Announcing the October Challenge

by Michael Nolan on 12 September 2011 · 18 comments

in Food

693081_black_walletWhat we have come up with for October’s challenge is off the beaten path, but it is topical and fits well with my work as a food advocate. John & I have been talking for months about how much we enjoyed the April Food Challenge and ever since, we’ve considered options for a new challenge that was similar.

For the month of October, we will eat on an amount that equals what the average Alabama resident receives as part of the food stamp benefit program.  Based on data from this table,  the average Alabama food stamp recipient in fiscal year 2010 received $126.90 per month in assistance.  As there are two of us, we will double that amount to $253.80.

Because this is such an unusual challenge, we sat down and came up with a few rules to keep things as realistic as possible.

The Rules
  1. A Visa gift card will be purchased before the start of the challenge for the full amount of the money allotted for the challenge.  All purchases will be made with this gift card and all receipts will be kept and logged. Food purchases will be treated as though they are being made with food stamps. This means that no taxes will be counted. In order to account for the difference, 10% (local tax rate) will be added to the total Visa gift card amount, making the total starting amount $279.18.
  2. Basic pantry staples that are found in the average household such as salt, seasonings, tea, sugar, etc. will not be purchased until needed.
  3. The menu for the month will include only those items available from grocers in the local area and only items that may be purchased using food stamps.
  4. Menus and recipes will be posted for all meals eaten during the challenge.
  5. Coupons may be used, but as per tax laws, we will pay taxes on the amount of the coupon.
  • While the majority of meals will be made at home, we want to acknowledge and illustrate that it is possible to dine out even on a fixed income. For that reason we are not ruling out an occasional meal outside the home.
  • Food already on hand may be used and will be charged to the monthly budget based on the amount actually paid for the item (s). When the amount paid for an item is not known, the current price at a local market will be applied.
  • In the event of an invitation to eat at someone’s home, a dish will be prepared at home that will be taken along. The cost of the prepared dish will be counted toward the month’s total.  Additionally, any houseguests will be fed without increasing the budget amount.
  • As John works outside the home, his lunch meals and snacks will be brought from home for the duration of the challenge.
  • EDITED TO ADD: We will not rely primarily on our homegrown and home canned goods during this challenge. When any home canned products are used they will be charged at market value.

Because of my work bringing to light the ongoing food insecurity problems that so many suffer from in this country, I hope that this challenge will cause people to look more closely at both the quality and amount of what they eat as well as what we waste, often without a thought.

We also want to illustrate that it is entirely possible to eat and eat well on a small amount of money. That’s why our shopping lists and receipts will be displayed for the world to see during the challenge.  By following along, even those with severely limited kitchen or budgeting skills will be better able to feed themselves great food without breaking the bank.

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions on how to stretch our food stamp money for the month of October? Recipes? Other thoughts? We welcome your comments below.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather September 12, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Your money will go pretty far if you buy bulk and eat mostly vegetarian. Urban foraging can also stretch your buck (free apples and pears in neighborhood trees abound in these parts).

fwiw, I think you should be able to use your home-canned food if you put it up during October.

Samantha K September 13, 2011 at 6:12 am

I think this is a brilliant challenge..I’ll be sharing your links as you post.

Chiot's Run September 13, 2011 at 8:15 am

That seems like a reasonable amount for a month of meals for two people to me, even eating locally. Here in Ohio there are no taxes on food, and food stamps are accepted at farmer’s markets (I’m always happy to see them at the farmer’s market buying fresh local veg). I have found that buying the basics and no packaged food we spend far less than most people do on groceries – and that includes expensive organic raw milk from a local farm. Here in Ohio it looks like the average benefits are $141.72 per person – a few more $ than in Alabama.

I think you should be able to consume your homegrown things, after all, people on food stamps can grow their own and many around here do. But hey – it’s your challenge. I also agree with Heather on the foraging – great idea – and those free veggies people put out at the side of the road.

Can’t wait to read about your results – should be an interesting challenge.

Melissa September 13, 2011 at 8:16 am

What a fabulous idea! I will be following closely to see how your month turns out. Currently my husband and I try to live on $75 week for groceries. It is almost impossible. We plan meals in advance and eat at home, but inevitably we spend more than the allotted $75. I am really interested in learning about the recipes you use and how you spread the dollar to make this work. Good luck!

