Help me stock the pantry via food stamps
January 5, 2017 12:59 PM   Subscribe

There is a possibility that my food stamps will be reduced or eliminated in the near future. My card will be refilled before that, however. (If there is a change I'm not sure when that would take effect. Probably the following month, but who knows.) I'd like to pretty much use the entire monthly allotment up, just in case. How do I use my allotment to get the most value out of it?

Should I load up on non-perishables, which are relatively inexpensive? Should I get as much meat as I have room to freeze? A mix?

I use meat mostly as an ingredient (though sometimes I just have to have a burger) in stir fries, chili, stew, and so forth. I'm a good cook; I make almost everything from scratch.

I don't have a great deal of dtorage space. I can store some things in my brother's chest freezer.
posted by Archipelago to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do a little prepping. Try to find a combo of coupons and sales to maximize your savings. Get stuff you will actually eat, that will keep, at the lowest price you can find.
posted by Michele in California at 1:04 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Buy some rice and beans.
posted by fixedgear at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

It somewhat depends on how much you have in benefits. I had about a $600 balance when I lost my qualification for food stamps about 15 years ago and had a month to spend it after I was cut off. I laid in mostly canned goods, which was a very useful supplement over the next year when my income was just barely above poverty level. However, I've got no compunction about eating canned vegetables or even spam, for example, so your feelings about that sort of thing are also a consideration. My suggestion would be to lay as much meat as your freezer will hold while still leaving room for your usual non-meatstuffs, then focus on pantry goods, especially things like diced tomatoes, pasta, dried beans, rice, and things like ketchup, mayo, mustard, and salad dressing.

Remember that money is fungible: there is no particular advantage either way to buying $10 worth of meat or $10 worth of rice now, because either choice will save you having to spend $10 of non-benefit money on food in the future.

The only caution is don't buy stuff you don't normally buy/use just to use up your benefits, and don't buy more perishables than you can consume before they perish. I personally would not want to buy something like meat for freezing that had to be stored off-site and eventually retrieved; instead I'd buy more pantry staples and find creative ways of storing it in the available space (e.g., back of a coat closet, under bed, etc.)
posted by drlith at 1:45 PM on January 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

Decide whether you want food to last you the maximum amount of time or food that you like to eat but is more expensive to buy. If you want the most bang for your buck, dried beans, rice, canned tomatoes, oil, and spices can keep you going for a long time. If you want to take advantage of your ability to buy somewhat more expensive things, freezable dairy, meat, frozen fruits and veggies, your preferred olive oils/ jellies/ nuts, etc.
posted by metasarah at 1:45 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you're pretty sure your food stamps will be eliminated, but you would have access (incluing time necessary) to food pantries, I'd spend the food stamps on the things the food pantries aren't likely to have, but that will go a long way--meat, spices, staples like onions and potatoes if you can store those.
posted by epj at 1:47 PM on January 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'd buy coffee and cheese.
posted by cabingirl at 2:11 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

In addition to what's also been suggested: soup base, butter if you use a lot of it (freezes well), sundried tomatoes, olives, dried fruits, nuts.
posted by lakeroon at 3:15 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dried beans, lentils, rice, pasta and canned goods like tomatoes, tuna, salmon, plus flour, sugar, corn meal, grits, cereal. For the freezer, ground beef, bulk sausage (Italian and breakfast), ham hocks, smoked turkey necks, bacon, whole chickens. Stock up on spices plus baking soda, baking powder, vanilla, vinegar, olive/cooking oil. Coffee and tea. And bouillon cubes.
posted by shoesietart at 3:20 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think it depends on what your situation is likely to be in the coming months. Do you think it's going to be a struggle to afford the basics? Then yeah, load up on rice and beans, and the other cheapest non-perishables you can find.

If you are pretty confident you will be able to afford those types of things no matter what, then yeah, go for the "luxury" stuff you might not be able to afford. Stock up on meat and other fancy ingredients you like but don't really need. I'd maybe stock up on some spices and condiments that will last and improve basic ingredients.

