Guest Post: How to stretch your Food Stamp dollars further.

This is a guest post from Carol who is a blogger at Coupon Crazy Carol. I originally saw it on Couponing to Disney the other day. I was intrigued and thought it took tremendous courage for Carol to write this post, I wanted to post it as a guest post here so that it may help anyone else in the same situation. 
It is said “Into every life some rain must fall.” but I would like to know exactly who’s definition of “some” we are working under and exactly where is this rain gauge we are using because heavens to Betsy there seems to be a ton of rain on my porch!
Without creating a snooze fest of a post, 2009 brought lots of changes to my family and financial situation.  My children’s father, my husband, chose to “opt out” of fatherhood and our marriage because we were cramping his style.  I took my children and we moved in with my father, 200 miles from my husband. I have two very small, very wonderful children.  As I type this, my beautiful 2-year-old daughter and my amazing 11-month-old son are asleep on the bed beside me. .
Being a single mother is an extremely hard job.  Especially when you go 8 months with no child support.  As a result, I have had to educate myself extensively on social services and low income programs available to me and my children to survive and provide them with a quality of life that they deserve.
When you end up on your face outside of the DHS office there isn’t a whole lot of help or guidance offered here in TN.  I am lucky enough to have friends “in the system” both as recipients and as “The Man” (HAH!)  So I have more knowledge about resources than most.
I know that I am NOT the only person out there who receives benefits for food and wants to stretch them as far as possible! So here is a guide to help you stretch your benefits!!
Budget your FS each month as other folks budget their cash.**Very few people receive their benefits on the first of the month.  Know yourstate’s rules for benefits distribution.  Your benefits could be on your card any time between the 1st and the 10th of the month.  I receive my benefits on the 9th day of the month. so my monthly budget goes from the 9th to the 9th
**Example of budgeting: Peggy Sue receives $400.00 a month for her family of 4. (herself, her husband and her two children) This means she has roughly $92.31 a week to spend on groceries for them. ($400 * 12 months) / 52 weeks = $92.31 weekly
**Plan your meals.  I will admit that I struggle with this but it is kind of necessity! Be sure to plan your meals around the sales.  Find some local blogs that match coupons or use Kristin’s amazing low cost lists to help you plan meals!!! Here are some recipe resources for you:
Menu Plan Monday
A Few Shortcuts
Be sure to use coupons to buy your items each week to drive your cost as low as possible.
If it is convenient for you (or only slightly inconvenient) I recommend that you shop many different stores to get the very lowest prices! If you normally shop Publix but Chicken is on sale for $1.99 / lb at Kroger then WHY would you pay $3.99 / lb at Publix?!
Remember that if you live in a state that has a food sales tax (Tennessee does) that you will have to pay a slight amount for the tax on the coupons so bring some cash to the store with you.
Planning, Planning, Planning!
**One of my biggest pitfalls is not sticking to my list!! Make a list and stick to it!! If your list says 4 of the BOGO fruit cups because that is all you have coupons for then stick to 4!
**Try to grab ALL of the free items available each week.  As many as you have coupons for.  If you have a publix near you i recommend you print, beg, borrow, clip ANY Muir Glen Product coupon you can find and use it to buy the 8oz size of tomato sauce.  You should get around 11¢ of overage for each can but there are so many recipes you can use that stuff in and it’s handy to always have it on your shelf!! (Remember – YMMV when it comes to overage at Publix. Some WILL allow you to get Overage and some won’t. Mine will.)
**I plan my meals around my grocery list.  If chicken is on sale then we have chicken this week, not steak or roast unless I have it in my freezer!
**If you have planned your list out for the week and have money left over it’s okay to save that as a surplus for the following week or month. Your EBT/Food Stamp Benefits ROLL from month to month!!!
**Be sure you are stockpiling at the rock bottom prices so that you don’t have to buy items at full price!!
Know the store’s policy on EBT cards/Food Stamps!!
Walmart handles food vs. non-food with coupons fine.
Kroger handles the food vs. non-food fine.
Harris Teeter also handles it fine BUT their system has definite weirdness going on.  A few times my total should have been like $2-3.00 in cash after I paid with my EBT card and instead it came out to them owing me $5.00….It was very, very weird and I made them keep the money and I have run some numbers but have yet to come out with an explanation for the balance due to me…
