Quick Tips For Shopping With Food Stamps
The Florida Food Assistance Program is designed to help families and individuals maintain a nutritious diet despite their financial circumstances. Families who qualify to receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Florida will receive a certain amount of money monthly that can be accessed through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. Those funds can be used to purchase certain food items at qualified retailers, which greatly helps low-income families to purchase nutritious food.
However, it can be difficult to navigate productive ways to shop once you have received your benefits. Like many families, you may find it difficult to make the most of your food stamps to ensure that you are purchasing enough food and getting the best deals. To help you make the most of your benefits, Florida-Assistance.org has compiled a list of quick tips for shopping with food assistance benefits.
Plan, Plan, Plan
Being able to plan according to your SNAP budget is the first step toward making your benefits last. Plan your meals weekly, and determine how much everything will cost before you start shopping. Oftentimes, if a plan is not made ahead of time, you may find yourself purchasing items at the grocery store that do not even get used. However, if you decided on a few meals that you will make during the week, you can ensure that the items you purchase at the store will be put to good use.
Setting aside time to coupon once a week before you go grocery shopping will also make your benefits last longer. Free coupons can be found in the sales section of the Sunday newspaper, online at various websites such as The Coupon Clippers and Coupons, and in grocery stores. Manufacturers of specific products will even mail you high-value coupons and free samples of items you would normally have to purchase if you write them a letter telling them you love their products. In no time, you will learn how to make your budget and your meals work for your household.
Before you head over to the grocery store, make sure you are aware of what foods qualify for coverage under the SNAP program and what foods do not. Food items that are part of the major food groups – like dairy, grains, meats and fresh produce – qualify as approved SNAP items. Note that nonfood items do not qualify. Additionally, prepared food items, liquor and vitamins are not approved under the SNAP program. Accidentally selecting items that are not included in the food stamps program would result in you needing to pay for those non-covered items out of pocket. Furthermore, be aware of what coupons you have for specific products as well as when these coupons expire. Some coupons expire within a day or two, or can only be used at specific stores. Many websites like Savings Angel will tell you what items to get and where with specific coupons. Being aware of the dates and locations where you can use your coupons will ensure that you get the best possible prices on your groceries.
Buy In Bulk
Buying food in bulk is often more cost-effective than buying regular-sized portions. Rice, beans, pasta and other dry or canned foods are good to buy in bulk because they can be used for a variety of meals, and they have an extended expiration date. Purchasing these items in bulk can ensure that your kitchen stays stocked for a longer period of time, and it allows you to get more products for less money. Keep in mind that buying in bulk will require making space in your kitchen for your bulky groceries. If you shop with coupons, you can easily accumulate a month’s worth of groceries in a day, which is worth it when you get them for a quarter of the price. Make sure to organize your food according to earliest expiration dates to avoid throwing things away.
To better understand this concept, you can consider the following example: you may be interested in buying a can of beans that costs $0.50 if you purchase just one. However, there may be the option to purchase a case of 12 cans of the same beans at only $5 for the whole case. This would make each can just $0.42. This is a nice discount, especially if you plan to cook a few meals with beans in the future. However, you should be mindful to only purchase items in bulk that you will use up quickly or that can be stored and/or frozen for a longer period of time.
Some great items to buy in bulk include the following:
- Dry beans and lentils
- Butter (stored in the freezer)
- Most baking supplies
- Dried fruits
- Frozen vegetables
- Canned fish
- Frozen chicken breast
Buy And Freeze
In addition to purchasing dry and canned foods in bulk, you can also purchase many other items in bulk and freeze them so that they last for a much longer time. Most fresh fruits and vegetables can be frozen and stored in your freezer for months, cutting back drastically on produce that gets thrown away because it has gone bad. This can also be a helpful tip for items like bread because the whole loaf can be stored in the freezer until it needs to be used. Other foods such as cheeses and snack items can also gain an extended shelf-life once frozen, so it can be very beneficial to discover what items can be frozen before beginning your shopping trip. Investing in a deep freezer is recommended, especially if you are shopping with a lot of coupons.
Freezing foods greatly eliminates wasted food and saves money, because extras can be stored for much longer than if they were kept at room temperature. However, freezing foods also has another economic benefit. For example, if you happen to notice certain items on sale at your grocery store, like berries, you can stock up on those items without needing to worry about not being able to eat them all, because you can store half of what you purchase in the freezer. This allows you to make the most of sales and discounts and get the most items with your food stamps. Paying attention to in-store sources of coupons as well as sales on specific items will ensure that you save the most. Oftentimes, it is worth it to hold onto coupons and use them during sales instead of using them right away if they do not expire for a while. Using the coupon right away will still save you money, but imagine how much more you can save using several coupons during a sale. You might even have enough coupons to get sale items for free! For instance, maybe your local grocery store is having a buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deal on a pasta brand that you also have six coupons for. The deal is for two boxes of pasta for $1.39. Depending on the store’s coupon policy, you may be able to use all six coupons to purchase six boxes of pasta for less than a dollar.
Try Different Foods
It can be difficult to make changes to what your family eats, but even a few simple swaps can end up saving you a lot of money. This can range from simply opting for the store brand instead of the more expensive name brand food items to limiting the amount of meat you purchase. Some food items are more expensive than others, and meat is usually on the expensive side. If your family is willing, you may find it beneficial to try cooking with less-expensive protein sources, such as eggs or beans, instead of standard poultry and red meat. Also, as mentioned above, you can generally save a good amount of money if you choose to purchase store brand items instead of name brand items. Using coupons for items you have never tried before will motivate to you try new foods without worrying about wasting money on items you might not like. That is why collecting as many coupons as possible, even for items you do not recognize, is always a good idea.
Try Healthier Options
As mentioned in the section above, certain foods are much more expensive than others. Another important aspect to consider when purchasing groceries with food stamps is the nutritional value of the food being purchased. Although food stamps does not restrict items based on nutritional value, it may be to your advantage to buy healthier items because they tend to be more filling. Food items like cookies and chips tend to get eaten faster, and generally do not eliminate hunger and increase energy the same way that healthier choices would. Therefore, opting to use your food stamps for items like fruits and vegetables may end up being more cost-effective. The same rule should be applied to couponing. Having several coupons for cookies does not mean you should use all of them. Always weigh the short-term gains against the long-term gains. You may be saving money on cookies now, but you will be spending more later on your healthcare bills if you consistently buy a month’s worth of cookies in one grocery trip.