meager budget, I would like to point out that anyone receiving the full benefit amount would also qualify for lots of other programs and benefits that would help out with food. They certainly wouldn’t be reimbursed for beer or croissants, obviously, and if they were being responsible wouldn’t be going out to eat multiple times in a week! But they would probably have room in their budget to cover for forgetfulness or lack of planning with fast food once in a while.

Michelle Barber


Thanks for your comments, Keri. I’m so glad to hear that this Challenge sparked conversations in your family and I’m intrigued by your daughter’s experience in school. I think it would be really interesting for a school to promote the Challenge. With some planning, all kinds of subjects could be incorporated: nutrition, mathematics and finances, health and physical education, politics, economics, etc.

I’ve also read that when kids learn something and are instructed to share with their parents, the parents learn more – and it sticks better – than if the parents, for example, go to the workshop on their own. I’d love for everyone to understand the facts better, but I’d especially prefer a kinder and more generous world.