SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 2: The Shelf | Sojourners

SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 2: The Shelf

I’m not making friends among my family members with this challenge.

Because it was my idea to do this for a week (living on the equivalent budget of food stamps for seven days), everyone ends up coming to me to “check on the rules.” Basically, this means they ask me about ways they might work around the limitations of the challenge, and then get mad at me when I don’t give them a way out.

Yesterday ended up being a mixed bag. My wife, Amy, and I had to go to the other side of town for some errands, and it didn’t occur to either of us that we’d be gone over lunch time. Fortunately, one of the errands was at an Ikea, a giant housewares store that’s known for it’s affordable cafeteria-style meals, so we made it work. But even with their reduced-rate prices, we spent more than $9 for both of us and little Zoe to eat.

“Man,” I said, looking at my empty bowl, previously filled with pasta and Swedish meatballs, “that was way less than we usually spend going out, but it was still almost double what we have in the budget for one meal.”

“Looks like it’s a mac and cheese night,” said Amy, eyeing the food Zoe left on her plate. We split up her remaining rations, knowing we had no cash for snacks between then and dinnertime.

Last night, I finally made it to the grocery store, which brought with it its own set of anxieties. I took my phone out and began adding up every purchase to ensure I didn’t go over on what was allowed. I realized I was a little self-conscious about it as people walked by, especially as my son, Mattias, asked the same question after every new item I picked up:

“Dad, can we really afford that?”

One of our favorite shopping spots is Trader Joe’s, which is relatively affordable, given the quality of their food. But there was no way I’d muster enough meals out of my hundred-dollar budget, so I hit up Grocery Warehouse instead.

No organics. No lentils. No vegetable broth. I started feeling frustrated by the number of things I wanted that weren’t there. I was going to have to make another trip if I was going to complete my list. Fortunately, I left the first store with three full grocery bags and about $50 left in my pocket.

We can do this.

Despite my worrying, I actually got home with just over $25 left over, which I am hoping is enough to cover all the things I’m sure I’ve forgotten, or that we’ll run out of before the end of the day on Sunday. Normally, Amy and I would spend that much on a dinner out without much thought, but given the circumstances, it seemed huge. I had completed my list — for now, at least — and still had about a fifth of my budgeted money remaining.

Of course, it’s only Tuesday. Plenty could happen to throw off my plans between now and the end of the week.

“This,” I said, pointing to a shelf in our pantry, “has all the dry goods I bought for the challenge.” Immediately, my son’s eyes shot to the shelves above and below, his eyes coveting the bounty of wonderful foods he wasn’t allowed to have.

“Ohh man, I wish I could have those barbecue chips,” he groaned.

“I bought chips,” I said, “right there.”

“Yeah, but those barbecue ones are sooo good.”

“Over here,” I opened the refrigerator, is where all the milk and other stuff is. Those shelves and drawers,” I pointed to everything else in the fridge, “are a no-go until next Monday.”

“We’re out of coffee creamer,” my wife scowled.

“That’s why I saved some money,” I said, feeling a little defensive. “I’ll get more.”

I’m sensing a mutiny within the familial ranks. If you don’t see any further blogs posts from me this week, it’s because they’ve gone rogue on me and locked me in the closet. If so, please send for help.

Previous posts during the Challenge:


Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of "Banned Questions About The Bible" and "Banned Questions About Jesus." His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called "PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date."

Photo: Clipping coupons, Jim Barber  /


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