If you do/might consider making use of a local food pantry, buy the items they typically don't have available. Maybe veggies and other fresh foods that are freezable?
posted by catatethebird at 5:08 PM on January 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, to really maximize value, maybe a crash course in extreme couponing? Or at least like Michelle says, preparation: look for coupons and sales, and shop at the right stores. Go somewhere like Aldi for the basics, then fill in any gaps at other places, and research their usual sale dates. (Also, If you've never shopped at Aldi, start! They have gotten so much better over the years, nowadays I prefer most of their products to other stores. Even their meat is quite good. Only their produce is still hit or miss, though sometimes it's not the quality, they just have the "uglier" produce.)
posted by catatethebird at 5:14 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

From what I've heard from the folks who run food banks (that I see at conferences and such), the thing they have the hardest time providing is protein. Hence a lot of tuna and peanut butter. Assuming you have access to a food bank, I'd go long on protein since that is the hardest thing to get.
posted by stet at 5:19 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sardines are a dollar a can at the dollar store, and they keep forever.
posted by Puddle Jumper at 6:23 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Actually, the dollar store is an awesome resource for a LOT of things. Price compare. Getting the version there instead of the grocery store is probably lots less.
posted by Michele in California at 6:26 PM on January 5, 2017

I'd be a little nervous about investing in perishables that need to be frozen, because I am still traumatized from when my fridge died and GE wouldn't send someone out for a week and I remember what it was like to have to deal with all that food thawing. If you don't have that problem, though, then I'd buy meat in economy packs where you can find it on sale. Is there a Smart & Final near you? They always seem to have some decent beef on sale... get something you can either stir-fry or stew. Safeway has great prices on economy packages of chicken thighs & legs. I'd get some cheese, too, shred it and freeze it. And some frozen spinach and peas. Freeze some butter too.

A chunk of parmesan for the fridge. Lasts a long long time and adds so much to modest meals.

In terms of pantry stuff, I'd do a mix of dried and canned beans including garbanzos; canned corn; canned tomato products; canned fish (I prefer salmon to tuna, personally); both long and short grain rice (so you can make stir-fries and risotto); olives and other veg that works canned -- mushrooms maybe?; any baking ingredients you like to have around and can find on sale; a big jar of Better than Bouillon; plenty of peanut butter; condiments like balsamic vinegar and oil; and pasta.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:10 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Does an ethnic store close to you accept food stamps? They have huge bags of bulk rice, lentils, beans and spices. You will get much more bang for your buck on these items this way.
posted by cacao at 9:49 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

One of the bits of advice my mom gave to each of her kids when we set out on our own was "Food goes on shelves, luxuries go in the fridge".
posted by Homer42 at 11:01 PM on January 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am not a good cook, so YM(will probably)V, but I would get:

-olive oil & cooking oil, probably 2 or 3 of each
-honey, 2x
-spices or seasonings
-flour & sugar
-my preferred soft drink
-canned or dried beans, whichever you find easier to use
-canned tomatoes, chickpeas, etc
-canned or packaged fruit (like canned pineapple, but also those six-packs of pears or mandarin oranges)
-jam or jelly, 2x
-hot or cold cereal depending on your preference
-peppers & onions to dice and freeze
-a little or medium supply of any/a treat food- like parmesan cheese as someone said above, good baking chocolate, a cookie or candy

My goal would be to have enough staples (rice, oil, flour), variety (seasonings, canned or frozen veggies), nutrition (fruit, protein) and treats that I could skip shopping some weeks and buy only perishables others without going hungry or crazy. I assume the exact foods that meet these requirements are different for everyone, but you can probably extrapolate.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:17 PM on January 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice here, but I think a lot of it misses the mark. You need to use opportunity cost thinking, which I will explain.

Think ahead to March or April. If you are making a dish that uses a can of beans, it doesn't any financial difference to you if it cost 89 cents in January or 89 cents in March. It would be better if it cost 69 cents in January but would have cost 89 cents in March. So you want to stock up on things that are cheaper now than they will be later. I can think of two ways.

One is obvious. Look for what is on sale now and will keep.

A less obvious strategy has to do with package size. (I was originally thinking of cooking oil as an example here, but maybe it's not a good example.) If the unit price is much lower for a big package, it may be beneficial to buy now because your food budget may be tighter in the future and the total cost of the big package may seem prohibitive and lead you to buy the smaller package with the higher unit price.

So the economic argument is: Buy what is cheaper now than it will be a couple months from now.

I will also say, if there is a particular meal that you really like, and will not be able to afford post-stamps, go for it. Ya gotta feed the soul as well as the body and the extra cost for one meal should not be prohibitive.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:53 AM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

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