Publix is a different animal.
I found out the hard way that Publix coupons all come off of the food stampable total…Even non-food coupons.  I bought a whole bunch of clearance stuff (Shampoo and razors and such) that should be free and I should only pay $3.00 in cash for.  My foodstamp total should have been around $9.00 . My total in cash came to $14.00
I was very confused.  i went to the customer service desk and the manager explained it to me.  He fixed everything for me which was terrific.  Apparently my cashier was new and didn’t know to just automatically have me separate nonfood & food items when using EBT cards.  Now I know and I automatically right away separate my order out.  I’ve been known to go through Publix with 6 orders.  That is the major reason why I try to stick to one or two cashiers who know me well and who don’t mind me or my coupons.
You don’t have to sacrifice your cost of living just because you are having a hard time right now!!
Here is the reality of my situation: I am a single mother. It is not fiscally possible for me to go to work in this economy.  If I were to get just any-old job I would end up further in the hole than I am….day-care, gasoline, wear-&-tear on my car, new clothes, new shoes, and that doesn’t count health insurance premiums and co-pays and the diapers and OTC medication etc for my children. (We are a sickly people.  I single-handedly keep the makers of Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl in business with my kids home with me – when my daughter went to daycare she was sick 3 times the amount she is now – and she is sick at least twice a month as it is!!!)
There are a LOT of people angry at me because they look at me as a lazy leach on society.  They seem to forget that I worked for 18 years before I EVER drew $1.00 out of “the system.” When I was working for those 18 years I paid into the social services programs like everyone else and LIKE everyone else I have just as much of a right to use these services when I need to as anyone else!!! I refuse to make excuses or apologies or anything to anyone.
Some other tips to help out if you are in the boat with me:
Look for other low-income programs:
The YMCA offers low-income programs that are income-based and I believe they offer scholarships or grants so that you can attend without having to pay anything if you qualify.
Your local museum may offer a low-income program.  In Tennessee the Science Center (formerly the Cumberland Science Museum) offers a yearly membership for $20.00 with an EBT card.
You can get a free cell phone to keep you safe if you have an EBT card. Check outSafelink Wireless if you need a cell phone.  They are pre-paid track phones and someone (I don’t know who but I think it’s a tremendous idea!) pays for a certain number of minutes per phone a month.  It is only offered in certain states and that part of their website is down right now so I can’t tell you which ones :( To see if your state participates go to the link and put your zip code in and see if you could qualify if you are in need of a phone!! (And yes, it really is free!)
Check into state supported/paid for insurance programs for your children if you are unable to provide them with insurance.  Your state may have a reduced cost (or free) health insurance option.
If you have small children (5 and under) or are pregnant or nursing PLEASE check into your state’s WIC program (Women, infants and children.) They provide you with food vouchers for your children that can help out tremendously.  If you are unable to nurse and your baby has to use formula they help you out with formula for the first 12 months of a childs life and provide essential foods for your child such as whole grains, eggs, juice, milk and fresh fruits and vegetables each month!! (This program is very easy to qualify for..a LOT of the enlisted folks in the military qualify for WIC….)
If you have small children, and a washer at home, swallow your “ick” factor and check into cloth diapering.  Each disposable diaper costs 41¢ that you are throwing into the landfill. (This is an average number averaging the cost of a newborn diaper and the cost of a stage 5 diaper).  The average child will wear 7000 diapers until they are potty trained (Assuming complete potty training by age 3)  I cloth diaper my youngest.  That reminds me – I need to write a post about that :) So many posts, so little time.  So many whiney children in this house! ;)
Huge very special thanks to Kristin who asked me to write this post three months ago and has patiently waited for me to write it!!! Things are SO CRAZY at my house with two so small as a single parent!!
Please feel free to visit me over at Crazy Coupon Carol or email me at nosunshyne (at) gmail (dot) com if you have questions or need some additional help :)



JHM said...

