Things to Keep in Mind When Creating a Food Budget While on Food Stamps

The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally funded program that was created to assist low-income residents and families. The program allows recipients to purchase groceries for themselves and their households. SNAP participants include elderly citizens, residents receiving disability benefits and residents who earn below certain income requirements. The purpose of the program is to give those who need financial help with groceries the ability to purchase nutritional foods they otherwise would not have been able to afford. Knowing how to make smart food choices, how to stretch food dollars, and how to plan meals ahead of time helps with creating smarter food budgets. Store circulars and local grocery store sales can also help with keeping food costs down. Before heading out to make SNAP purchases, beneficiaries should keep all of these things in mind to get the most out of their food assistance benefits.

Where Food Stamps Can Be Used

Once a household is approved for SNAP benefits, an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card is mailed to the family. The beneficiary must choose a personal identification number (PIN) to associate with the car. The EBT card can be used to purchase food by swiping the card at a point-of-sale (POS) device. Purchases can be made with retailers approved for participation in the SNAP program. They may also be used at local farmer’s markets to purchase nutritional and healthy foods from the local community.

What Can Be Purchased Through SNAP

SNAP beneficiaries may purchase foods to be prepared at home including vegetables, poultry, fish, dairy products, fruits, cereals, meats and bread. Additional authorized purchases include plants or seeds that can produce foods such as tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers. Live seafood may also be purchased with SNAP, but livestock may not.

Less nutritional foods may be purchased with SNAP, including ice cream, soda, cookies and soda, which are considered junk foods. Luxury foods like steak and lobster are also covered by food stamps.

Prioritizing Nutrition

While junk food purchases are permitted through SNAP, they are not the best nutritional choices. Most are loaded with empty calories and very little nutrition. Eating junk food does not tend to provide a sense of being full, leading to overeating. Choosing junk food over healthy foods can also result in not obtaining enough of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of nutrition.

Stretching the Food Budget

Start with determining how much money and SNAP benefits there are for the month. Divide this total by the number of weeks until benefits will be received again (typically four weeks). Do not overspend the allotted amount for the week unless purchasing for more than one week’s worth of groceries.

Before making a grocery shopping list, sit down and review the shopping circulars for the week. Purchase healthy foods, such as meats and poultry, in bulk when they are on sale. By freezing portions to use at a later time, the household can stock the pantry with foods for upcoming weeks while still sticking to a budget. Browse the newspaper, circulars, magazines and internet for coupons on the products that are normally used. Do not use coupons on items not normally purchased unless they will actually be used.

Rather than purchasing premade meals and snacks at the supermarket, consider making them at home. The price to make meals at home is often lower and the nutritional value tends to be better. Preparing drinks at home, such as coffee, will cost significantly less than purchasing them at local coffee shops.

Plan out Meals in Advance

Plan out meals for the week based on the foods that are on sale. Planning not only stretches SNAP benefits, but also allows the household to make healthier food selections. Try to use common staples from the existing pantry rather than having to purchase too many new ingredients. Planning ahead and sticking to the grocery list also helps prevent impulse purchases.

Brands to Consider

Many shoppers debate whether store brand, generic or name brand is better. Some products are virtually identical in ingredients while others vary significantly, so it depends entirely on the product. Staple food products such as sugar, pepper and flour are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some generic products are made by the same manufacturers as the brand name, so it is hard to discern a difference between the two products. When possible, purchase the generic or store brand foods to help stretch the food budget.

Seasonal Purchases

Try to purchase fruits and vegetables when they are in season, which is also when they tend to be priced lower than the rest of the year. Consider planning meals around seasonal products or storing and freezing produce for future use.

Farmer’s Markets

Visit local farmer’s markets to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Some farmers also sell meat, grains, dairy products and poultry at these market locations. Other products that may be sold at farmer’s markets include honey, jams and jellies, baked goods or ciders. Before shopping, verify that SNAP is accepted at the market because not all farm producers are set up to accept SNAP benefit payments.