Sunday, May 18, 2008

Feeding The Family As Grocery Prices Increase

Our local newspaper ran an Associated Press story this weekend about how food stamp recipients are feeling pinched by the rising price of groceries.

I certainly feel their pain because I think we're all struggling with how to stay within a budget when prices for essentials like groceries and gas keep rising. But I have to take issue with the notion that it's impossible to feed a family of three for under $281 a month (or $312 a month, as was the case with one single mother interviewed for the story):

As prices rise, the number of Americans relying on food stamps has also
climbed by 6.1 percent in the past year, increasing from 26.1 million in
February 2007 to 27.7 million in February this year. The sputtering economy,
persistent unemployment and the mortgage crisis have all contributed to the
increase. The Agriculture Department expects the overall number of participants
to reach 28 million next year.

For Lynda Wheeler, who receives $281 in food stamps each month, the rhythm
of life has been one of shopping for food, running out of food and then turning
to churches, food pantries and friends for help. And all the while, she is doing
things like cutting milk with water to make it last a bit longer.

"You get it on the first and it runs out by the 14th and 15th," said
Wheeler, a single mom who brought her 14-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter
shopping at midnight with the Link card, the Illinois version of food stamps.

It's terrible to think that people have to live like this. I can't imagine what it would be like to run out of food halfway through the month.

Before I started watching what I was spending on food and other homemaking essentials, I could have blown through $300 in just two trips to the grocery store.

But now that I've started The Grocery Game and taking advantage of the specials at CVS and Walgreens, I know that it's possible to stretch my budget much further and feed my family delicious and nutritious meals. I haven't tallied my totals from my grocery and drugstore shopping today, but I know that I spent less than $50.

Of course, when you mention eating cheaply, a lot of people assume your only options are macaroni and beans and rice. I know that I once thought that, too. And that kind of eating didn't appeal to me at all. But by shopping at Aldi, shopping the sales and using coupons wisely, we're saving money and eating better at the same time.

Thrifty shoppers are proving that it is possible to feed your family cheaply. The Money Saving Mom spends just $40 a week, and this week over at Green Stew, the recession-challenged blogger has vowed to spend just $25 a week on groceries. How's that for budgeting?

I do understand that many low-income people may not have ready access to transportation, so they may be forced to shop at certain stores. Sometimes the grocery stores in poor neighborhoods have notoriously high prices. So, many poor people and food stamp recipients may not be able to achieve the same savings that people like me, a bargain shopper by choice whose mobility is only limited by my toddler's patience, can achieve.

But I have to believe that it's still possible for food stamp recipients to buy their groceries and other necessities with their monthly allotment if they stockpile bargains when they find them, clip coupons, shop the sales and cook from scratch, instead of relying on convenience foods.

What's your take on this issue? Could you feed and supply essentials (toilet paper, diapers, etc.) for a family of three four on a budget of $300 a month? What tips do you have for people who are struggling to stretch their food stamps or their grocery budget?


  1. Wow; this is a tough one. I certainly do feel for the people in this article. Wondering where your next meal is coming from must be an awful feeling.

    But I also believe that poor choices are contributing to their situation. Three hundred dollars a month should be sufficient to eat well, provided you clip coupons, shop specials, buy store brands when possible and stock up on non-perishables when they are a good price. You can't buy a bunch of pre-packaged convenience foods and brand names.

    Most people who buy their own groceries have to live on a budget; it's only fair that people on public assistance do as well.

    And this doesn't have anything to do with bargain shopping, but this article mentions nothing about these childrens' fathers. Where are they? They have a moral and legal obligation to help provide for their children. How can these men sleep at night knowing that their children may be going hungry?

  2. This is absurd. How many of us frugal shoppers are fortunate enough to have internet access, in addition to our own personal computers? How many of us have the luxury of both time and energy to search through the websites that help you get the best deals on food? Sure the "money saving mom" could feed a family of fifteen with six cents and a lifesaver peppermint candy, but what about us women who have to haul our groceries on the bus with our tired toddlers in tow? What about those of us who have to use the library computers, with the policy of an hour a day? What about those of us who can't clip coupons because we cannot afford the newspaper?! Sure, I am privileged, I have a car and a lap top, but I remain grateful that I have been blessed with the tools and time to be an empowered shopper.