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Feb 9, 2009 10:56 AM

CNN Blog "Living on Food Stamps"


This CNN guy has decide to live on $176 for the month of February. He's acquired a debit card and loaded with $176 and will use it exclusively for his food purchases throughout the month. He's posting about it every couple of days. I think the feedback he's getting from people who email with their advice and experiences is pretty interesting.


  1. Michigan's governor tried this a few months ago--said she ended up eating a lot of macaroni and cheese.

    11 Replies
    1. re: coney with everything

      Yup - I could see packing on the pounds with that kind of budget...Lots of mac & Cheese and spam!

      1. re: coney with everything

        Interesting, since packaged/brand name products tend to be more expensive, unless you can get them on sale.


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          I totally agree. For the price of a can of Spam you out probably get 1.5x the quantity of fresh protein.

          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            What - I find eating healthy to be incredibly expensive!
            Fresh Fruit, veg, tofu, fresh fish and meat...

            I could save half my grocery bill is I didnt care what went into my body!

            (Although I have no idea how much Spam cost - I have never bought it!!)

            1. re: NellyNel

              By my comment above that "packaged/brand name products tend to be more expensive" I meant that I would have thought it would have been cheaper to buy an offbrand of dried pasta and make a meal of that somehow (maybe making a sauce from a couple of cans of tomatoes) than cook up a box of Kraft Mac and Cheese.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Oh - I see what you mean.

                Well it is a fantasy of mine to eat Kraft mac & cheese everyday!!
                Actually, Shoprite brand is even better!!!

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  considering I bought target brand mac and cheese for .68/box the other day, I doubt very much I could make a homemade equivalent for the same price, even with the small additional cost of milk and butter. So that i don't feel like a totally neglectful mother, I throw frozen peas and carrots into the boiling pasta water :)

                  A box of kraft mac n cheese was 1.09.

                  1. re: puddin head

                    It's hard to argue with 68 cents! Personally, I still think you could do better nutritionally and budgetarily by choosing plain pasta, plus the frozen peas and carrots. And/or a can of tuna.


                2. re: NellyNel

                  check out ethnic grocery stores in your area -- fresh produce will usually be far less expensive (perhaps not as pretty -- but it won't affect flavor -- as we say down here in Florida -- it's the ugly oranges that taste the sweetest). I went to one of my local latino groceries yesterday and for $5 I purchased: 15 oranges (very juicy and sweet), 2 lemons, a large tomato, a large green bell pepper, 4 bananas, a bunch of scallions, a large bunch of fresh cilantro and 2 large bottles of italian sparkling water ( Pangea). I know I couldn't duplicate it at that price at Publix.

                  1. re: karmalaw

                    Where are you shopping? 5 dollars is incredible.

                    1. re: TampaAurora

                      El Presidente -- while I won't buy the meat there, many of the staples are significantly cheaper than the major chains and the produce is always a bargain.

                      I often use other smaller independent markets in the area for meat, including El Nuevo Siglo (which also has great deals on wine and many Argentine foods that I like to purchase).

                      I shop winn-dixie and publix mostly for their specials (or to use my coupons)-- not routinely AND I get great bargains at (i.e. a case -- 12 cans - of baby artichoke hearts arrived today that cost me $11 and change -- shipped).

            2. Last year a number of Members of Congress did this. They called it the Food Stamp Challenge. I know a number of food and nutrition organizations encouraged members to do this. They have a website and everything:

              From what I understand, it was a pretty powerful teaching tool

              1. $176 is for a whole family or 1 guy?

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ericandblueboy

                  $176 for one person. He's gone into a little discussion about that.


                2. Good timing. Our own rworange has taken on a similar challenge:


                  But Krys is limiting herself to $3 a day, which is less than half of what Sean Callebs is spending. And she's consuming fewer peanut butter sandwiches, too.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    rwo did something similar about a year ago, too. She's a trailblazer in this arena (as well as in other chow arenas, of course). :) Did she say how she calc'd the $3 a day? It seems unnecessarily restrictive, if the CNN guy says you can get about $6/day for one person.

                    Of course, the amount you can get in food stamps depends on your circumstances and on where you live. According to this blogger (and I haven't indepently verfied his facts, but he does work for CNN. it would seem he would have adequate researching capabilities to figure something like this out), he would be entitled to about $176 per month for himself if he were on food stamps, which calcs out to just under $6 a day. If you were a person on food stamps, I don't see the point in spending less than you're alloted in food stamps, unless, of course, $3 a day is really all you want/need to spend on food.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      I wonder if he is starting from scratch, or if he has a "panrty" he started with.

