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:
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 www.vermontfoodhelp.com.”
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