I read recently where Greg Station, the mayor of Phoenix (Arizona), tried to live on $29 during a weeklong SNAP Experience program hosted by the Arizona Community Action Association. The amount of money allotted Station for food is the average food budget for a SNAP recipient per week. That's roughly $4.14 a day.
Living on $4.14 a day is next to impossible in this economy. How could Station – or anyone for that matter – stretch such a sum to make it throughout the day without sacrificing his or her health? The mayor, incidentally, didn't succeed. He lost four pounds, though, due to a lack of healthy and nutritious food.
CNBC reported that 47.36 million Americans are living on food stamps. Learning to purchase the right food to eat is the key to budgeting, however. The challenge that Station faced during his eye-opening experience was trying to purchase food within the budget, which was nil at best.
High-cost meats, for example, can consume up to 40 percent of one's budget. A T-bone steak can cost anywhere from $4.50 a pound and up. For a SNAP recipient, that means he or she would have to purchase meat that is far less in order to survive. That's why Station was forced to purchase food with very little nutritional value. His menu consisted of "Ramen noodles, pasta, chicken and a few extra cups of coffee to fill his belly."
If I were in a similar predicament, I'm confident I'd know what to do. A nutritious meal of fruits and vegetables would go a long way. But when I think about those SNAP recipients, $29 a week for food is a pittance that some of them, more than likely, would spend at MacDonald's, if the $29 weren't in the form of food stamps.
Here's what I would do if I were forced to live on such a measly ration each week: I would go to the grocery store or market and purchase reasonably priced food based on a seven-day plan. Since I'm a vegan, I'd cook daily meals from fresh fruits and vegetables without sacrificing taste, nutrients and variety.
Just like Mayor Station, I decided to take the challenge myself. With $29 to spend, I went shopping at Aldi, Kroger and Wal-Mart. I purchased frozen green beans, broccoli florets, frozen corn, California medley, multi-color peppers, quick oats, iceburg lettuce, Almond Breeze, a box of instant brown rice, Fresh Classic garden salad, no salt canned diced tomatoes, two 15 oz. cans of organic black beans, a bag of Gala apples, two zucchinis squash and a box of corn flakes. I spent $27.91 with $1.09 left over.
Next, I put the meals to a test. I was able to eat three meals a day with breakfast being my main meal. I ate oatmeal one day and corn flakes the next day. I rotated the oatmeal and corn flakes and included an apple or half an apple on the side.
For lunch, I ate a 15-bean soup that I'd made for the week with a small salad on the side. On another day, I had black beans and brown rice, which took about 10 minutes to prepare with a small salad on the side. I also mixed some frozen veggies with it.
Dinner was simple to make. I made zucchini into a pasta and made sauces from the avocado and canned tomatoes. I also made a salad with a lot of the frozen veggies. With only $29 to spend, I ate healthy and lost 5 pounds during the challenge.
Now if you had to stretch $29, how would you do it? Remember now, you're on a strict budget. Would you go for the T-bone steak or purchase inexpensive Ramen noodles with very little nutritional value just as Mayor Station did? Shopping on essentially a non-existent budget is quite a challenge for some people, I'm sure. It can be very frustrating as well. You'd just have to shop wisely.
It's difficult when you have to count every penny. In this case, I don't think coupons would make that much of a difference if you only had $29 a week to spend. Buying healthy is the way I would advise you to go. But if you're not used to purchasing healthy foods with relatively little money, you just might find yourself at a disadvantage. The only option is purchasing inferior food.