Food Stamp Challenge: Planning

Today is the first day of the Food Stamp Challenge, known as 3SquaresVT here in Vermont, in which I live on $38/week, the average weekly food benefit of a single person.

It took me about an hour yesterday to plan my recipes and grocery list for the week. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take me long to shop for the grocery items pictured to the right. Here’s the start of my menu for the week, along with costs.

Breakfasts (a mix of fruit and yogurts):

  • Apples (2) – $2.46*
  • Banana – $0.34
  • Yogurts (2) – $1.68*
  • Orange – $0.91
  • Coffee – $1.56**
  • Creamer – $0.40**
  • Sugar – $0.42**


Lunches (Beans and rice with extras):

  • Red beans (canned) – $2.19
  • Rice pilaf (boxed) – $2.39
  • Onion – $1.03
  • Green Pepper – $0.78
  • Sour cream – $1.25**


Dinners (Tofu and spinach, with various spices):

  • Tofu – $2.29
  • Spinach – $3.56
  • Spices – The Challenge allows for spices already in my cabinets


*I bought two different kinds, one being more expensive than the other. Given a second chance, I’d probably buy the cheaper option, regardless of my flavor preferences.

**I pro-rated some items since they’ll last longer than the week.

My total grocery bill was $21.25 and I may be short a meal or two at the end of the week. With $16.75 of my weekly benefit left, I planned visits to Capitol Grounds this morning and next weekend, paying $14 for the two visits. I definitely looked at the coffee and bagel options differently this morning. (And I’m acknowledging that food stamps don’t cover coffee shops, so I’m being a bit stricter than the Challenge, although I think it’s probably a bit truer to life.)

Today I’ll do my cooking for the week so I don’t have to splurge and go off budget. But, I am staring down a week in which my daily coffee shop visits are out the window and my frequent candy cravings will be even more difficult to resist.

I shouldn’t complain. This is just a week for me; it’s practically an experiment in minimalism or a week-long diet. That may seem terrible to write, but we should each own our privilege in these kinds of situations. I love my freedoms and independence, but my versions of those things are often purchased with cash (or credit). Budgeting for coffee shop visits is a bourgeois privilege, buying canned beans and boxed rice is a first-world privilege, paying a little extra for strawberry-banana yogurt is a bit of a luxury on this budget.

It will be an interesting week.


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