SNAP Challenge Day 0: Shopping

2013-10-21 13.04.59 (1)

I decided that there’s no time like the present, so I decided to start my shopping today, do some cooking tonight, and start the 7-day SNAP challenge tomorrow.  I do have two events this weekend where food will be provided, so I guess I’ll need to forego that food and bring my own.

I drove to the store, so I guess I can be accused of cheating from the very start.  I could have walked to both stores, but I didn’t.  I did get quite a bit today, and it would have required two trips (one for each store).  But all of the items I purchased at either store would have fit easily into a backpack.

My first stop was the supermarket, Rainbow Foods.  I decided that would be the best starting point, since I have a good idea of what’s available at the Dollar Store.  Therefore, for those items, I know not to pay more than a dollar.  Here’s what I bought at Rainbow, and the actual prices.  (Minnesota doesn’t charge sales tax on most food items, and all of the basic foods I bought are not taxable):

  1. 16 ounces pasta  $0.79
  2. 4 pounds white sugar  $1.77
  3. Mixed vegetables, 16 ounce can  $0.65
  4. One loaf bread  $0.89
  5. Tomato sauce, 8 ounce can  $0.29
  6. Ramen noodles, one package  $0.22
  7. Two packages of Kool-Aid   $0.40
  8. 5 pounds Self-rising flour   $2.99
  9. 1 pound ground beef  $2.29
  10. 1 pound margarine  $0.77

Total:  $11.04

I did have a few decisions to make, since I need to watch every penny.  The store brand flour was on sale for $1.77.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have self-rising store brand flour.  But baking powder (enough to last for months) was on sale for $1.29.  I toyed with the idea of buying both, since the extra 7 cents would give me more versatility in the long run.  But since I’m on such a tight budget this week, I decided to go with the original plan, which saved me 7 cents, and kept me one cent under budget on the flour.  I was quite lucky to find both the sugar and flour on sale, however,  It turns out that I could have done better, though.  At the dollar store, I found two pounds of sugar for one dollar.  Since that will probably be enough for the week, I could have saved 77 of my precious cents.

The original plan was to buy ketchup for use in things such as pasta.  But the cheapest bottle was over a dollar.  So instead, I bought a small can of tomato sauce, although I’ll probably need more later in the week.

When I saw the sign that ground beef was on sale for just over $2 per pound, I was initially quite excited, until I saw the fine print that this applied to packages of 3 pounds or more.  But then I noticed that some of the smaller packages were also marked with the lower price.  Tonight, I’ll divide the ground beef up into 3 or 4 packages and freeze some of them.

On the way to the supermarket, I did check the sign at Walgreens to see if they were advertising milk or eggs on sale.  Sadly, they were not.  Milk at Rainbow was $2.99 per gallon, which exceeded my budget.  Eggs, even though on sale ($1.99 for 18) were out of my budget.

I also priced some items for possible purchase later in the week:

  • Macaroni & cheese:  47 cents
  • Cans of fruit, $1
  • Canned chili $1.15
  • Refried beans, 79 cents
  • Tuna, 99 cents
  • Vegetable oil, 1 pint, $1.89

As I was getting ready to check out, I had a flash of genius.  As I mentioned in another post, I don’t want to purchase things like salt and pepper.  Even though they are inexpensive, they are sold in quantities much larger than would be used in a week.  As I looked at the tomato sauce in my cart, I realized that some sort of spice would be good to have.  So I went over to the salad bar, and sure enough, there were little packages of salt and pepper just lying there.  I tossed three of each into my cart, wondering whether there would be any charge.  It turns out there wasn’t.

I then went to Dollar Tree to continue my shopping.  There, I purchased:

  1. One quart, Parmalat whole milk
  2. 4.5 ounces of Jif peanut butter
  3. Breakfast sausage
  4. 7 ounces coffee
  5. 8 ounces shredded cheese
  6. 9.6 ounces cheese slices
  7. Flour tortillas (I think about 8)
  8. Medium Eggs, package of 8
  9. Progresso cooking sauce

The total bill at Dollar Tree was $8.50.  The last item on the list was an impulse item, and was only 50 cents.  I was considering buying some sort of gravy, and was lucky enough to find these cans on sale.  I was also lucky to find the Parmalat milk in the store today, which means I was able to get a full quart for a dollar, rather than one of the 20 ounce cartons in the refrigerated section.

I couldn’t find the popsicles, but both root beer and Honeycomb cereal were available.  Neither one seemed like a good use of my limited resources, although if I have money left over at the end of the week, I might treat myself to a bottle of root beer.  The Honeycomb cereal came in small boxes containing only “3.5” servings, for a total of 455 calories per box.  It didn’t seem like a wise use of resources, since I got thousands of calories for the same money by purchasing the sugar.

