How to Buy Long-Lasting and Low-Cost Groceries
While providing a great help to low-income families, SNAP benefits are limited and only distributed once every month. SNAP beneficiaries need to master budgeting and planning to make sure food stamps can feed their household for the entire month. Here are a few tips to help make your SNAP benefits last.
Learn About Planning
Planning your meals while on food stamps is not only a great way to make healthy food choices, it can also make your household’s SNAP benefits last longer. For example, you can plan a few meals that share overlapping ingredients. Taking this approach will ensure that your fresh grocery items get used before they expire.
To stretch your SNAP benefits even further, consider making larger portion meals, like spaghetti and meatballs, that make for great microwaveable leftovers. You can also try freezing leftover soups and stews for easy re-heating anytime.
Before hitting the grocery store, check to see what you already have at home. Think about your favorite recipes or research recipes that use the ingredients you have on hand.
Consider coupons and store discount cards, and look out for sales
You can find coupons and sale announcements in the newspaper, mailbox, on the internet and in stores. Many stores will also match competitors’ coupons. A free store membership or discount card can help you save money as well.
Find out about seasonal fruits and vegetables
Buying fruits and vegetables that are currently in season can help extend your monthly SNAP benefits. In season fruits and vegetables cost less for farmers to produce, and therefore are cheaper for you to purchase. As an added bonus, produce tastes much better when in season.
Seasonal fruits are available at many kinds of SNAP-approved retailers, but a SNAP-approved farmer’s market will be an especially great place to find variety and deals. Here are just a few examples of seasonal fruits and vegetables to demonstrate the variety available every season:
- Winter: brussels sprouts, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, pears, potatoes and yams
- Spring: apricots, broccoli, greens, lettuce, mushrooms, peas and strawberries
- Summer: bell peppers, blueberries, cherries, corn, lima beans, mangos and tomatoes
- Fall: cauliflower, grapes, kale, radishes, raspberries, spinach and sweet potatoes
Some items, like apples, bananas, carrots and celery, are always in season, while others, such as cabbage, collard greens, garlic, onions, pineapple and turnips are in season during three different seasons.
About store-brand items
Store-brand items cost less, but they often have the same ingredients as brand-name items. You’ll notice a price difference between name-brand and store-brand items like canned fruits and vegetables, but you won’t notice a difference in taste.
Consider buying in bulk and separating portions yourself
Generally, larger-sized products have lower unit prices than smaller ones. Even though you may be paying more up front for bulk items, you will get more value for your food stamps. You can find the unit price listed right next to the regular retail price that appears on the grocery shelf below a product. While the retail price tells you how much the item costs in total, the unit price lets you know how much the item costs per ounce, quart, pound or a similar measurement. This unit price allows you to effectively compare the price of different sized items.
Rather than buying yogurt in small cups, you can buy a large container of yogurt and split it up into your own plastic containers to grab on the go. Likewise, you can wash, cut, and divide a large bag of carrots into small bags instead of buying more expensive carrots that come pre-washed in individually wrapped packages.
When buying a large container of an item that spoils quickly, like dairy, be sure that your household will eat the product before it goes bad. Ultra-pasteurized dairy products last longer than others.
When possible, you should always buy bulk versions of non-perishable food items like dried beans, dried peas, rice and oatmeal. Keep these items in a tightly-sealed container to preserve their freshness and prevent insect infestation. You can also buy bulk versions of freeze-able items like meats, breads and vegetables.
Keep a garden
You can use food stamps to purchase seeds and plants for growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs. If properly taken care of, a garden – or even just a few sprouts in pots – can be a very low-cost way to produce super fresh foods for your household. Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are particularly easy for new gardeners to grow.
Stretching your SNAP benefits can be a challenge, but the SNAP program also provides cost-free education on low-cost shopping.