Kristin September 13, 2011 at 9:16 am

I think this is an awesome challenge. The tough thing though is when your family makes maybe $100 more than the qualifying income level for your state. If we were on state assistance our family would recieve over $800/month. I don’t spend anywhere near that much and I feel we have a very liberal food budget. But there are plenty of people who have to decide between running water and food every month. Thats why food banks are empty and community kitchens are full.

Michael @ MEG September 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I understand and agree with you to an extent about using our homegrown goodies, but in this challenge I want to illustrate what the average Jane or Joe could do. Later I am going to talk a bit more about what could happen if more food stamp recipients knew how to grow their own and what to do with what they grow.

Tina September 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Great challenge. It’s reasonable with some planning and the fact that you know how to cook. A family may not be able to choose organic & local food on that budget without having grown it themselves, but healthy home-cooked food is the most cost-effective way to go. I recommend beans & grains as a base, and shopping the bulk food bins. Frozen veggies are sometimes less expensive than the fresh counterparts, and iced tea is a cheap alternative to other beverages while still providing lots of flavor variety.

This week I saw an ad for 10 lbs of russet potatoes for $2.50. Loaded baked potatoes make great reheatable/microwavable lunches, and the rest can be potato leek soup which is perfect for fall. If you have too many potatoes, I find baking the excess and freezing for later lets me always have on hand some cooked potato for thickening or to put in baked potato soup.

dava September 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

Although to many the average amount allotted to recipients of food stamps seems ridiculously low, I have to admit that the few times I have had to apply for them, having that amount to spend felt like a luxury. One time, I remember buying peaches and feeling like it was just absolutely heaven, because I hadn’t been able to afford them for so long.

Good luck with your challenge. I hope that in the end you find some little luxuries like fresh fruit that make you smile.

Lee September 26, 2011 at 7:16 am

Will be interesting to see how you do.

Although our actual household budget(two adults) for food,etc here in MI is $150.00 per month.If we go over that,then something somewhere else doesn’t get paid,and that’s not good.

We do buy meat in bulk,but other things sometimes a little work with a calculator will show which item is the best deal,and it’s not always the bulk sized package.

We stay within budget by buying in bulk,buying on sale and using coupons.Not being brand loyal helps,then it doesn’t matter which brand of toothpaste or deodorant you get.But we supplement our budget by gardening and raising some of our own food.Next year we will be adding home raised meat(rabbit) as well.

Good luck!

marian September 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm

this should be interesting as i am a mother and have one child in the home and we get only the single amount of 129 to feed both of us. i will be watching and posting. thank you for this and wish you lots of luck as i wish myself luck every month.

Bonita October 3, 2011 at 8:16 am

This is a great challenge ~ however, you are skilled in both “making do” & cooking nutritious meals. That isn’t the case of the typical foodstamp/EBT card user in our area. I’m from a rural farming community where everyone pretty much gets by on what they raise & I’ve always canned/frozen/dried enough for about 2 yrs. set aside even when we didn’t have much money. I also am an incredible bargain shopper & not afraid to buy reduced items. I now live in the city & watch as so many food assistance shoppers go hog wild at the beginning of the month on pre-prepared foods & what most of us would think of as luxury items with low nutritional value. By mid-month these people are foraging from food pantries & neighbors looking for handouts. The tragedy is many of the folks simply don’t know how to cook beyond the microwave. What would be great is if those of us who know how could put on workshops and food tasting to show how easy it is to eat healthy, even on a budget.

Michael Nolan October 3, 2011 at 8:18 am

THANK YOU, Bonita! You hit the nail right on the head and that is exactly what we aim to do not only locally but on a larger scale.

chelsea October 20, 2011 at 10:54 am

I think it’s important to note that the benefits are not per person. If. The amount is $142, that’s usually for the first person and each additional person is givenless. So. It will be $142 for one and $250 for 2 people, not $284. This is a great challenge & even though I’m late, I look forward to catching up to see how it’s progressing.

Michael Nolan October 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

John & I are not a married couple in the eyes of the law, and therefore would receive food stamps as individuals and not as a family or spouses.

Sara April 28, 2014 at 6:43 am

I love this idea and hope to recreate it in my area! This is my first visit to your blog, looking forward to reading more :)

Michael Nolan April 28, 2014 at 7:19 am

Thanks, Sara. Great name for your blog. Look forward to seeing how your homestead progresses, so stay in touch!


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