Let the SNAP Challenge Begin

Since I am going to be out of town next week, my boyfriend and I started the Harvesters SNAP Challenge on Monday. I have to say, I hope the first day was the hardest.

6:10 AM – I’m up early on my day off. I’m making Jeremiah’s coffee, breakfast, and packing lunch. This gives him a few extra minutes to get ready. I run his K-cup through the Keurig twice – once at 6 oz. and once at 10 oz. This gives him two full cups, all be it watered down, coffee.

6:50 AM – Breakfast is over. I’m disappointed that the ingredients to make 12-16  inch pancakes has resulted in 11 – three inch pancakes. We ate six of them. I’m wondering if this will keep us full until lunch. We normally eat an English muffin for breakfast with 8 grams of fiber. I usually combine mine with a bowl of cereal or an egg.

7:47 AM – As I’m leaving the post office, all I can think about is food. I’m thinking about that little girl in the documentary “A Plate at the Table” who said she couldn’t concentrate  in class because all she could think of when she looked at her teacher’s head was a giant hamburger. I’m nervous about my day off being in an apartment full of food. I normally cook a lot of recipes on my day off. Will being surrounded by food all day entice me?

8:30 AM – Doing laundry. This should help keep me busy.

8:52 AM – I walked into the club house at my apartment complex to put money on my laundry card. I am immediately tempted by a bowl of candy. I know I can’t take any because it isn’t in my budget. Not everyone on SNAP has a bowl of free candy accessible to them.

9:20 AM –  I found a coupon for a free Sobe flavored water at HyVee. I’m so excited because Jeremiah loves these and they are off limit this week. Even buying them at Sam’s Club for about $.90 each we still can’t afford them in our budget. I told Jeremiah I needed a box of saltine crackers ($1.34 for 154 crackers) to get me through hunger pains. He didn’t pick his guilty pleasure item yet.

9:38 AM – This may be the cleanest my kitchen has ever been. All food and cookbooks have been put away. (This includes the three boxes of Thin Mint cookies is just got from a Girl Scout last week). Out of site, out of mind.

M&M9:45 AM – I almost reach for a few M&Ms as I walk into my apartment from doing laundry. I immediately cover the bowl with Saran wrap. (These are my real guilt pleasure.)

10:10 AM – Those noises my stomach has been making all morning are starting to feel like real hunger. I’m wondering if I can get four pancakes per serving out the mix for the next four days.

10:15 AM – I just took out recycling. Suddenly, those empty food containers are very noticeable. As soon as I come back in, I notice this week’s ads starring at me.

10:38 AM – Downing a glass of water. Will this help fill me up?

10:40 AM – I’m finding myself contemplating pulling out my yoga mat. It will be good for me. Perhaps I can meditate and “drop the story line”. Or maybe I should pray to God. Perhaps he can help me with these hungry feelings. But wait, what if he wants me to feel hungry? Maybe I need to feel this to better explain food insecurity to others. Jeremiah and I are like so many of the people we serve at Harvesters – hard working. According to the last hunger study, 49% of people served by Harvesters have at least one person in their household working. Additionally nearly 50% of the people who receive food are children, seniors, or disabled.

10:55 AM – I’m taking myself back to my days as a volunteer with an addictions group at the Jackson County Jail. We all have addictions and mine is food. I remember an Addiction Therapist Valencia saying when you have a craving it takes only about 45 seconds to figure out how you are going to feed that craving. But if you can distract your mind in that time by doing something, you can get your mind off it. I find myself now watching the dryer count down from five minutes singing the words to “Pump up the Jam” while marching in place. Seriously, I might be losing my mind!

11 AM – I’m debating about turning on the TV. I don’t have DVR which means I’ll either have to watch TV or put in a DVD. Rachel Ray is out today. I can’t watch a food show when I’m hungry and can’t eat. I decided to watch How I Met Your Mother. Do you know how many commercials there are during this show for Olive Garden, Chili’s and Red Robin? I’ve never been so excited to see a commercial for Dance Moms or Little Women: LA in all my life. I decided to mute the commercial breaks.

11:23 AM – I find myself laughing. It takes my mind off food for a few minutes.

11:30 AM – It’s Jeremiah’s lunch time. Normally, he would be eating out with his coworker Dan. They eat out every Monday and Friday. I’ve thought about texting him a million times this morning. I don’t want to bring up how much I’ve been thinking about food though if he isn’t.

11:37 AM – Laundry is done. Debating about going to the gym since I’m worried about working off too many calories.

11:42 AM – Drink my third glass of water. It’s free and will hopefully fill me up.

11:55 AM – I break down and eat five crackers and drink a fourth glass of water.