This is a great article! I hope that others find it helpful. I learned a lot about the foodstamp system and other programs to look into. If I didn't have my parents to help out during my hard times I don't know what I would have done. I recently quit my job which was very scary but it was costing me so much to be there. Now that my daughter is in school I have gone back to school full time. I qualified for pell grants so my education this semester and last semester was covered. I am looking for part time work but it has been a struggle finding someone willing to work around my schedule (I believe there is someone out there). Using coupons has been a blessing. I am able to stock up on things that my daughter would enjoy to eat as snacks after school and keep healthy foods on the table or in the fridge...

andrea said...

If people are angry at you because of this they need to remember the old saying: "There but for the grace of God go I." I think that's how it goes. Anyway, in this economy any one of us could end up in such a situation.

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~Mo~ said...

Thanks for posting this, I was thinking the other day, if people using food stamps are aloud to coupons too. It took a lot of courage for her write that, especially knowing that she might get negative mail. Great Post Tiffany!

MyLitter said...

Mo- Thats what I was thinking. She really opened herself up to ugly emails, but I know that writing it will help someone else out there so I really respect her for that.

I wish that along with recieveing food stamps they offered a class on couponing, it would really help so many people i think!

Shawntell said...

Don't give the money back when you get change back for using coupons with your EBT. That money is deducted from your EBT card. Check your receipt next time and you will see that a higher amount than what the total is was deducted from your account. It has something to do with using coupons. My Albertson's often does that here in UT. I keep that change and use it at the other stores that you have to pay the tax on coupons with.
I have often used my EBT card to buy things that print out Catalina's and then use the catalinas to pay for non-food items such as TP, laundry soap, etc.
There are alot of stores that accept EBT that you might not think of. In UT Walgreen's, Target (not a Super Target), The Dollar Store, Convience Stores (gas stations), day old bread stores (such as Hostess). Check the front doors near where they post the MC/Visa stickers for a food stamp, EBT, Snap sticker.
From someone who can greatly sympathize with you.

MyLitter said...

Shawntell, That is great information, I will forward it to Cathy, who wrote the post, I am sure she can use the inforamtion in follow-up articles that she was asked to write for other blogs!

Mountain Birdie said...

This is a good artical thanks for posting.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the info! 2009 was a rough year for us as well. Unfortunately we couldn't qualify for EBT's so I started to search out how to save money on groceries and found several blogs to help on my mission. I love it! I've been able to feed a family of 5 for around $150 a month or less. And good food too......meats, veggies, fruits, milk, etc.! I have been able to gather a nice stockpile as well. I've donated several bags every other month to the homeless shelter and to various charities. I may not be able to donate money but I can do this and show my kids that you do what you can to help! :)

BTW, people shouldn't be negative or angry about this. I feel like you do in that I worked for over 18 years putting money into programs. If someone needs a helping hand, then that's ok. That's what the programs are really for..........right?

MyLitter said...

Jennifer- $150 a month is awesome! I thought I was doing good at $400 a month for only a couple more people!

Tracy said...

I appreciate such an honest and vulnerable post. Thank you and I hope that God blesses you beyond your imaginations.

Electra said...

That was a great post. We had food stamp benefits for a couple of months, right after I got pregnant. It was 150 a month for the two of us, and we could buy groceries on that, even healthy ones that I especially needed. Unfortunately we were right on the line, and when my husband took a second job that paid eighty dollars a week, we lost those benefits. By using coupons as hard as I could, stockpiling, and being careful, I made that last month worth of benefits last two and a half months, while we tried to make our finances work. Coupons can really make food stamps go so much further, and they are absolutely vital if you aren't getting food stamps. Thanks for all the good advice.