Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Wrap Up

Day 7 and Beyond

“How did you do on the ‘food stamp’ challenge?” That’s the question people have been asking me since Sunday. “Did you have enough to eat, or did you have to cheat?”

I recently completed the SNAP Challenge, designed to give participants a taste of what it’s like to feed yourself with no more than the $31.50 per week you’d get if you relied solely on food stamps.

In one sense you could say I succeeded: I didn’t overspend and didn’t go hungry.

I carefully monitored my budget to stay on track. Coupons, yes. Items on sale, absolutely. Since condiments were allowable under the rules of the challenge, I added back in to my total the $2.50 I’d spent for a bottle of soy sauce. That allowed me to replace the milk that had spoiled before I could finish it. But the early satisfaction was fleeting.

I hadn’t accounted for staple items a household would purchase infrequently and stretch for many weeks or even months. So I made a judgment call, allowing myself to “pro-rate” a handful of flour and splash of oil here and there.

On Friday evening I attended a meeting where a meat-and-three dinner was served. Strictly speaking, maybe I should have declined. But since I’d fed a guest out of my own budget on Tuesday, I justified partaking. Besides, wouldn’t anyone do the same, regardless of budget? Community events like this one can – and do – go a long way toward filling the gap and feeding the hungry neighbors we may not notice in our midst.

The lettuce was bland, unadorned iceberg; it was the only salad I saw all week and I was grateful to have it. As I welcomed the change from my own monotonous cooking, I recognized the irony of doing so, and realized only later that what I enjoyed most about this one nourishing but unremarkable meal was that I didn’t have to worry how much it cost.

The practice of such careful budgeting is foreign to those of us too young to have lived through the privation of the Great Depression or the restrictive rationing implemented during the 20th century World Wars. Perhaps we’re headed there again.

I won’t argue with those who complained that the SNAP Challenge is nothing more than the thinnest slice-of-life exercise. On his blog, actor Josh Malina wrote: “I don’t know what it’s like for this to be my normal. I always had a vision of a finish line in my mind, and I am very aware that others live this challenge with no sense of when if ever they may cross that line.”

And so by successfully completing the challenge, we reveal our enduring failure.

Hunger is everywhere. It’s global and local, societal and deeply personal. Writing about it doesn’t alleviate hunger directly, but I’m going to continue over the coming months as I keep sifting through what I learned this week.

Through stories about the people who feed us I plan to share some insights, practical information – and with a little luck, some inspiration, too, I hope.

Click for additional resources and to read all the stories in Amy’s series.

Additional resources about hunger and how to help:

To express your support of hunger relief programs, contact your Congressional Representative.

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day One)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Two)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Three)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Four)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Five)

Eating on a Food Stamp Budget (Day Six)


Filed under Food

5 responses to “Eating on a Food Stamp Budget: Wrap Up

  1. Gary O'Brien

    Amy, thanks for taking this on and giving us a look something most of us take for granted.

  2. It’s been eye opening for certain. I’ll be writing more soon. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Fred Richard


    Thank you for this series. I just discovered it this morning, and read thru the entire set of your daily edits and the comments posted by readers. Both were very informative and thought provoking.

    After some thought, here are my comments:

    1. We should be thankful for the SNAP program. Some help is better than none. My wife is from another country and she tells me that poor people there get no help from the government for the purchase of food.

    2. I don’t agree with the attitude of “abundance”. I’m not using the exact phrase used in the reader’s comment, but the person wrote that they felt ashamed for not being able to afford to purchase whatever their child wanted while grocery shopping. I think it’s self-evident that this attitude is a mistake (esp. with children). In general, budgets are a good thing, and can even function as an excuse for “why we can’t buy this or that item”.

    3. With your own admission, you did little or no planning for your experiment. I believe this is the most important conclusion from your experiment. Sure, it would be difficult but it’s clearly necessary. I don’t mean planning as in “Where’s the best place to buy Bell Peppers?”, but fundamental thought about what makes for a good and inexpensive diet. For example, dry beans or lentils are excellent food choices and are inexpensive, while white breads and pasta, although cheap, are not good food choices (IMHO). This is the kind of planning that is necessary.

    Again, thank you.

  4. Thank you for doing this great story. During the summer families food budgets are really stretched. There are 69,604 Charlotte-Mecklenburg students that receive free and reduced lunches during the school year. During the summer through the NoKid Hungry program ANY child 0 -18 can receive free meals at participating schools in our county. To find a location near you or to learn more families can go to: or text FoodNC 877-877 to find a free summer meal site.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing this valuable information. I was dismayed to learn that many people who would qualify for assistance aren’t aware of it, so your comments are especially timely.

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