Noon – While driving to the gym, I notice every fast food restaurant on my block. I have to keep focused looking straight ahead so I don’t think about it. My gym shares a parking lot with Margarita’s which isn’t helping. It’s sunny but cold outside so I try to focus on this instead. Maybe I’ll drive home through a residential neighborhood.

12:20 PM – I stop feeling sorry for myself by reading the closed captioning on the news. It’s so depressing watching stories about how people in Tennessee are without power from an ice storm and terrorist are plotting attacks on malls.

12:50 PM – Ran to HyVee to get another can of chickpeas. Jeremiah was right, the hummus recipe wasn’t enough for 10 servings. I pretend I have on the goggles on that Ted wears on How I Met Your Mother so we don’t see the score of the Super Bowl game before they watch it on DVR. I’m laser focused on the aisle with the canned veggies.

1:15 PM – Lunch is ready. I’m now regretting my decision to buy no salt added garbanzo beans or to not make more chips. I’m also wishing we had sampled the food we were cooking on Sunday night.

5:15 PM – The afternoon has gone smoother. I took a shower, ran to Target, balanced my checkbook, paid bills, and worked on my blog. Jeremiah has just called to let me know he is leaving work a little late. That’s good because I haven’t left for his place yet.

pasta5:55 PM – Jeremiah and I start cooking dinner. Jeremiah focuses on grilling the chicken while I get the noodles boiling for Chicken Penne Pasta with Salsa con Queso. This wasn’t on our first menu. The recipe makes a lot, doesn’t contain very many ingredients, and fills us up. Thanks to whole wheat pasta being on sale for $.88, we can afford to make this recipe. Our cost is $6.19 but it makes six servings. That’s $1.03 per serving, very friendly on our $4.50 per day budget. I also made Jiffy corn bread for our dinner on Tuesday and Thursday. We had enough we decided to have a slice for dinner Monday through Thursday.

7:34 PM – After dishes, we finished off the night with a cookie (and a cup of coffee for Jeremiah).

I asked Jeremiah how his day went. He said the pancakes wore off around 10:30 AM. He agreed that the hummus needed some seasoning. He was also a little surprised at how little tuna was in his sandwich. He was wishing we had budgeted more for tuna. I promised him that I would double check our budget to see if he could have some of the leftover servings from dinner for lunch.

The Gift of Bacon

After work on Saturday, I went to Jeremiah’s house. We finalized our meal plan for the week. I’m happy to report, we came in under budget. Enough so, we can have Papa Murphy’s pizza on Friday night. You have no idea how excited this made us. Papa Murphy’s sells a take ‘n bake FAV pizza (a large cheese, pepperoni, or sausage) for just $5 every day. And since the pizza isn’t baked, it’s eligible for SNAP benefits. (Thank you to my co-workers for this little tip.) I checked their website and it says that you can use SNAP at almost every location. Score!

breadThe last couple ingredients we needed for our menu were sausage, chickpeas, and bread. You should have seen us. Since we came in so far under budget, we opted to buy two sausages at the HyVee meat counter ($1.25 each = $2.50). The chickpeas were included in the beans sales so we got them for $.66 a can. (Yes, I had budgeted $1.50). We decided to splurge and buy a box of Jiffy corn bread. It was $.55 and the HyVee brand was $.50. Jeremiah wanted Jiffy. I didn’t realize it but we now had to budget in another $.17 for an egg and $.08 for milk to make the mix. The bread was a real challenge. The $1.50 wheat bread wasn’t on sale at HyVee. We looked around and compared bread. We ended up with a HyVee loaf of $.99 white bread. All the other breads either didn’t have enough slices, were less health, or significantly more expensive.

When we got to the checkout, the cashier made a joke about how our evening was based on the ingredients, I said “we were trying to live on a SNAP budget.” She said, “every penny counts.” I gave her my Fuel Saver card and used my debit card on the machine. I think she thought I was paying with SNAP because she said, “it went through”. I was really offended when we got to the car. Jeremiah asked, “why?” I said, “I used my debit card. I just got paid yesterday so of course it went through, I have a whole paycheck in my account. I think that cashier thought I was using a Vision card (how SNAP recipients purchase their food). ” I felt for all the SNAP recipients whole have ever been made to feel that way when they purchased their food.

After buying our groceries, we went to dinner. We both decided to get an adult beverage since we wouldn’t be able to have one for the next week. I’m not sure if I would have had I known I wouldn’t be able to do so this week.