                      1. re: PattiCakes

                        He says he isn't cooking out of his pantry.


                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                        I wonder how he came up with the $176/month/$6 per day? Even the "Food Stamp Challenge" Elyssa linked above used the $3/day.

                        EDIT: Ah, I see, by reading more into the link Elyssa provided,--the "average" that people get on food stamps works out to about $3 per person per day. But, that's not the MOST you can receive from food stamps. The MOST works out to about $6 per person per day, but, you'd pretty much have to be in a situation where you had almost no other resources to get "the most" from food stamps.


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen


                          My sister is unemployed and she is a single adult recieving the full $ might seem a little excessive, but with NO other income, she is in pretty dire straits. They (the govt) says food stamps are only meant to supplement, but when you dont make any thing else, the $176 becomes your sole budget for food and then it doesnt look quite so cushy.

                          1. re: asiansensation007

                            Oh, I'm not at all saying $176 a month for one person is excessive ...I'm just wondering why some people who are trying to do a "food stamp challenge" (like rworange and the folks in the link Elyssa provided) are limiting themselves to $3 a day when it seems you could get about $6 a day... It seemed arbitrary to me [it turns out, as I mentioned in my "edit" above that the equivalent of $3 is what the average recipient of food stamps gets,whereas the equivalent of $6 per day is the maximum a recipient can get.] . And, you're right, those people who are getting the "average" equivalent of $3 are assumed to have other sources of income and, therefore, the $3 or so that they're getting in food stamps is just to "supplement" their food budget. If you're receiving the full $176 per month or $6 per day it's because the government assumes you have no other sources of income and you are relying on the food stamps pretty much exclusively.

                            I definitely wouldn't call $6 a day cushy. The real question is is it enough? That's why the CNN guy is doing the challenge, because there's been some discussion in Congress about increasing the allotment. And, in order to really put yourself in the shoes of someone receiving food stamps, you have to factor in other things, too. For instance, if you're a person receiving the full allotment of food stamps of $176 a month (or whatever it is for your region), then you're possibly also without transportation, which makes it difficult to shop, etc. You're possibly without a newspaper subscription to clip coupons and shop for sales/price compare. You're possibly without an internet connection or computer to do research. Yes, you could go to the library, but there's that issue of transportation again. It's a complex problem.

                            I'm sorry to learn your sister is in such a tight bind right now. Sadly, she is not alone. Times are tough for many people and many families. I hope things turn for the better soon, for your sister, and others.


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              I don't think the $3/day people are really supplementing anything else. At least from what I've seen, if people are on disability or receiving other types of payments, those payments usually go to utilities and covering any medical bills/medicine that medicaid won't cover. In my area, people tend to have their own transport because taking a bus just isn't feasible. There's too much snow and the sidewalks are never cleared, so they end up buying older cars and keep them going for years and years. I think you have to take into account the specific area and what expenses are normal. For instance, where I am, utilities are outrageously expensive, even if you are on a levelized plan. Since this has been an exceptionally cold winter, those who pay month to month are really struggling. I normally pay $70 in the winter for gas and last month it was $250.

                              1. re: queencru

                                I'm afraid you are right, but to be honest, I don't really have enough facts or background to know one way or the other. According to the CNN guy, "the head of family support for the state [I don't know which state that is, but it can vary by state], told [him] the most a single person can qualify for each month, is $176."

                                If you read some of the information in the link Elyssa provided the national "average" per person one gets in food stamps works out to about $3 per day, and there are all kinds of factors that go into calculating that, including the person's assets and income and so on. I'm not saying it works or that I agree with it or that I like it, just that those are the facts as I understand them. Clearly, many people believe the system is broken, which is why there continues to be this ongoing debate about the program. Currently, there is a discussion to raise the food stamp benefits by about 13%. I don't know if that's across the board or on average or what.


                    2. My niece and her boyfriend live in San Fran and the food budget for the two of them per month is around $90. Needless to say, the boyfriend is very excited when they come out for the holidays to visit.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: roro1831

                        Four boxes of angel food is 120 ---30 each and according to their site
                        "Generally, one box of Angel Food assists in feeding a family of four for about one week or a single senior citizen for almost a month"