I did note that Dollar Tree had both rice and oatmeal.  At Rainbow, the least expensive package of either one was more than a dollar, so if I decide to buy these items, it will be at Dollar Tree.

The peanut butter was a bit of a disappointment.  I expected to find a jar of 8 ounces or so.  But all I could find was a 4.5 ounce package.  I decided to buy it, even though I could have bought 18 ounces at Rainbow for only $1.99.  In other words, I would get four times as much for only twice the price.  But I had budgeted only $1 for peanut butter.  Three peanut butter sandwiches might be appealing in a few days, so I decided to buy the small package, even though I was getting less than I expected.

My total expenditures today were $19.54.  I still have $11.96 to work with and still stay under my budget of $31.50.  There are still things that I need to buy, and I’ll probably be close to the limit before my week is over.

Tonight, I’ll start turning some of those ingredients into actual food, in a process known as cooking.  To get by on this budget, it is necessary to actually cook the food oneself.  Some convenience items are available at a low price, but there’s no way that I can match the value of a bag of flour or a bag of sugar.  And that means that I need to turn them into food myself.

I should point out that I’m not a chef.  I’m a lawyer, and I graduated from high school at a time when boys did not take home ec.  For a brief golden age thereafter, both boys and girls were required to take it.  Then, at some point, it was decided in most school districts that nobody should have to take it.  In other words, there was a time when girls learned how to cook and boys didn’t.  Someone noted the inequality and decided that boys ought to know how to cook.  But then, someone else decided that equality was best maintained by making sure that nobody knew how to cook.

Fortunately, cooking isn’t rocket science, and it is possible to learn the skill.  And fortunately, I got a few rudimentary skills along the way, from Scouting and elsewhere.  But even those with no skills can read about how its done with a cookbook.  There are probably other good cookbooks available, but the one I’m familiar with is the Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. It contains thousands of recipes, but more importantly, it explains the basics. If you don’t know how to boil water, there’s a section covering it. A book like this one is indispensable if you need to prepare food on a budget. The copy I have is the 1985 edition.  There are more recent editions, but this older one is more than adequate. The book has been in print since the 1930’s, and I’m sure that even older editions are quite useful. Used copies are available on Amazon for around five dollars, including shipping. Copies are probably available at thrift stores for even less.

3 thoughts on “SNAP Challenge Day 0: Shopping

  1. Post author

    After posting this, I checked the Walgreens ad for the week. The only items possibly worth noting are:

    -Chicken broth $0.50
    -Vienna sausage $0.50
    -Sour cream, 8 oz., $0.99

    I also did my first batch of cooking, mostly so that I’ll have breakfast ready in the morning. I should have enough for breakfast for 2 or 3 days. I made the sausages, biscuits, pancakes, and syrup, and put them all in the freezer or refrigerator for warming up later. The recipes are from Joy of Cooking, with some modifications to account for what I have on hand.


    Preheat oven to 475F. Mix grease left over from sausages (about 1/3 cup) with 2/3 cup milk. Pour directly over 2 cups self-rising flour in large mixing bowl. Stir with fork, spoon onto ungreased sheet, bake 10-12 minutes.

    I wound up multi-tasking, and trying to make both the pancakes and biscuits at the same time. As a result, I managed to leave both on too long and slightly burned them. I caught both in time, so they are both very well done, but not really burnt. Makes 14 biscuits (after eating #15, which wasn’t half bad).


    In same mixing bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour with 2 TBSP sugar. Add 3 TBSP melted margarine (about 15 seconds in microwave), 1 cup milk (actually, about 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup water–I only have a quart of the stuff), and 2 medium eggs. Spoon onto hot griddle (greased from sausages) and cook each side until slightly burnt–er, I mean “golden brown”. Made about 12 pancakes of various shapes and sizes.


    I’ll want some syrup on those pancakes, but an extra dollar for a bottle was out of my price range. The recipe I know is equal parts of water, white sugar, and brown sugar. Since I don’t have brown sugar, I brought 1/2 cup water to a boil and stirred in 1 cup sugar. Reduce heat and allow to simmer, stirring occasionally. I’m guessing that if I knew what I was doing in the kitchen, I could carmelize the sugar and get the correct brown color. With my skills, I wound up with a thick clear liquid, which I’m guessing will serve the purpose. I toyed with the idea of adding some artificial coloring (a little bit of my precious coffee), but decided I could live with the syrup being the wrong color.

    This morning, I realized that I’m coming down with a cold, and I suspect that my new diet won’t help matters. Ironically, I had a glass of root beer tonight that tasted good, so maybe that Texas Congressman was onto something after all. Nah, he was probably just being obnoxious.

    And you’re not exempted from the limits of the SNAP program just because you have a cold, so this should add a little reality to my experience.

  2. Pingback: SNAP Challenge 2015: Testing Storage Food |

  3. Pingback: SNAP Challenge 2015 Day 0: Cooking |

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