Every once and awhile, articles about food stamps will appear on twitter and I’ll click them with gleeful delight in order to quench my thirst for financial voyeurism.

Overall, I believe that food stamps are a better means of distributing money than the Canadian lump-sum method as the money cannot be used for anything other than food. The problem with issuing a separate social benefit is that, when benefits are cut, you get sensationalized articles like this: Cutting Food Stamps Will Cost Everyone.

The article stars off with a woman who has had her food stamps benefits cut. No further information is given about this woman — ie, her family size, whether she is on full- or partial-disability or if she has a job. The entire feel of the article is “look at the poor woman who, thanks to benefit cuts, can no longer afford to eat nutritiously!”

Carole Farina’s grocery cart used to include heads of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers for homemade salads. Not anymore. Shopping at a Family Dollar store in Somerville, Massachusetts, the unemployed 47-year-old recently saw her monthly food stamp benefits reduced from $94 to $68 due to income adjustments from her disability payments. Now, Farina told me, she can only afford to buy “the cheapest stuff,” like 5 for $1 instant ramen Cup Noodles — those dorm-room staples made of refined carbohydrates, fat, sodium, and polysyllabic chemical additives.

Really? $26 less in food stamps a month has completely cut out vegetables from this woman’s diet? I tried to backwards-calculate how much this woman receives a month in income given her $26 food stamps benefits but alas, there are too many variables and not enough information.

Here’s the thing: food benefits are additional income because the government is trying to pull you up over the poverty line — they are not the only money that you receive for food. This woman has an income and, if she adjusts other parts of her life, she can cover the $26 loss. The idea that someone would go from homemade salads to Ramen over $6.50/week is mind-boggling.

Further in the article, there’s a mention of a NYC councilman who tried to live on $28/week in food stamp benefits. Granted, $28 doesn’t go as far in NYC as it does in Calgary but I thought to myself, “Hmmm, I wonder if I could live off of $28 a week” — assuming of course, that I would have no sort of additional resources, as many of these anti-benefit-cut articles are prone to do.

Weekly food purchases

Drum roll please because I just love drama… $28.34. I ate healthy, complete meals (aside from Kraft dinner one night) and spent a grand total of $28.34. And, honestly, I could have cut back a little bit more had I not been so fancy with my steaks and macaroni and cheese.

How was I able to spend so little on food?

  • Shop the sales — don’t buy chicken because you have a hankering for it, buy pork because it’s cheap
  • Look for additional discounts — manager’s specials, liquidation rack, best-before-next-day meat
  • Eggs — eggs cost $0.23 each and are a fantastic source of protein
  • Potatoes — potatoes are filling, delicious and cheap
  • Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers

So, my dear readers, next time you’re presented with an article that is meant to pull at your heart-strings, take a step back and examine what exactly is being presented. In this case, it was a woman who, due to either poor money management or poor shopping habits, has reduced herself to grocery shopping at the dollar store — because the government is gave her $6.50 less per week than last month.

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