Saturday night, Jeremiah mentioned that his parents had left us the gift of bacon. He thought we could have it with pancakes during the SNAP Challenge. I had to share with him the bad news, that we couldn’t do that because we can’t accept free food during the SNAP Challenge. The reason is because not everyone receiving SNAP benefits is lucky enough to have people who leave bacon in their fridge. I suggested we have it for breakfast on Sunday morning. I’m glad I did because it was the really good bacon – Farmland full fat, thick cut.

I asked Jeremiah if we were making less healthy food decisions knowing that we were going into a week of such a restrictive diet. He agreed we probably were. On Sunday, we started our day with two eggs, two & half slices of bacon, and a donut. After church, I weren’t feeling hungry yet so we stopped by my house to pick-up some of the items we needed to prepare our food for the week. By the time we made it back up north, it was 1:30PM. We stopped by Chipotle for lunch. Jeremiah debated not eating the whole bowl. I reminded him, he wouldn’t be able to eat it this week so he finished it.

We spent three and half hours cooking recipes for the week. I made a point to portion everything out to ensure we had enough and didn’t run out. It was a good thing we did because we needed to make another batch of hummus. I was so excited that our cookie recipe made 12 extra cookies. I started discussing how we could eat them based on what we were having for dinner. Jeremiah said to me, “Are you rationing out cookies?” Indeed, I was.

cheesecakeWhile Jeremiah was cooking our dinner, I ran to HyVee in pursuit of our last Starbucks. (We are both Gold Members so this is going to be hard. Especially for me, since I’m giving up coffee entirely this week. I need creamers/syrup to drink it & that isn’t in the budget. Plus, it allows Jeremiah to have one in the morning and one at night.) The Starbucks’ app said that location was open until 9PM. Unfortunately, they were closed when I arrived at 8:05PM. I called Jeremiah and asked for the next closest location. He sent me to a free standing one we had been to together before. After dinner, we finished off the cherry chocolate cheesecake Jeremiah had baked for Valentine’s Day with our grande lattes.

We are ready for the Harvesters SNAP Challenge to start on Monday!

Please note: We are doing the Harvesters’ SNAP Challenge a week early because I will be out of town at a training next week. That means their is still time for you to sign up & participate. To learn more, click here

Cha-Ching

Harvesters SNAP Challenge – Day 4

I’m very lucky. I can afford the gas to shop the best deals in town. I know so many others can’t. I’m often reminded how many people rely on public transportation or need to walk to get places. I know this gives me an advantage in the SNAP Challenge. Even though many stores are in close proximity to me, the only one directly across the street from me is HyVee. I could probably walk to Hen House or Sprouts but I would be limited in how much I could purchase based on what I could carry.

I’m also very fortunate to be a part of my family’s Sam’s Club membership. This allows me to purchase food sometimes at cheaper prices buying in bulk.

Skinny cowI was very excited to learn yesterday that I can just use the actual cost per serving of what we used in the SNAP Challenge. This is great because one of the items Jeremiah and I cut from our budget was Canola Oil. At $2.18 for the smallest bottle the sell, we couldn’t justify the purchase for two recipes using less than a 1/3 cup. One recipe, we would have been able to substitute applesauce (Whole-Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies). Applesauce cost just $1.50 per six pack. The other recipe (Extra Easy Hummus Dip), we would not have been able to. This valuable piece of information means we might actually be able to make both recipes.

Although Sam’s Club has hands down the best price on items like bananas and Skinny Cow snacks, some of their prices are comparable to weekly discounts in area grocery ads. For example, we couldn’t buy whole wheat bread or chicken any cheaper last night.

I’m a pretty savvy discount shopper so I thought I would share a few tricks I’ve picked up over the years.

  • Hen House doubles coupons of $.50 or less. This means you can sometimes get better prices on name brand items than store brands.
  • Target allows you to stack coupons. That means you can use a Target coupon plus a manufacturer coupon. For example: If you wanted to buy Ziploc bags and you had $1.00 off Target coupon and a $1.00 off SC Johnson Company coupon, you could save $2.00 on one box of Ziploc bags. Awesome!!
  • Wal-Mart will match any advertised price at a competitor. Take your ads with you in case you need to show the cheaper price. Please note though, they don’t honor things like “Buy One Get One Free”.
  • Pick up a Sunday Kansas City Star. The coupons inside are usually for items currently on sale or about to go on sale. I used to be an avid clipper. I’d often share coupons with my sister for items I didn’t need but I knew she might use.
  • I used to also print off online coupons. Penny Pinching Mom and Target are great sites to get them. I used to save about a third on my grocery bill by watching for sales and clipping coupons.
  • If you have two coupons for the same product, you can use both of them when you buy two of the products during the same shopping trip.
  • If you head to Dollar Tree on Sunday mornings, you can sometimes get the Kansas City Star for $1 instead of $2.00. It’s limited to if the delivery drivers have extra. You better be there early though because they get picked up fast.
  • Ask a friend who gets the paper if they use the coupons. If not, ask if you can have them. One of my sister’s friends does this for her.
  • Compare ads and save. The big picture on the top of the front page is always the best deal. This price is often half the normal price. Jeremiah and I like to buy our veggies at Sprouts. We compared ads and walked about with two bags of fresh produce for $7.
  • Stock up and save. If you know it is something you will use, buy more of it when it is on sale. For example, I always take advantage of Target deals with free $5.00 gift cards when K-Cups, toilet paper, or cleaning supplies are on sale. (Even better if you clip & stack your coupons.) Not only do you get a better price but you also get $5 off the next time you shop. Be careful to watch when it is ringing up though, I have had to go to customer service more than once because I was overcharged.
  • Buy gift cards for things you use at HyVee. You can often earn $.10 off per gallon in Fuel Saver for every $25 gift card you buy. I did this just the other day for Jiffy Lube. I have to pay to have my oil changed. Why not save some money on gas later? Plus, this can really help you with your month budgeting. My sister often buys gift cards instead of caring around cash. It also limits her spending at particular stores.
  • Sprouts honors both ads sales on Wednesday. Totally shop then! Plus, they have ads for monthly deals.
  • HyVee’s meat counter sometimes has the best unit price. This is how Jeremiah buys meat and it always taste good.
  • Check out the price on frozen chicken breast versus fresh chicken breast. Usually one of them is on sale. Jeremiah and I usually buy it at Sam’s Club for $1.98. If you see it cheaper in an ad, it will usually be above the fold on the front cover. This week, HyVee has boneless, skinless chicken breast on sale for $4.99 per 2.5 lb. bag. That’s a $1.99 per pound.
  • If a store is out of an item, ask for a rain check. I did this about a month ago to get Cutie oranges for $3.99 at Price Chopper the next time they had them.
  • Sprouts sells things like flour, sugar, rice, and seasonings in bulk. This is often a great way to buy the exact amount you need for a recipe. Jeremiah and I are using it to mix white and wheat rice together for healthier versions of recipes.
  • Did you know that area Farmers Markets will double your SNAP benefits. That means if you have $14 in SNAP benefits you can get $28 in food when you buy it at the Farmers Market.
  • Did you know that Papa Murphy’s takes SNAP? It is uncooked pizza so you can use your SNAP benefits for it. They also sell a large cheese, sausage, or pepperoni pizza for $5. The price per serving is very SNAP budget friendly. Jeremiah and I are considering doing this and pairing it with a salad. (In the words of one of my eight year old volunteers, everybody deserves fun food sometimes.)

Even if you don’t participate in the SNAP Challenge, I hope you learn something new that will save you money.

 

 

I Can’t Sleep

HJ Pancake

Creative Common Flickr photo by: rob_rob2001

It’s 5AM and I can’t sleep. I woke up worrying about how Jeremiah and I are going to eat on the Harvesters’ SNAP Challenge budget for the next week.

Our original plan sounded great. After dinner last night, we started working the numbers. Our original estimate was $93. Yikes! After taxes, we have about $41 to spend on food. It may sound like a lot – but I promise you it isn’t. We decided to go to Sprouts & HyVee and spent over two hours getting actual prices. Sadly, that was about $60. Then, we stayed up until 10:30 (way past our bed time) trying to figure this out. We made tough decisions like to buy the full sodium chicken stock to save $.38 per can. This was really tough for me since I am trying to watch my sodium intake for blood pressure reasons. We cut out meat. We cut cheese. And before going to bed, we cut our $3.99 Hy-Vee brand K-cups.

Day 2 – Back to the drawing board. We have two days to try to figure this out.

Breakfast was one of my biggest concerns. I work out in the mornings and burn 300 calories before breakfast. Plus, Jeremiah needs to eat something with his medicine. Our original plan was to make Harvesters’ Breakfast Burritos. My breakfast epiphany this morning was to buy the $1.25 Hungry Jack pancake mix and syrup (on sale at HyVee) for the week. (Bonus note – you earn $0.01 per item in Fuel Saver Rewards.) You only have to add water to the Hungry Jack mix to make pancakes. Water is free – not really but at least as far as our SNAP budget goes. We can each eat three pancakes every morning and will still have mix left. That means our price per serving is less than $0.09 per pancake (with butter and syrup). Take that SNAP budget! I couldn’t make basic French toast,  Oatmeal Cottage Cheese Banana Pancakes, Cinnamon Applesauce Pancakes, or the Whole Wheat Pancakes for less than that price per pancake.